The Royal Oak Music Theatre was buzzing Saturday night in anticipation for Hannibal Buress' performance. As audience members entered the vestibule, they were greeted by two very creepy costumed figures, one dressed as Spongebob Squarepants and the other as Dora the Explorer. Onstage, DJ Tony Trimm set the mood of the evening with an eclectic mix of hip hop. The diversity of the crowd speaks to how well comedy can bring people together. Plus, a good comedian will put people in the seats. Promoters should take note.
Tony Trimm got on the mic and greeted the crowd before introducing the opener, Dave Helem. Immediately, the crowd gave him all of their attention, rather than waiting politely for the headliner. The high school algebra teacher hails from Buress' hometown of Chicago. Helem's stories from his over a decade of teaching won fans over, especially his bit about a game he plays with his students called, "Secret Roast," in which he gives them each an index card to secretly talk shit about a fellow classmate. Then, the cards are read aloud so the whole class can figure out who the victim is. It's twisted and very illegal. Helem went on to talk about how he was suspended for it.
Helem's story-based jokes had the crowd eating out of his hand, but as his set progressed, he failed to get laughs when he defaulted to a setup-punchline structure. However, the crowd remained polite and refrained from heckling the comic. After twenty minutes, it was time for Buress to take the stage.
Buress addressed the fact that this was his third appearance in the Detroit area this year by joking, "Detroit deserves the laughter." Even though he said it in jest, it still rings true and Detroiters and comedy fans appreciate it all the same.
He also addressed the urges from fans and critics to turn out new material every time he performs in a city, which would be very hard to do with such an intense touring schedule. Comics like Louis C.K. may turn out a new hour every year, but he doesn't hit Detroit three times in a year. To his credit, Buress did deliver new material peppered with some of his favorite bits from the past couple of years.
The really commendable thing that Buress accomplished was how well he connected with the crowd over things that Detroiters are familiar with, such as buying abandoned houses at ridiculously low costs. The highlights of his set were the bits when he referenced Detroit themes. Buress riffed on the rumors that Stevie Wonder is not actually blind, which if it played out the way Buress speculated, would actually be a hilarious misunderstanding.
The crowd was respectful and kept quiet until the discussion turned to NHL hockey. Buress, being from Chicago, admitted to being a Blackhawks fan, prompting the crowd to boo incessantly every time he tried to make his point about not knowing shit about how to cheer at a hockey game. The friendly back and forth was all in good fun, which is why it seems Buress makes sure Detroit is on his tour schedule. It's a stop where he's pretty much guaranteed to pack the room and have a good time. The only issue with Saturday's performance was that Dora and Spongebob were not utilized in the show somehow.