Hannah Hart: "I do have a boss, and that's the people who watch my channel"
Read our Interview with the YouTube mega star taken from the DIVA vaults
A super mega star thanks to her YouTube show, My Drunk Kitchen, a sober Hannah Hart talks to Carrie Lyell about accidental fame, staying grounded and life beyond the internet.
The star of My Drunk Kitchen is stone cold sober when we call for a chat. It is 9.30am in Los Angeles though, so if she weren’t, that might be a cause for concern. For someone who says they’re not “much of a drinker”, is it weird to be famous for being inebriated? “Yeah, it is, to be totally honest,” she admits. But then, being famous wasn’t exactly something that was planned.
An accidental celebrity, 28-year-old Berkeley graduate Hannah Hart found fame a surprise to say the least. Having recently moved from San Francisco to New York to pursue a career in translation, she made a video for a friend back home and uploaded it to YouTube. “Then I discovered that YouTube was actually a place where people went to view content. Not just a service you use to send a video,” she laughs. Overnight, the comments section underneath what would become the first episode of MDK “blew up”. “People were like, ‘This is my new favourite show on YouTube!’ and I was like, ‘Show on YouTube? What are they talking about?’ It was then I realised there was this entire underground ecosystem of entertainers and content creators living inside this world I had no idea was there.”
While she says that kind of overnight fame wasn’t overwhelming as such – “The idea of a viral video is really kind of a myth” – celebrity is an odd concept she’s still getting her head around, four years later. “It’s a little bit weird, to become a famous person,” Hannah admits. “I can’t say it’s the most natural feeling in the world but I don’t think it should be, either.” But having her face splashed across billboards hasn’t put her off, and down-to-earth Hannah has found a way to navigate the trials and tribulations of fame because she sees it as the pay-off for doing something she’s passionate about. “I love what I do. I love engaging with people. I love creating content that they enjoy. Might that change one day? Maybe, yeah. But for now it feels like it’s kind of the way it works.”
It might have come as a surprise, but maintaining the Harto brand has been anything but accidental. What’s her recipe for success? “It’s nothing sexy,” she concedes. “It’s just hard work and consistency. Being open to risk and making yourself vulnerable and staying with it.” Luckily, this girl is nothing if not driven. She spent this morning editing an episode of MDK and once she gets off this call with me, she begins promoting that one while filming another three. “I’m hoping for a shower at some point!” she laughs. It can’t be easy to keep going though, without somewhere there to crack the whip? “If I don’t have someone holding me accountable, I will lay in bed staring at the ceiling, for hours and hours and hours and hours,” Hannah says, making me feel somewhat better about my own lack of motivation. “But I do have a boss, and that’s the people who watch my channel. They refer to themselves as ‘Hartosexuals’ and they’re the people who’ve had faith and believed in me and believed in what we’re trying to build since day one.”
MDK isn’t unique. As YouTube grows, more and more people are chasing the viral dream, redefining celebrity and making Hannah and her peers more famous than actors and musicians. And with many channels having more subscribers than some of the most popular shows on the box, is YouTube killing TV? “I don’t know. Did TV kill radio? Did movies kill theatre?” a sombre Hannah muses. “They all still exist. I just think the way people consume media is evolving, just as the way people communicate with each other is evolving. Your grandparents might have a hard time adapting to texting, but does that mean texting... killed phone calls?”
Ok, so while it might not have killed TV, YouTube is certainly keeping it on its toes, and that’s something Hannah is grateful for. “Without YouTube becoming popular, I’m not too sure shows on Amazon or Netflix, like Orange Is The New Black or Transparent, would have been made. YouTube taught people to consume video online. It used to be 80% of online video consumed was on YouTube and now there’s all these other players who’ve realised the value of original creation and distribution. And I’m so happy about that. It kind of gets rid of the idea that we have to appeal to the lowest common denominator to make entertainment.”
Indeed, while YouTube is definitely forcing TV to up its game, the box in the corner of the room is still lacking in many areas – which is why YouTube continues to grow in popularity while TV audiences shrink. Particularly among young people from marginalised communities who up until now haven’t seen themselves represented on TV.
Be it web series, coming outs or advice videos, YouTube is a bubbling online metropolis for queer people across the globe, and in 2012, Hannah put down the kitchen utensils and uploaded her own emotionally-charged coming out story, which has well over a million views. Why? She pauses. “I was starting this new life and I wanted to start it with no secrets,” she says quietly. “It took me a really long time to come out. And I didn’t want to build this new life with anything hanging over my head. I didn’t want to think to myself, ‘Well, one day I’m going to have to come out.’”
But is there still value in a big public coming out, in the #LoveWins, no labels era? Certainly, celebs like Kristen Stewart have balked at the idea of making a statement on your sexuality. For Hannah, though, it’s really important. “There’s been a weird coming out backlash lately, of people being like, ‘Oh, everyone’s doing coming out videos, blah blah blah. Why?’ And it’s like, fuck you. Whatever. It’s not for you. Yeah sure, if you live in a liberal, privileged area where gay people are so readily accepted and it’s not even on your radar? Yeah dude, totally. You’re probably not concerned with this. But you know what? A lot of the kids that are consuming this content live in the country. They don’t have gay people in their towns.”
She’s got a point. These days, many of us tend to think of coming out as no harder than pulling off a plaster. But for Hannah, who grew up in a very religious environment, that journey to acceptance was anything but easy. Is faith still an important part of her life now? “I grew up really, really Christian but having seen so much of the world and heard so many different people’s experiences, I think that faith and spirituality and soulfulness are really important. Organised religion? Not so much.” It’s obviously been a long road for her, and the emotional scars are clearly evident, but Hannah remains resilient and optimistic that we’re moving towards a more tolerant and accepting society.
Cool and confident, you’d never guess that Hannah had such a tough time coming out, or that she’s battled anxiety and insecurity. But while she’s dealt with those demons, there are others she hasn’t quite managed to tame yet. And despite the subject matter of many of her videos being intensely personal, there are still things that are difficult to share.
“I haven’t figured out how to talk about my mom being schizophrenic,” Hannah says. “I have to figure out how to talk about that. It’s not that it’s too personal to share, it’s that I haven’t figured out how I want to say what I want to say, what I hope to get accomplished by sharing it. You know what I mean? That’s it. Coming out – I want to accomplish that people have more out public gay figures. Or talking about being insecure – I know people are insecure out there. I want to accomplish letting them know that even though I look so fancy and ting, I’m insecure too. But with mental health stuff, it’s really hard to talk about. Not just because of stigma, but also it’s a pretty powerless situation. There’s not really a happy ending.”
It’s something I know all too well. My mum is bipolar, and, like Hannah and thousands of others who either have mental health issues or love someone who does, it’s something I struggle to talk about. If or when she gets around to making that video, I have a feeling it will be profoundly important and resonate with many people. “I hope so,” says Hannah. “I hope to have a profound and resonate experience with it someday, and not just constant guilt.”
Hannah Hart is unlike anyone I’ve interviewed before. While many of the celebs I’ve met have been absolutely lovely people, others have been the epitome of vain. But for Hannah, this isn’t about ego or money in the bank, but an overarching quest for kindness. “I guess the more I’ve been given, the more opportunity I’ve had, I try to channel that into gratitude. Because otherwise you’re just wasting your time, and you’re turning into a little shit,” she laughs.
But how do you keep your feet on the ground when you’re living a daydream and you’ve met everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Barack Obama? “My sister is real big on mindfulness and so we try and be – we have a sibling that killed themselves – and so we try and not get there. Effectively, that helps demystify fame because that’s not life or death. Material things have never been my motivator. People have always motivated me, relationships have always motivated me, growth has always motivated me. Fame falls under the category of just a material thing. So it’s kind of easy to stay grounded when it’s not so tempting."
Her attitude is so refreshing, and it’s clear from speaking to her that if it was all gone tomorrow, she would find a way without any problem. But even celebrities need someone to love. Is there a special lady in her life? I can almost see her trademark grin beaming down the phone line. “There is someone special in my life right now, which is just really wonderful. You know how they say, ‘When you know, you know?’ And it’s like, bullshit. Nobody knows when they know, it’s a struggle! At least that’s how I’ve always felt about that. Until I got to a point in my relationship with myself that when I met someone who was a great fit for the real me? It was easy.”
So who is the lucky lady? Is it anyone we know? “Well, she’s also a YouTuber. We’ve actually been friends for a couple of years, and then... circumstances kind of aligned. She’s also just one of the most brilliant, soulful people I’ve ever met. It’s so good. Because she hates LA too but we both have to live [here] so at least there’s somebody else that gets it. My friends and family who know me get kind of all the stuff we’ve been talking about, about staying grounded and having a perspective, but not a lot of other people who are my peers feel that way, as you mentioned. Right? So to have a peer who is my partner, who does what I do and gets this world, this world that we live in but also gets the world inside ourselves? Oh my god. I couldn’t be happier.”
THE HART OF THE MATTER...
WHAT’S THE WORST INJURY YOU’VE SUSTAINED COOKING WHILE DRUNK?
Oh jeez, I burn myself all the time. My forearms are absolutely covered in burns. Every injury is one I wish I hadn’t sustained! I don’t like getting hurt.
WHICH CELEBRITY WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO MEET?
I really wanna meet Patrick Stewart from Star Trek! Oh, or Beyoncé. Or Oprah.
WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE DONE FOR A GIRL?
One time in college, instead of using the money I had been saving for this trip to Japan, I saved it so that when I got back, I could buy a car because I knew this girl needed rides.
TELL US A SECRET.
Can I tell you guys the secret? How about... the secret is there is no... I want to say something nice, like happiness comes from within or something like that but not so trite, you know what I mean? The secret is... that optimism is a choice and the power to be positive is yours to make! Something like that. I got nothing. [Laughs]
This article first appeared in DIVA magazine, October 2015.