By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Longtime friends Hannibal Buress and bassist Thundercat go together like bread and butter.
The two dabble in each other’s genres. When they play a drive-in show at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, October 24, Buress may have a band, while Thundercat recently released a collaboration with comedian Zack Fox.
The Fox collab is on Thundercat’s fourth LP, “It is What It is,” which also features Childish Gambino and Flying Lotus. Buress released his “Miami Nights” YouTube special this year, along with a new single called “Judge Judy,” in honor of the tempestuous TV magistrate.
“This show is one of those where I can say confidently it’s an experience for everyone,” Buress said. “Me and Thundercat have done a bunch of shows over the years. I’ll pop in on his shows and him on mine.
“To do it in this time and this setting is super unique. I was actually planning music stuff for the show, me and my team, and thinking through some parts.”
Buress will capture the show for a concert film directed by Kristian Mercado, who helmed the comedian’s “Miami Nights” comedy film, Sam Jay’s “3 in the Morning” and videos by Bad Bunny.
“He’s been my go-to director for the last couple years,” Buress said. “He’s going to capture this. It’s something that should be captured beautifully because it’s not really going to happen again. I’m hyped about putting this show together and rockin’ out in this unique time.”
Buress did a run of shows in September and admitted the feeling was “off.”
“A lot of comedy is being able to ride a wave and dig in,” Buress said. “You can do that outside when everyone’s spread out. It’s a tougher move. I have some different tools and tricks up my sleeve to make sure it’s the way live and interactive.
“I think I’m going to have a live band with me also. It’s good to keep my energy up. I need to keep the flow up and make a dope show.”
Thundercat should help, too. The two met around 2013 through record producer Flying Lotus, whose label releases Thundercat’s music.
“He did some shows with me at the Largo in LA,” Buress said. “It’s been a sold six, seven years that we’ve been friends. We hang out for real and bowl and he’s a good friend. He’s one of the few folks I saw on a semiregular basis during quarantine.”
The quarantine was up and down for Buress. He wishes he did things a little differently.
“I’m fortunate to have some success over the years,” he said. “I wasn’t as impacted in that way. I wasn’t making full income or anything, but I was able to take this or that.
“Creatively and productively, I wish I was able to focus up and do more. It wasn’t the time for it in certain points. It was something very unique to deal with. I just played around with video games and recorded stuff. I learned a little bit of editing worked on this show, ‘News Overload,’ commentary show.”
Buress said “News Overload” helped him learn a “new way to work with folks,” even though working in person is always better.
“I kind of figured out how to get stuff done when people are in a different place,” he added. “I wish I went home to Chicago, instead of staying LA. I have a studio space that’s made for working stuff and collaborating. It’s not made to be soloing in.
“I brought some folks in, but there’s such a fear. You don’t know who has it, who might have it. I would see people here and there, but not too many. I wished I leaned on friends a little more for company and work. It’s still going, but now I’m in a better routine and zone.”
His videogame is “NBA2K,” which he said, “I’m solid at it. I’m decent.” He plays in “The Park” mode, where he can create his own player and works to improve him.
“You have pickup games. You meet up with your friends,” he said. “You have different outfits and whatnot. I spent a lot of time on that. That helped me get in a good zone. I can knock out a full five hours locking in on that.”
YouTube videos kept him busy as well. But he doesn’t watch them way, say, you or I would.
“I watch them on double speed with captions,” he said with a laugh. “I love AskReddit. They ask, ‘If you went to high school with a porn star, tell a story,’ or ‘If you’re a policeman, tell us about that,’ or ‘If you knew people who got divorced twice, tell your story.’
“People are anonymous so they’re really honest on there. I watch those videos and others. I watch them on double speed. I don’t know how my neutrons are. I can still take in the info the same way. My friends come in and say, ‘What the (expletive) is happening right now. Turn that off.’ It’s double speed and I can read the words. This also describes my show.”
When he’s performed during this pandemic time, Buress said he and his fans are appreciative. Everyone loves a good distraction from what’s going on in the world.
“In Chicago, people are doing shows,” he said. “Zany’s is open at small capacity. Show are happening—just not at the same rate and volume. When I have been in a comedy club and in a small room, I feel the energy. People are hyped to be out.
“The vibe is a little more excitement at shows. I think both sides are appreciative. Audiences and performers are appreciative to have this escape. I do remember times where a lot of comedians—especially those who heavily toured—can get jaded. You do a long run with hella dates, sometimes it’s easy not to be locked in or you phone it in on accident. Now it’s a reset for everybody.”
That includes Grammy winner Thundercat. He’s looking forward to having the chance to play and watch Buress.
“We’ve been friends for a while,” said Thundercat, known to his parents as Stephen Lee Bruner. “I’m excited to see his set. He gets to talk his trash and it’ll be fun.”
The last time he stepped on stage was in April for a sold-out show at the Wiltern with friends and family in the audience. Thundercat admitted it’s been frustrating to live through the pandemic.
“I have pent-up emotions—especially when I come out and play,” he said. “It is doing something for me emotionally, in a good way, to know I get to do that. When I walk on stage, it makes me want to come back even more. I’m a bit insatiable.”
Instead of performing, he’s spent a lot of time watching cartoons and anime like Dragon Ball Z, boxing, kickboxing and going to therapy. He bought the Lego Lamborghini but quickly realized it wasn’t for him.
“The minute I realized it was over 2,000 pieces, I realized it was over my head for sure,” Thundercat said with a laugh. “My friends said, ‘Let’s sit down and do it.’ Within the beginning of doing it, everybody just kind of gave up.”
Thundercat is planning on writing new music, most of which is inspired by his Egyptian tabby, Tron.
“My songs come from different places,” he said. “Maybe even talking to my cat. I’m writing with my bass first. If there’s something in my mind or something I’m thinking about, I figure it out lyrically. But there’s nothing like talking to your cat.”
Thundercat and Hannibal Buress
8 p.m. Saturday, October 24
Rose Bowl, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena
Tickets start at $150 and must be purchased in advance