I recently had the distinct pleasure of hanging out with YouTube sensation and universal plaid-clad heartthrob Hannah Hart. Hart is the sole proprietor of My Drunk Kitchen, an explosively popular web series in which she imbibes freely while attempting feats of culinary greatness.
By ‘sole proprietor’ I mean that she films it on a MacBook by herself, and by ‘feats of culinary greatness’ I mean she sort of tries to cook stuff like meatballs — “the easiest thing in the whole goddamn world.” (Spoiler: She never succeeds in making much of anything, but that’s both the point and the charm.)
Her rise to stardom on the fickle web has been — like anything that turns out remotely edible in her kitchen — wholly an accident.
Hannah “Harto” grew up in the Bay Area and moved to Brooklyn earlier this year, like so many queer, quasi-bohemian couchsurfing pioneers before her. She created My Drunk Kitchen‘s first episode as a long-distance internet missive to her best friend — also named Hannah — who now lives in Berkeley. After gaining traction online thanks to an appearance on Reddit’s front page, suddenly My Drunk Kitchen had millions of YouTube views, not to mention a fiercely adoring fanbase who have been known to call themselves ‘Hartosexuals‘ — maybe in some seriousness.
A twentysomething gay-girl-next-door with a predilection for button downs, frenetic jump cuts, and pitch-perfect self-deprecating humor, Hart’s success tells a sort of a queer internet Cinderella story. (Hart still insists she is but a small blip among the ‘YouTubers.’) My Drunk Kitchen is a perhaps unlikely crossover hit between our big gay universe and the viral web at large, which is usually averse to gays of all stripes, funny women sans cleavage and perhaps funny women at all.
Watch one of her episodes and you’ll see that her universal appeal is no mystery — but it’s still a wonder that a self-proclaimed homo with a rotating arsenal of flannel shirts has accidentally crafted a web phenomenon based almost solely on being so damned likable (it doesn’t hurt that she’s extremely funny). It’s strange and wonderful to see Hart — a reflection of our ridiculous, unglamorous, sailor-mouthed selves — score a photoshoot with Time, and a feature on CBS.
I met up with her over coffee and vegan doughnuts in Berkeley, where she was nervously biding her time before “My Drunk Iron Chef Kitchen” her first live event in San Francisco that night. In person Hart radiated the easy charm, rapid-fire wit and textbook shaggy-haired cute that her army of devotees have come to expect. As we settled in, she kindly seemed to humor the fact that I’d neurotically set up a full stereoscopic arsenal of recording devices around her. That done, I barreled on nobly toward over-caffeination, armed only with iced coffee, a meandering set of questions and approximately 25 tape recorders.
On Heart Flowers and Being Soft Butch in Japan:
Taylor: [Checking the assorted recording devices and prepping a notebook]
Hannah: I have my notebook too. I could take notes for you. ‘My interview with Taylor Hatmaker.’
T: Neat name, huh? [makes suspicious, narrowed-eye expression] Is Hart your real last name?
H: Yeah, people ask me if it’s a stage name, but it’s not. And Harto’s just a nickname we came up with when we were in Japan. [Hart studied abroad in Japan during college]
T: I think the Harto thing is really sticky. People are into it.
H: I like ‘follow your Harto.’ If my last name was ‘table’…
Best-Friend-Other-Hannah: So when we were in Japan, Hannah’s name was pronounced ‘Hannah Harto’ [said with authentic-sounding Japanese accent] which literally translates to ‘flower heart.’
H: It literally translates to ‘flower heartshape.’ So I’m all in Japan trying to be all soft-butchy B.A. and I’m like ‘Hi guys, my name’s flower heart.’ You know? I mean, literally flower heart.
T: How long were you in Japan? You’re a Japanese translator, which sounds hard. I creeped on you, that’s how I know that.
H: I proofread for a translation firm, but I recently parted ways with my job because of the time commitment that I’m now pouring into developing the online thing. It’s not like I’m able to quit my job, like I can fully support myself, but I’m taking the risk. I can either put more energy into MDK and start developing more frequently or I can continue to develop and maintain a day job. It’s the moment where you decide to take the risk. That’s this exact moment of my life. So I should probably just have no caffeine and meditate all the time. [downs coffee] I meditate with my mouth moving a lot.
I learned Japanese entirely for a girl.
T: No way. That’s a gem. Write that one down. [writes that one down]
H: No it’s true, the only reason I took a Japanese class is because I was like, a big Sailor Moon fan as a kid…then in my Japanese class…[music in cafe gets really quiet suddenly]
[Quietly] My drunk kitchen secret fact: Hannah’s kind of shy!
I was totally conservative, straight — my life was such a shitstorm before college, I couldn’t care less whether or not I was gay or bi or straight or whatever. So in my Japanese class, this girl who sits behind me is like ‘oh, I like your jacket’ and I was like ‘Thanks!…Pretty girl. So that’s why I got a degree in Japanese…I was chasing this girl.
And I wasn’t even out. I wasn’t like, comfortable being gay. In Fall of 2006 I lived in Japan. And then I graduated from college in May 2009. And then I officially like ‘came out’ in the last year or so. Being out at work, being out on a less than ‘need to know’ basis. My friends knew, the chicks I was dating knew.
T: So you like, exploded out.
H: Yeah, I burned the closet down.
On Her My Drunk Kitchen Live Event That Night:
H: I’m super nervous about tonight. This thing is like…I have to go and host, I’m gonna be onstage improvising and emceeing as three teams cook in a kinda Iron Chef style. How do I pee? I’m really concerned about that. It’s a solid 2 hours and I’m gonna be drinking.
T: Who are the cooks?
H: San Francisco chefs.
T: Oh, like real chefs? Er, not to say you’re not a real chef.
H: Oh no, I’m not a real chef. We can squash that rumor.
T: I think with the amount of devotion that people have for you, you could just go up there and be unintelligibly drunk and it would be fine.
H: That’s actually why I didn’t really want to do a live My Drunk Kitchen. I would like to start to move the comedy away from constantly being associated with drunkenness.
H: It’s a one-dimensional joke.
T: I like that joke too. I’ve been telling it for years now. You seem to execute it to more success.
H: It’s the editing. It’s all in the editing.
T: You have a very frenetic editing style, which is part of what makes it so hilarious. What’s that process like?
H: I edit in iMovie. The editing takes like 6 hours…it’s very panic-inducing. I shoot for an hour or an hour and a half, and then I edit that hour and a half down to 20 minutes. And the I edit that 20 minutes down to 10. And then I send the 8 to 10 minute draft to my sister Naomi, and then she rips it up saying ‘this is shit.’ No, basically she picks the best of the best jokes, and then I cut it down from there to 5. She’s such a big part of it.
NEXT: “I really like that I can be a “lady” and be messy and be a little crass, you know? I feel a lot of freedom in that.”
On Glee and Hartosexuality:
T: You’re originally from this area. What was it like growing up here? Being from the South, I can’t imagine. It seems like a wonderland.
H: Well, I actually have a sob story, so it wasn’t so much a wonderland. But I think that the Bay Area’s been my saving grace in a lot of ways. Just growing up with access to educated people and being able to find opportunities to edify yourself. The weather’s lovely. I moved to the East Coast, and I was like…holy fucking shit. Turns out, I do not want seasons. I’m actually planning on moving to LA. As a native Northern California-er, LA seems like a bit of a vacuous wasteland to me…but one that produces a looooot of TV.
T: What are your favorite shows?
H: I love Glee. It’s terrribly written; it’s a shit show, but goddamn it makes me happy. Even frustrated happy. It’s just like trashy TV.
T: I like to watch the parts where the girls are doing the kissing. And then they talk about the kissing, and I watch those parts. I love the show, I mean.
H: It’s just like, singing, dancing homo-friendly. How can I not like it? Middle America’s like…well I guess being gay is kind of adorable! It’s shiny and happy!
I really like Mad Men, Game of Thrones. I run the gambit. I skip everything in the middle. I watch like the AMC shows that are ‘good quality content’ cinematic shows, and then I watch 30 Rock and Glee and Community I love. But I don’t watch anything in between that. People are like ‘Oh have you watched The Good Wife?’ I’m sure it’s a good show, but no.
T: I’ve watched the gay parts of that too. Exclusively.
H: There’s gay parts in that?! This is why I’m a bad homo.
T: You’re not a bad homo! Actually, the first time I saw your videos and went on the About section of your site, it literally says ‘Also, she’s a big ol’ homo,’ which is awesome. Was including your sexuality off the bat like that a question in your mind?
H: I think, as a girl, putting videos of myself on the internet, I wanted it to just not be a question I had to answer. I had just come out, and I didn’t want to continue to come out all the time. I was like ‘I’ll just make it public, and if people don’t like it, that’s totally chill.’ At least I’ll never have to be doing an interview with some guy and in my head I’m like…are we only doing this interview because he thinks I’m cute? Uhoh, now i should probably slip in the fact that I’m a big, big gaaaay. So I did it for myself. Again, I had no intention of any of this going anywhere.
I just wanted it to be a fact that was out there. And I really prefer the term ‘homo’ to lesbian. ‘Homo’ just rolls off the tongue. My favorite shirt is the ‘Homo, Hetero, Harto’ shirt on my website. That’s just hilarious and wonderful, because sometimes groups of fans call themselves ‘Hartosexuals,’ and I’m like ‘that’s so great guys…aww!’
On Why Everyone Is Obsessed With Her:
T: Obviously the queers will follow you to the ends of the earth, but straight dudes in the middle of the country are just head over heels for you too. What’s the deal? Why the universal appeal?
H: I think one of the things that I like most about this whole experience is the sincerity and the fan response that I get, the authentic kind of connection that I’m trying to build and maintain. It’s difficult, because the greater and the greater the scale becomes — which is good because it means i could entertain for a living — It’s hard to maintain those connections. Anyway, I got this one fan email, and I think I might have mentioned this before, but it was from this guy. He was like ‘I’m a straight conservative Dad from Montana and I had no idea that you were gay. And it doesn’t make me rethink my opinion of you, I’ve been a fan since episode one. But it makes me rethink my opinion of myself.’
Our similarities vastly outweigh our differences, you know what I mean? The innate human experience is much more potent than the issues we get caught up in. I’ve also had people be like ‘I didn’t commit suicide today.’ ‘I just got out of rehab and thank you for making me laugh.’ Or ‘I’m coming out in the middle of America…what do i do?’ It’s heavy. It’s heavy and it’s real.
I love the intimacy. That’s like, my favorite part of this whole thing. I genuinely care what my fans think. I genuinely care about producing new content for them. I genuinely try and remain active with the emails, and Twitter messages, and the Facebook wall and it’s frustrating because the more and more busy I get — being like entirely a one woman production, you know, like every aspect of the “business” is me — all I want to do is perform and respond to fans.
T: Do you really try to respond to everyone?
H: I’m on June 22 right now. I don’t get mean emails, but I have this one dude on Twitter who’s super aggressive and hates me. I don’t want to block him, because that’s like paying attention to a bully. I’m just ignoring his existence completely. Except in real life, when I talk about it. I try and avoid the flames…I’m so sensitive. Well, not so sensitive, but I am a real person and it will hurt my feelings to read that stuff.
T: Especially because you went from 0 to 60 with My Drunk Kitchen. You didn’t get the chance to build thick skin.
H: Absolutely not. But I don’t think there’s any point in life where hatespeech is gonna feel good or not feel like anything. It’s always going to feel like something. You just have to have more good in you that can cover yourself…like a balm. A soothing balm.
On Not Wanting to Be Tina Fey:
T: You’ve had a bunch of major interviews with CBS, Time, etc. Have you had any interviewers be weird about the gay thing or talk around it?
H: For the most part, interviewers totally ignore the gay thing. And i don’t know if it’s just because they don’t know, or if it’s just not relevant to them. I get more ‘woman’ stuff than gay stuff. They’re like ‘Who do you want to be, Hannah? Tina Fey, right?’ And I’m like no, I want to be Joel McHale. I want to be Jon Stewart, that’s who I want to be. The comparison is just because Tina Fey’s a woman. But she’s a sitcom writer, she’s an SNL writer. I don’t want to be a sitcom writer. I want to be an active host, participant and performer.
T: What’s your dream, 5 years from now?
H: I have a show that I can host, like Joel McHale or Jon Stewart, but I can run around and act in other things. That would be super ideal.
T: Would you stick with the web series?
H: I’d like to take it off the web. I’m not opposed to the web at all. Our generation focuses all of our content on the web. The only reason I’d go off the web is just to have a broader scope. But I’m perfectly content to run my show online, you know? That would be my ideal scenario. Do I think it’s gonna happen? I hope so. But if everything were to stop right now, I’d be pretty content. I’d be like ‘That was fun. what a great experience.’
My life is very much normal. I just happen to make some YouTube videos that people watch. Will this lead to a career in entertainment? Hopefully. Is this a great interactive resume for comedy? Hopefully. Will this affect my likelihood of ever getting another job offer on a standard career path? Definitely. I mean…have you seen the vids? Who is going to trust their documents with that?!
It’s kind of hard too, because I’m experimenting in comedy and entertainment, and part of the reason I moved to New York is to have anonymity in that. And now that the internet thing kind of took off, it’s like I lost that freedom to fail without people knowing. I feel a lot of pressure that the next thing I do better be good or they’ll be like ‘Oh it was just that one joke. She’s not actually worth anything. Only that one joke was funny.’
T: But I feel like in your particular flavor of what you have going on is very much based on you as a person. People buy into you, who you are on a personal level…
H: I appreciate that. I feel like that’s something that I’ve really been blessed with in this experience. People aren’t trying to break me or anything like that. They’re like ‘Oh wow, thank you for doing some honest, sincere, non-snarky, non-negative form of comedy.’
T: Yeah, there’s no target. Or you’re the target.
H: I’m the target. Yeah I can be the target, we make jokes all the time about ourselves. That’s how you keep yourself in check. I really like that I can be a “lady” and be messy and be a little crass, you know? I feel a lot of freedom in that. Females in comedy have a choice….and it’s not like my comedy is super clean, but it’s not super filthy.
NEXT: The #1 question, the Lightning Round and The Big Event
The #1 Question:
T: I tried to crowdsource some questions for our interview, and as it turns out, the crowd isn’t very creative. There’s only one question. [imaginary drumroll…] Are you single?
T: I find that hard to believe, given how many people asked if you were single.
H: I know. Everyone finds it hard to believe that I’m single, but my friends know…that I’m very, very single. How could I possibly be single, right? You know, all my friends are straight, I actually don’t really know many gay people in my life.
T: Really? Wow, I only know gay people. Straight people are a novelty.
H: I grew up in the Bay Area, and I went to college here, and all my friends have been the friends I’ve had for years and years and years and years one of them turned out to be gay, and that one was me. And the end! I mean, but we never meet any lesbians ever.
T: I watched the CBS thing where you were like ‘I moved to Brooklyn because I heard that’s where all the hot lesbians are!’’
H: I did! I live out of a bag right now. Like a duffel bag. I’m just couchsurfing. They call it suitcase dramz, you know, dropping toothpaste all over my books and not having any clean clothes.
I don’t know what it is. I’m much more inclined to meet somebody at an event that I care about or a fun thing or hanging out at a party with people I know. It’s so hard for me to go to a bar and meet a girl.
T: It’s really weird. I think straight people do that. I’m not really sure.
H: I guess the thing is that’s one of those universal non-straight, non-gay problems: It’s hard to meet people. Period. I think it’s easier for our straight single friends, because most of our friends are straight. Straight up. Gay down. That’ll be the new slogan.
I mean a) I grew up really homophobic. and b) In college, in the queer community stuff, I would go and…I’m not really that cool. I’m just being candid. A lot of the queer community was like ‘you have to be super vegan and have lots of piercings and give lots of fucks about everything!’ And i just wanted to be like oh my god you guys, did you see 40 Year Old Virgin? That shit was hilariousss.
T: So you probably didn’t have a fixed gear bike.
H: I didn’t even know how to ride a bike. This has been a big impediment.
T: And…you’re not vegan?
H: I’m not. There’s no hope for me.
1. How many plaid shirts do you own? Rough estimate.
Okay, let me do it chronologically. I love plaid, it’s like, my favorite color. I own roughly 10. I try and expand my collection as often as possible. Back in the day (in 2004), people called them ‘cowboy shirts’. ‘Oh Hannah and her cowboy shirts!’ Now they’re like ‘you’re a hipster.’ Nah, I’m just gay. I’ve been building coming out for years. I am the plaid movement.
2. Can you cook?
3. Favorite L Word character?
H: Um…either Bette or Tina.
T: What?! Who likes Tina and Bette?
H: I also like Dana. RIP.
T: Let’s do Fuck/Marry/Kill.
H: Yeah, fuck Bette, marry Tina, kill Dana.
T: Kill Dana? She’s already dead.
H: We should do another F/M/K. Can we do Glee?
H: [without prompt] Fuck Rachel. Yeah, I would totally hit that. Marry Santana. I would kill Sam, because I want to be Sam on the show. Kill Sam so I can replace him. Floppy hair, plaid…come on.
T: [baffled silence re: Rachel]
3. Most hated kitchen item?
H: Sliced deli meats.
T: This went in a weird direction.
4. Tell me about your terrible poetry.
H: I like to write poetry. I’ll write you a poem right now. Let’s do a haiku.
[Takes piece of paper, writes hastily]
The sun…of the moon
Left spots of…light
In my eyes…
T: I’m going to sell it on eBay.
H: Is any of this relevant content for you?
At the My Drunk Kitchen event that night, Hart commanded the mic as three teams with a wildly varying understanding of the rules raced to cook something — I have no idea what. Needless to say, the event was BYOB, and seemed to be in full swing even before it had begun. And while I can’t capture the particular blurry wonder of what exactly transpired at that oddly unmarked and eminently fire code-violating venue in the South Mission, Drinking and Kitchens both factored in prominently, which I think means it kept with the theme.
Just minutes into the competition (a term I use loosely), Hart had dissolved the boundary of the audience and swept a room of 100+ delighted MDK devotees into a full-blown interactive drinking game, punctuated by endearingly lisped, ever-hilarious narrative gems. With the plaid-claid rising YouTube star confidently at the wheel, an ostensible cook-off evolved into a rollicking, chaotic house party with 100 former-strangers-turned-drinking-buddies.
Given the preponderance of half-empty bottles of Stoli resting next to open flame, it’s a wonder anyone made it through in one piece. But lo, at the end of the night, the audience poured out onto Cesar Chavez Street, sated and abuzz, alive above all. This Harto, I have a feeling she’s going places.