Hannibal Buress still dreams of sports glory

Chris Rock and Louis CK are among Hannibal Buress' biggest fans, and now he's got a new special. Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Hannibal Buress has spent years working for this moment.

On Sunday at 11 p.m. ET, Comedy Central will air "Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace," Buress' first full-length stand-up special on its network. He's also the co-host on "The Eric Andre Show," a new Adult Swim show on Cartoon Network, also on Sunday at 12:30 a.m. Then, the special (along with extra footage and a documentary) will be released on CD and DVD on Tuesday.

And while these are breakthroughs for the comedian, Buress already has found success among his peers. He's been a writer for "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock." Louis CK wrote him into his acclaimed show, "Louie," and he was named the best club comic at the Comedy Central Awards in April. Chris Rock called him the next big thing, the "illegitimate son of Mitch Hedberg." That's a reference to the beloved late comedian, who shared Buress' deadly deadpan, which is maybe best seen in this star-making set on Letterman.

Buress is a pretty laid-back guy, and it shows in his response to all the acclaim coming his way.

"I'm just happy to work," Buress said. "And if people that I admire say nice things, it's very encouraging."

Buress, a Chicago native who lives in New York, is a massive sports fan, particularly of the Chicago Bulls. He talked to Playbook about the Hedberg comparison, the differences between rappers and athletes, his own dreams of sports glory, and LeBron James.

Which is more pressure: Being called the next Michael Jordan or being called the next Mitch Hedberg?

Are you talking... to me? [Laughs] I don't like even when people call me the next Mitch Hedberg. I really like Mitch Hedberg, but I think my approach is different than his. I'm not saying I'm better than him. He was a great, genius comedian, but I just think I do something pretty different. But hey, it's more pressure to be called the next Michael Jordan. You see what happened to Harold Miner.

You talk a lot about rappers in your act. Who's got it better between rappers or athletes?

Athletes, man. Athletes have it better because you can be a marginal athlete... and you can just not have to work, besides practice. You don't even have to go in a game. You can be a 12th man and you don't even have to work that day. There are some guys that don't get any tick in the playoffs. Whereas a rapper, you can't be a rapper and not rap. There's no practice for rappers, where they're just, "He's just the 12th rapper. He comes in when all the other rappers are tired."

Plus, you've got guaranteed contracts in some of the sports. And then, as an athlete, if you have a personality, you can get a job talking about the thing that you can't do anymore. "OK, well I can't play anymore. I'll just go talk about it." There's not many rappers that just stop rapping and then talk about rap. As a job. Rap commentators.

You wrote an "SNL" skit for Charles Barkley about his awful golf swing. What do you remember about working with him on that?

He was just funny. A cool guy. Funny, and game for anything. It was weird because we had to do some filming. It wasn't all on set, so we had to go to this house early in the morning in Brooklyn, and directing Charles Barkley was weird. But he was a nice guy.

Is there anything unique to sports that you wish was acceptable in everyday life?

The celebration ... I wish you could do that, like in football. Just break out in dance after you do a small feat. Just a really cool dance. [Terrell Owens] had some of the greatest dances. I remember watching the game when he was playing for the Eagles and playing the Ravens, and he scored and then he imitated Ray Lewis' dance. I laughed so hard. You know this dude just practiced this s--t so hard. He was like, "When I score, I'm gonna do Ray Lewis' dance! At the field! It's gonna be hilarious!" Yeah, just to be able to break out in dance, man. That s--t would be great.

With the name "Hannibal Buress," how did you not end up becoming a linebacker?

I did play football a little bit. I was on special teams. They had me at tight end, I was 5-8, 160, and I'm supposed to block this defensive end, and I got destroyed a few times. I wish I did play. I wanted to play football. I wanted to be a receiver or running back. When I played pickup games with my friends, I was amazing. Part of me now, even at 29, thinks that I could get in shape and walk on at a DIII school and play. Maybe I should try that. ... I got hella dances, man. Maybe I'll just get in shape, score once, dance and then retire.

You've talked about going to a couple of Miami Heat games. What do you make of all the LeBron hatred?

The dude is a dope player, and he's amazing. But you know what? All the hate ... I don't get into that. But something -- I don't know what it is -- something about the Heat brought out the closet Indiana Pacers fan in me, watching those games. [Laughs] I'm a Pacers fan all of a sudden. It's exciting. But LeBron is a great player. Watching him live is next-level. And I wasn't even amazed by the scoring or how fast he goes to the basket. I mean that's great. But the passing is amazing. Like pinpoint. If he was six feet tall, he'd be an all-star point guard. But he just happens to be 6-8.