When Celebrities Just Show Up: The Mystery and Surprise of Stand-up Drop-ins

Originally published with Paste on June 5, 2016.

It’s a Tuesday night in New Orleans and Hannibal Buress is stepping onstage at a local venue called The Den. That might not sound out of the ordinary for a comedian—telling jokes on a stage is their job—but tonight is unexpected. Buress isn’t in town as part of a current national tour, nor is he filming a special or documentary. Instead, he’s closing out the free local show Comedy Beast by just dropping in unannounced.

Within minutes of Buress taking the stage to do his set, the roughly 40-seat venue transforms into standing room only. Word of mouth spreads throughout the long bar leading into the small back room, attracting those who were only out for a quick drink or stopping by to pick up a to-go order. And the buzz among the crowd—their excitement about seeing Buress in person—comes from the sheer surprise of it all. In a line-up heavily skewed towards local names, Buress’s sudden appearance lends the evening a touch of surprise.

Given his notoriety, he performs longer than the night’s other acts have been permitted, providing the audience with about 20 minutes of material. It’s clear he’s got some polished bits, while at other moments he kneads through set-ups as if they were fresh dough requiring some working out. He throws out ideas and chuckles to himself with his boisterous staccato laugh before pausing for a minute, undisturbed by the silence it takes to latch onto the next thought. In other venues, for a ticketed show, that kind of moment might eat into timing and rhythm, but this isn’t that kind of event. The jokes we hear tonight might eventually make their way into a filmed special or a headlining tour, or they might not.

[Full article available at Paste.]

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