LGBT YouTube Superstar Hannah Hart Takes On Television
From Vogue: In 2011, a 25-year-old UC Berkley grad named Hannah Hart got a message from her former roommate, telling her that she missed her drunk cooking. So Hart did what any millennial with a little ingenuity and an Internet connection might do; she shot a video of herself making a grilled cheese sandwich to upload to YouTube. The only hitch? She didn’t have any cheese. What follows in the clip is mostly the host’s heightened-for-comedy inebriation and quips about the importance of eating something easy while imbibing, but it gave Hart’s affable charm and relatable commentary more than enough room to shine. And most importantly, it drew far more than just the one viewer—instead, millions logged on, and My Drunk Kitchen was soon one of the video hosting site’s biggest attractions. Guest stars like Mary-Louise Parker and Sarah Silverman made Kitchen cameos, and Hart became a certifiable Internet celebrity—an influencer that boasted millions of followers and views.
Despite having expanded that influence elsewhere—speaking tours, cookbooks, movies with fellow YouTubers and frequent collaborators Mamrie Hart and Grace Helbig, and a recent memoir called Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded—Hart has continued to create new weekly episodes of My Drunk Kitchen, although now there are noticeable differences: higher production value; sponsored partnerships with brands like Barilla; her hair has gradually lightened from a dark brown to a bright platinum. Openly gay, and fond of using her platform to promote equality and offer advice to queer youth on coming out and other facets of self-discovery, it wasn’t long before Hart became something of an LGBTQIA icon. It seemed like it could only be a matter of time before television would come calling. And it was: On August 14, the Food Network will premiere I Hart Food, a six-episode series following the YouTuber turned new media mogul as she visits a handful of foodie-focused cities, speaking with the locals about their city’s special ingredients and chefs’ stories of cultivating regional recipes around them.
By now, Hart, who is blonde, goofy, and dresses androgynously (“I want to say that I’m fashionable enough to call it androgynous—like I really do wanna be that cool,” she said), often fields comparisons to Ellen DeGeneres (who Hart says she’s not yet had the chance to meet, but is “obviously a huge fan” and feels “fortunate and really, really blessed” if anyone finds parallels between the two women), is seasoned at this sort of thing, having eschewed the party-girl packaging of Drunk Kitchen in favor of cooking, because “I want to be Hannah Hart—I don’t want to be the drunk girl.” She says that I Hart Food allows her to bridge her love of making and eating meals with “her passion for people and conversation.”
“[I Hart Food] focuses on what inspires them, what moves them, what drives them to create the inventive recipes they’ve created or why they’ve never left their hometown, or why they want more people to love this ingredient the way that they do,” Hart said, and her own show began inside her sister’s kitchen, before following her into her own. “There’s nothing more fun than talking to somebody who really loves to share an experience, and that’s what creating a meal is. We get to take a more intimate look at the experience of food, because food in and of itself is an intimate experience.”
Because of her huge platform (2.5 million followers on her YouTube channel; more than 1 million a piece on Twitter and Instagram), Hart is frequently asked to lend her pull to good-natured promotional uses. And while a lot of them tend to be for noble causes that she believes in, like mental health awareness, Hart says she’s wary of “compassion fatigue.”
“I don’t want people to get inundated with messages of compassion so much so that they become numb to it,” Hart said. Instead, she encourages her fans (who are self-designated as “Hartosexuals”) to participate in Have a Hart Day, an annual initiative to “organize and mobilize” fans and friends to volunteer, “spreading service and reckless optimism all over the world.” In August alone, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Boston, and seven other major cities will host opportunities for Hart’s fans to congregate at selected food banks, animal sanctuaries, and Habitat for Humanities to participate in this progressive kind of group effort at giving back. That’s exactly the kind of humanity Hart hopes to instill within anyone who becomes a part of “the Harto community.”
And for those who are hoping that Hart’s success won’t take her too far away from My Drunk Kitchen, I Hart Food is only an extension of what she is looking to continue to create. As someone who has always had full creative control over her own content, Hart says this collaboration with Food Network has allowed her to gain more experience working with other people on something she’s just as proud of as she is her solo endeavors.
“I love being in front of the camera. I love performing; I love entertaining,” she said, “but I also really love the creative process of coming up with concepts and working together. You know the phrase ‘too many cooks’? We had just enough—just enough cooks.”
The only real change Hart has made in six years is that she says she’s no longer a terrible cook.
“On an A-to-F scale, I think I’m at a solid C minus,” she said. “Practice, man—practice makes perfect. Through osmosis alone, I’ve learned a lot.”