If you plan to attend one of Hannibal Buress’ upcoming shows, don’t be surprised if you’re met with a cell phone ban policy before the funny begins. Such was the case at EA Sports’ Open Play pop-up in Tribeca last Friday, where the comedian and actor was the night’s headliner. Cell phone bans during stand-up performances are becoming more commonplace, with some comics requiring that audience members lock their devices in Yondr pouches until the show ends. Buress’ request was less severe, simply asking fans to put their phones away during the set. While some comedians are trying to avoid public backlash over a potentially offensive joke– or discreetly work out new material– Buress’ motive for the phone ban was more symbiotic.
“You don’t want it filmed, sure, but it’s not all of that because most people aren’t filming,” he told Life Entertainment. “Most people have a phone, and even if they are watching something [live], they go to their phone for something stupid. You will see people watching a show through their phone and [they’re] in the second row. This is as good as it gets, but you’re watching the phone screen.
“I just noticed in [no cell phone] shows, when I do have them, the audience is better,” Buress continued. “They’re laughing, people talk to each other… Especially if it’s a long story or something that you’re telling– they’re locked in. Their attention span, at least for however long the show is, I would have their attention span locked in.”
According to Buress, some fans appreciate the policy as well. “I think people like having a break from that s***. It’s an actual addiction,” he said. “There are situations where [they say], ‘Thank you. Thank you for taking it from me, because I wasn’t going to take it from myself.'”
This active engagement carries over into the 36-year-old’s interactions with fans online. If you receive a direct message from Buress’ verified account, you can rest assured that it is him and not a bot.
“When I want to see on Twitter what fans I have in the city that have asked me [to perform there], I’ll search @hannibalburess and the name of the city… [for example], Nashville,” he explained. “We’re talking 10 years of Twitter. What I’ll go to first when I’m promoting a show in the city, I’ll make sure to hit all the folks that wrote me. Some of the folks are like, ‘Yo, you responded to a tweet from six years ago!’ If they follow me already, I can just DM too.” Buress’ connection to his fans has helped amass a following of over two million across his social media sites.
In addition to his “Handsome Rambler” podcast, movie and television roles, and stand-up comedy performances around the world, Buress still finds time to develop his nonprofit, Melvina Masterminds. Based in his hometown of Chicago, the organization has already hosted a 3D printing event and a coding workshop. The art and tech center will open later this year. “I have the facility,” said Buress. “We have a grant from the City of Chicago Neighborhood Opportunity Fund for $250,000 to go towards this. That should give us some good momentum. We want some writing programs and music classes, but then also just create a space that doesn’t exist in that area. It’s just a fun place where kids can go and try a bunch of different things.”
Buress’ newest comedy special–produced by his own company, Bird Gang Bang Birds Productions– will be filmed on August 10 at Miami’s Olympia Theater. For more information, visit hannibalburess.com and follow @hannibalburess on social media.