In a world where presenting the highlight reel on social media has become an unwritten rule in a manual that no one was given, yet people feel pressured to follow, comedian and mental health advocate (though to pick just two accolades surely is under-selling) Hannah Berner stands as the antidote: encouraging authentic and shameless conversation that is as refreshing as it is necessary.
Having played tennis professionally for the University of Wisconsin, the Brooklyn native is no stranger to the public eye and the pressures it doles. But it’s over the past two years that Berner has truly been making a name for herself in the digital sphere. She created the first video department at media company Betches where she wrote, directed, produced, starred, and edited original content. Following her departure, Hannah secured a starring role on the third and (upcoming) fourth seasons of Bravo’s Summer House.
This major opportunity, however, is only in addition (and in tandem) to her stand-up shows and hosting her mental health comedy podcast “Berning in Hell.” The podcast is aptly named, as it focuses on guests opening up about their demons. Plus, who doesn’t love a good pun?
“Berning in Hell” does a commendable job at avoiding pleasantries and small talk, encouraging guests to be transparent about their past difficulties and the way they influence the present. “I started my podcast Berning in Hell because I was sick of the constant show off and comparison culture that social media breeds,” Hannah stated in an Instagram post.
As a consumer, I was immediately drawn to the authoritative voice both Hannah and her guests assume when speaking about the things that trouble them. Authenticity is not easy – especially when considering these vulnerable inner monologues are to be shared with the intention of widespread, public reach. But it is this vulnerability that ultimately connects people, Hannah has found. “I’ve learned that no matter how successful you are, we are all struggling with the voices in our heads who say we aren’t good enough, are ashamed of our past, or worried about the future,” Hannah said, when asked what the podcast has taught her about connectivity. “Once we all realize that these voices are from people in our past and not our own, we can detach and find peace in our minds. No money, fame, or relationship will make your mind peaceful if you don’t work on your mind.”
Hannah’s content is real and refreshing, because there is no element of staging or censorship. At risk of a colloquialism diluting impact, she is relatable. She vocalizes all of the things that you also probably think – the salacious, the interesting, the curious – but are just too fearful to say. (Just me?) “I think I’ve found success in podcasting, reality TV, comedy, and social media because I am extremely open about my life,” Hannah told me in an interview in late November. “I take pride in talking about things that other people may be too scared to talk about.” Among her favorite topics to open up about? Farting, eating disorders, and anxiety.
This was not without effort, of course. The arc of Hannah’s own narrative within her podcast is especially central to the idea of identity, specifically her struggle to find her own following her departure from playing tennis. “I had to come to peace that I am not a one-dimensional person with one purpose in life,” she said. “I stopped identifying myself with the career I had and tried to learn more about myself as a person. I really took the time to reevaluate what brings me joy and what inspires me.”
In the pursuit of chasing what she finds joyful and in branching out with an entrepreneurial spirit has allowed Hannah to feel “more creative than ever.” As a (self-proclaimed) creative myself, I often find that writer’s block and getting in my own head is a sure-fire way to be stifled by stagnancy. To refute, Hannah offered the following advice: “Go live. Get off your computer and go to a play, workout class, bar, or just walk outside. Living is where I get my inspiration. If you are always behind your phone or your computer it’s hard to be inspired or have your own opinions.”
Hannah is slated to have a stand-up show in Brooklyn this January, with a promise of additional shows in the near future. Want more now? Hannah recently just launched a Patreon – where Little Devils can get bonus episodes of “Berning” starting at just $5 per month – the content of which focuses on ” …address[ing] topics about myself I don’t talk about when I’m interviewing other people on my podcast.” The account is an easy and inexpensive way to more tangibly support a creator whose work is always free and accessible.