Hannah Hart is something of a millennial Cinderella: A funny DIY video uploaded to YouTube late at night—in this case, featuring Hart drunkenly cooking—went viral, which led to the creation of a cult-beloved series, which led to a personality-driven multiplatform content explosion that has landed Hart at the top echelon of digital fame.
But while Hart’s personality is the driving force behind her (enormously successful) brand, details of her life pre-fame have mostly remained undisclosed. Though she’s been incredibly open with viewers about her sexuality, the story of how and why she is who she is has yet to be fully told. With this week’s release of her memoir, Buffering: Unshared Tales Of A Life Fully Loaded, Hart is finally letting us in—and what a story it is.
Written with a voice that feels familiar to anyone who watches her videos, Buffering is poignant, painful, and raw—and yet, in true Hart fashion, relentlessly optimistic in spite of it all. From her mother’s ongoing battle with schizophrenia to her own struggles with self-harm, it’s clear that as far as success goes, nothing has been handed to her. But make no mistake, this is no sob story: Hart doesn’t want your pity. She wants to entertain you, to make you laugh, to tell you about mental illness and homeless and coming out so that you feel less alone.
“I feel like a walking nerve,” she tells me, visiting the NYLON office on the day her book launches. And truly, this book reads like a paginated nerve, too—one that is sure to create as much if not more excitement than that first episode of My Drunk Kitchen, “Butter Yo Shit,” in which the YouTube star-to-be drank her sister’s wine and attempted to make grilled cheese for what turned out to be an audience of over four million.
What made you want to write the book?
I've always wanted to write a memoir. Books brought me a lot of comfort growing up. There wasn't as much diversity in storytelling and media as there is today, but in books, you could always find someone who maybe had a life that was more similar to yours. Jeanette Walls published a memoir called The Glass Castle; David Sedaris' books were very funny but also very raw. There are a lot of books that brought me comfort, and I always dreamed of the day that I could write a memoir and hope that I would have something to say when I did. Now that I've been given this platform, I feel like it's a real privilege to be able to share my story and something I take seriously.
Is your writing process different from your video editing process?
It's different, but it's also similar. Writing is something that I've had a lot more practice with because I've been journaling my whole life; I studied literature in college. In a weird way, having learned how to do video has given me the opportunity to learn more about myself as a writer, because I was given the chance to publish a memoir and I was like, "Okay, now I've got to do this." It was tough. It was very cathartic, but at the same time, you also have to stay in a space where you're not tipping over the edge. I had to do my day job while I was writing the book. It was kind of like being drenched but then having to towel off real quick and go out into the world. Your clothes are still wet, but you're like, "Hey, what's up?!"
It seems like writing this must have been such an emotional journey, in terms of taking your life—the highs, the lows, the trauma—and turning it into words on a page. How did you get through that?
I go to therapy [laughs]. It was hard. I got through it because I was very conscious of "this is your chance" and "this is your opportunity," and that really kept me driving forward. Also again, the reason why it's my opportunity is because I'm an entertainer. I can't let my day job fall by the wayside because I want to pour everything into this book. I had to figure out a way to try and do both. Doing the audiobook was really hard. Right now is one of the harder moments too because it's just so different from anything else I've done. I've never done interviews about Hannah Hart. I've done interviews about being a celebrity and being like, "Oh that movie is so great." It's farther away, but this is about my life, my family, and my relationship with myself. It's so different.
It's different because you're talking about relationships with other people too. What was it like for them to have you be doing this?
My older sister, Naomi, is, like I say at the end of the book in the section called “The General and the Monk,” always the other side of the story. You're reading it from my perspective, but the reason I wrote about Naomi is because she's the other half of every single thing that's happened in this book. I was really nervous about how Naomi would feel about my interpretation, especially because she's my big sister and I want her to be proud of me. I sent it to her, and she texted, "All I can say right now is that I feel a deep sense of completeness, of peace."
Oh, my god. Did you cry?
Yeah, I had that whelming feeling. I'm really happy because I feel like Naomi's approval makes me feel really valid.
Totally. Of all the people to approve of your memoir, it's like, your big sister!
Exactly. She was like, "Mmm, yeah," and I was like, "Right?" [laughs].
I loved that you started the book with a trigger warning before saying that you weren't going to have any more trigger warnings because that's not how life is. For someone who works on the internet in 2016, that was a really bold move.
Yeah. I did want to say that because life doesn't have trigger warnings. You don't know when you're gonna turn the corner and be triggered. You don't know when someone's going to say something and be triggered. For me, every time someone says the word "psycho," I don't like it. I hate when people makes jokes about homelessness. There are all these little things that you have to encounter on a daily basis. When I wrote the book, I didn't want to write "trigger warning: suicide," like "someone's about to die in this chapter." It's just life. Sometimes it hits you. Sometimes you read a sentence, and you're like, “Oh, shit," and that's what happens.
The other thing that really struck me about you, and you do this without humble bragging, is how inherently generous you are as a person. The first video you made was for your friend. You turned your tour into charity work. What do you do for yourself?
I think that that's the next stage. After this point, it's about trying to get to par. Instead of operating at a negative sixteen, I've been spending my life getting to this point where I can get closer to zero. In a weird way, it's like stopping self-harm. That's something I did for myself. These days, I really love getting massages, and I have a lot of healthy friendships in my life. That's what I'm working toward.
I remember in 2011, you did an interview with AfterEllen.com in which you said that you were worried that coming out might be a hindrance to your career. It seems like it hasn't been, but it's understandable considering how different digital media was for gay women just five years ago. How do you see your role in that shift?
I feel lucky to say that I'm a part, to whatever degree, of that shift. The reason I came out was because Anderson Cooper came out and I was like, "Man, I never want to have to do that." I totally understand the generation he grew up in. He was like, "You know what. Yes, guys, but Jesus, I'm a fucking field reporter, I'm an investigative journalist, I'm a gay man, whatever." How frustrating must that have been for him? I wanted to establish it right off the bat. "Hey FYI, I've been doing this for about a year. Just so you know, you're enjoying this comedy and entertainment, but I'm also a gay person. Just a heads up. Nothing's a secret about that." It makes me really happy that coming out has also become a fad on the internet. It's funny because we, who live in liberal areas or work in the entertainment industry, can roll our eyes, but the reality of it is there are so many LGBTQ people who do not live in these cities, who do not live in this world at all who need this. Anytime somebody comes out, they get to see, "That person's like me." You get to feel that consecutiveness. You just feel a little bit closer. It's like family.
I was working at Autostraddle when you emerged, and I remember we felt this kind of an ownership over you because we were like, “She’s one of us! She’s ours!” But then all of a sudden everyone else loved you too, and you were able to bridge the gap between queer and straight media. It had been so divided.
Right. It was like there was AfterEllen, and then Autostraddle was like the cool, hip one. I think Autostraddle does a good job of talking about queer issues and trans issues as a whole. I really wanted to move forward in mainstream entertainment because I wanted to elbow more space behind me. I'm willing to go forward into this, I want to do what it takes, but I also want to leave room. I want there to be more space for other storytellers.
Why do you think queer media is proving to be so unsustainable financially?
I might be totally wrong. I don't know if bitterness is the word I want to use, but when you've been disenfranchised and you've had to struggle for so long, and then people start listening, you want to be like, "Yeah! By the way, fuck you." That's an urge you have, but you have to quell that. You have to play nice, you have to play in other people's pools. It might feel like, "I don't want to compromise my blog," but maybe the kid that comes after you won't have to compromise if you compromise a little bit right now. I always try and make sure that I have LGBTQ elements in all the work that I do. In Dirty 30, the movie we last did, my fiancée and I have the healthiest relationship of the film, and us being a lesbian couple is even a talking point. It's just the story of our characters. That's the point that I've gotten to over the last five years. Every time something's a little more successful, you get a little more room.
It seems like your fan base, while totally adoring, demands personal details from you—especially in terms of whom you're dating. Is it weird to have your relationships be so public and to keep people posted on it?
Yeah. I think that's something all people in entertainment have to figure out for themselves, what their level of privacy is. There are different lessons that you learn about that level of privacy and what makes you comfortable. I think it's just par for the course, and I'm happy that my relationships are a point of curiosity because gossip is also a normalizing factor. How much celebrity gossip do we have about heteronormative couples? All of it. What about casual gossip about gay couples? It's okay.
I think we're in a very specific period of time when that has started to happen. Everything I read is about Kristen Stewart dating Annie Clark.
Right! It's so cool, though. The only public relationship that I've had was with Ingrid [Nilsen], and it was so funny to see MTV, Seventeen, and all these publications posting about it. None of it, aside from Ingrid coming out, was "lesbians exist!" It was just two celebrities dating.
It's especially amazing because fashion magazines used to pretend lesbians didn't exist and now they're like, "Oh, we see you."
They're like, "How many of our models are bi?" [laughs]. It's very true. It's exciting, and I'm happy.
Do you think it's still possible to have the kind of success that you did starting on YouTube, or do you think that era is over and something else is taking its place?
There are so many. I don't think people should look to the platform to figure out how they are going to have their success. NYLON's audience may not be on YouTube, it could be on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter. Here's what I think the formula is: You have to know your brand identity, then you have to know the structure that does well on each of the separate platforms. YouTube is salacious titles and good thumbnails and four- to six-minute content. That's basically it. Know each of those platforms' thesis statements, then figure out which one best suits your brand's thesis first, and start there. Then develop that. You have to just think about it.
Your first video was an accident in terms of it being viral content. How intentional is your social media now?
I think this is probably the great divide between YouTubers and other online personalities, is that my stuff is all just manifestations of me. However, [the way] I play with Snapchat is exactly how the Hannah Hart brand plays with Snapchat. However, I tweet is exactly how my brand tweets. It's easy for me because I get to be myself.
What's next for you?
I'm going on a book tour. We just had a movie come out, Dirty 30. I have a Food Network show coming up. That's going to be interesting since I've never done anything on television. I've done guest appearances, but I've never produced a television show. We have a really great company we're working with, Warrior Poets, they're our production partner, and I'm really excited to see what we make. We're figuring it out, and I can't wait to show everybody.