Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Drunk Kitchen Creator Hannah Hart on Life as a YouTube Star

[ed. I love Hannah Hart. One of my favorite MDK episodes takes place at Burning Man.]

If there’s a go-to model for serendipitous YouTube stardom it’s Hannah Hart. Her My Drunk Kitchen YouTube series (which, as the title suggests, features her getting drunk and cooking), has over five years amassed 2.5 million followers. On her upward trajectory, she’s published a cookbook, starred in a movie, gone on tour, judged Food Network shows, and, most recently, written a memoir called Buffering.

One might guess Hannah Hart aspired for celebrity. But according to her, it all started by accident.

My Drunk Kitchen is a show that would never get off the ground in 2016: a girl using a cruddy webcam to film herself getting drunk and stuffing croutons into a Cornish game hen is the type of friendly, intimate weirdness that is now commodified and prepackaged by web video production teams.

Hart got in on the ground floor, before YouTube became this highly curated land of sponsored content, late night TV clips, and Vevo view tickers. In 2011, weird was good and a little bit sad was even better. In 2016, her followers are still hanging out with her in the kitchen, probably in part because it’s a holdover from a better time (and Hart is still very, very funny).

The Verge spoke to her recently about why it was time to write about her life, how fame makes you responsible for other people, and why she’ll never stop getting drunk and making food.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How did you start making the My Drunk Kitchen videos?

In early 2011, I moved from San Francisco to New York to be a proofreader at a translation firm. I was working nights and weekends because my specialty was East Asian languages. One day I was Gchatting with a friend of mine because Gchat had just added a video feature and I had just gotten a laptop with a camera in it for the first time. My friend, who was my roommate, was like “Man, I miss you, I miss just hanging out, you’ve been gone three months.” And I was like “I miss you too, I’m gonna make a video for you right now where I just do a cooking show and get drunk and cook.”

So, I opened up Photo Booth, recorded it onto Photo Booth, imported it into iMovie, chopped it up and sent it to her.

So you put in on YouTube, or she put it on YouTube?

I sent it to her via YouTube, because that is a way you send video files. There was like Send File or something like that [on Mac] but she didn’t even have a Mac. And remember when you had to convert files to work on different [vide players]? So I put it on YouTube so she could watch it.

I really can’t imagine something like that today going viral.

It also didn’t go viral by today’s standards. My Drunk Kitchen episode one didn’t get a million views, it got like 80,000. And I was like “WHAT?” It was truly bizarre. But then people were like, “This is my new favorite show on YouTube” and I was like “... show on YouTube. What are you talking about?” I wasn’t a fan of YouTube culture, I didn’t know that people like the Fine Brothers existed at all. I didn’t know that people were putting shows online.

It’s become very common for people to say that the Wild West days of YouTube are over. Do you think that’s true? If you started My Drunk Kitchen today, what would happen?

I think that one of the reasons that I’m so grateful for the channel and for the community and the way it’s evolved to this point is that in 2011 it was still so not intentional and people didn’t really have goals of becoming a quote-unquote YouTube Star. So, now I think the landscape is pretty oversaturated in terms of the amount of people who are on it. That being said, I think if your goal is to be famous then I don’t know if there’s ever any amount of views that’s going to be satisfying to you. When I started on YouTube, people were making stuff because we were like “Hey, cool we have this free space to make stuff.” Now people are like, “If I don’t get a million views, it’s not a success.” And that makes me sad, for the current creator’s space.

Do you think YouTube is less of an accurate cultural cross-section than it was eight years ago?

It’s an entertainment platform now. But the good news is that there are tons of really great, innovative, entertaining channels out there and ideas out there. I really want to stress that I love that YouTube allows space where people can just create content and post it. Like, have you ever watched Hydraulic Press Channel?

Yes! It’s so weird.

But it’s so satisfying! There would never be, there’s no room for that on television. No one would ever make that a TV show. But Hydraulic Press Channel is great. So in that way, YouTube is still a really valuable space even if it isn’t exactly what it used to be. That’s my official stance. (...)

What I love about My Drunk Kitchen is that I feel like it embraces the way that loneliness can be sad but can also be creative and productive and joyful. What do you think broadly people find appealing about just watching someone get drunk and cook?

I like to think of it like this: if YouTube is a house party, there’s going to be different parts of a house party that appeal to different people. When you walk in the door and you see people break-dancing in the living room, you’re going to look at it and be like “Wow, those people are break-dancing.” That’s one of those popular, big, you-can’t-resist-looking-at-it types of channels. There are going to be people who are more like, talking shit, saying “I feel this about this!” And then there would be people playing games, people around beer pong, stuff like that. My channel is for the people who want to hang out in the kitchen. That’s where I hang out when I’m at a party. If I’m at a house party I go into the kitchen because it’s a little bit quieter, you’re still drinking, you’re having fun, but it’s kind of a space where you have good conversations. It’s that quality that makes it more appealing than just the drinking and just the comedy, I think it’s the intimacy.

So how did you realize, I can do this, this could be my thing, and I’m going to dedicate time to it?

It was never like that. It was more like, “Oh, cool, that was kind of fun, I can make another?” Two and a half weeks later I posted another one. And then I was like “Cool! I can make another.” Then two and a half weeks after that I was like “I don’t really want to be known for being drunk,” so I made a video that wasn’t about that. And that was it. I just enjoyed it more and more. It takes up more and more of your time. I took a plunge, I was like “I’m gonna get rid of my apartment so I don’t have to pay the rent, I’m gonna sleep on my friends’ couches, and I’m going to see if it’s going to go somewhere.” It wasn’t like “Great, I’m a superstar.” People always ask, “How did you know?” But I just want to shout it from the rooftops, sometimes you don’t know.

Has producing the show stayed pretty much the same since the beginning?

Before I came on this trip, I set up my camera in my kitchen, got drunk, and filmed a video that I’m going to post on Thursday. Every time I get interviewed by traditional media outlets, they’re always like “So your crew...” and I’m like “I don’t have a crew.” And they’re like “Really?” And I’m like “... have you watched it?” You think there’s a crew behind that? Like, somebody rolling sound? Maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten to turn the mic on so many times if that were the case.

by Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Verge | Read more:
Image: Hanah Hart