Hannibal Buress delivers inventive, surreal digital comedy in ‘Miami Nights’

Miami Night
Hannibal Buress/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

In December 2017, comedian and “The Eric Andre Show” co-writer Hannibal Buress became something of a minor figure in the national news cycle for his arrest by a Miami police officer. Though Miami courts found him innocent of “disorderly intoxication,” body camera footage from the arresting police officer quickly circulated around the internet. “Hey, it’s me, Hannibal Buress,” the comedian spoke into the body camera as the officer handcuffed him, refusing to read him his rights or even state the charge. 

Three years later, “Miami Nights” sees Buress channel his bitterness about this rather frivolous incident into his signature brand of post-ironic, surreal observational standup. Buress embraces an especially self-aware persona throughout the special, and though some routines certainly outshine others, “Miami Nights” sees the comedian deliver some of his best material to date.

The special’s title sequence sets this mood perfectly: It’s a high-adrenaline supercut of Miami nightlife and clips of Buress’ previous work, tied together by a retro, neon aesthetic. Along with clips from the body camera video, post-production studio Editbar incorporates found VHS footage of Buress’ earliest shows. The effect is that of a stylish and hypnotic retrospective set to a southern trap soundtrack.

Editbar’s mark on the special isn’t confined to the introduction, either. “Miami Nights” is more than simply a tape of a standup routine: Post-production flairs, animations and strange Snapchat filter-esque effects all add an additional layer to the special. As Buress goes to absurd lengths to advocate for the use of auto-tune in public service presentations, singalong subtitles and a faux VHS filter transform the routine about auto-tune into an ironically soulful musical ballad. Elsewhere, morphing filters and animations accent Buress’ already exaggerated physical comedy to cartoonish levels. Though these effects do sometimes distract from Buress’ punchlines or fail to make an otherwise lackluster joke land, they more often than not work to the special’s favor.

The true highlight of the special, however, is its titular story, which occupies the entire latter half of its runtime. Buress narrates much of the night’s events, but also incorporates clips from the body camera footage, local news network coverage and courtroom transcripts. His deadpan, personable commentary on these elements is universally hilarious. The contrast between the nearly unbelievable stoicness of the officer and news reporters and Buress’ sardonic attitude makes the incident feel just as ridiculous as Buress’ other entirely fictional routines. Buress also works in numerous callbacks to earlier jokes, creating a sense that even the less stellar of earlier jokes were all essential to telling this story.

But while Buress’ delivery of the story is among his best work on a purely comedic level, it’s hard not to notice the glaring topical shortcomings. Though the special was recorded before national protests erupted surrounding George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, the routine inevitably exists within that context. And while direct political commentary has never been Buress’ preferred mode of comedy, the story certainly creates anticipation of some sort of greater statement on the abuse of police power, which never quite arrives.

As a result, it feels as if Buress frames the story as a sort of isolated, freak incident, rather than a part of a clear national problem. This would be more forgivable in a special that was much more conventionally judicious with its post-production additions. But since liberal use of edits and multimedia is so ingrained with the special’s visual style, there’s certainly something that could have been done to acknowledge the greater context of the Black Lives Matter movement that would ease this tension.

Despite these shortcomings, however, “Miami Nights” is a special with more marks for it than against it. Buress’ strange, self-aware observational style is irresistibly funny, while the special’s use of visual effects and editing is a charming and inventive addition. If nothing else, “Miami Nights” demonstrates a compelling comedic and artistic direction, defined by a retrospective bent in Buress’ signature sardonic persona that is sure to keep audiences engaged from start to finish.

Contact Olive Grimes at [email protected]. Tweet them at @ogrimes5.