While most comics would shiver at a TV network’s content cleaver slashing all things political, controversial or scandalous, for Hannibal Buress at the premiere of his new topical news comedy show on Wednesday night, the network cleaver looked more like a spotlight.
“I’d like to thank Bill Cosby for making tonight possible,” the president of programming opened. “He’s mostly known for nurturing, young, attractive… actresses. But what he has done for this young African-American comedian is nothing short of miraculous.”
Alterman got a big laugh from the crowd inside SmogShoppe.
That crowd on benches and chairs included Doug Herzog (Head of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group), network President Michele Ganeless, Jim Sharp (Comedy Central’s West Coast Executive VP Original Programming and Development), and longtime former Viacom executive behind “South Park” and “Crank Yankers” amongst a pile of other hits, Debbie Liebling.
For the backstory, last fall a bit of Buress’ standup in which he called out Cosby as a rapist went viral. It was the flashpoint in changing the conversation about Cosby, now serially-accused or being a serial rapist.
That media storm propelled Buress, already a comedy 1-percenter but not yet a household name, to a new q score. In a career winding through “SNL,” “30 Rock,” and co-hosting and starring in a pile of other TV shows, he does not want that career fraction “milked.”
Alterman quickly followed up with sincerity, revealing “the degree to which I humiliated myself by chasing (Buress) for several years”. After finally getting him in to a development deal with Comedy Central and receiving his pilot script, Buress went ahead and tweeted out that his show had been picked up.
“No one else has ever done that,” Alterman told the crowd. “This is a weird place. This guy that I am desperate to get on the air has put in the position of telling the world, ‘his pilot has not been picked up’.” To be clear, “Why?” arrives neither by a forced hand nor on the exhaust of a fluke media spike.
“This episode is really good,” Buress told the crowd. “I can’t speak on how the next seven will be, but this one is a banger!”
“Why?” is studio based, opening with a monologue before tossing to pre-taped pieces in the field and on-stage bits with guests. If Buress was sleepier than his usual low-key persona at the premiere, it was justified.
They shoot Tuesday nights for a Wednesday night airing, having just completed the premiere a few hours before it hit the air. Episode 101 topics included the Women’s World Cup, Greece’s debt, Donald Trump, the 4th of July, and an E!-esque corporate crossover guest star from fellow “Comedy Central” star Amy Schumer before the first commercial break.
Buress’ comedy peers who came to support, sip bloody marys and chomp on a “Make Your Own Breakfast Sandwich” bar included Eric Andre (in Reebok pumps), the (criminally underappreciated) Nathan Fielder, musician Open Mike Eagle (Buress’ one time college R.A.), the clean shaven Jeff Ross, and “Funny or Die” president Mike Farah.
“Why? With Hannibal Buress” airs on Comedy Central on Wednesday nights at 10:30 PM ET/PT.