Where does Hannah Einbinder go from here?
Photo: Left: HBO, Right: Apatow Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock
Hannah Einbender is the 26-year-old co-star of hacks, who returns for a second season today. She is also the daughter of Laraine Newman, the revolutionary SNL comedian who is one of the greatest of all time.
Let’s start here: Is Hannah just a product of SNL nepotism or… what?!
Ashley: I think all actors, if you have connections, if you have someone who can help you, they’ll use that background. I think it was Ben Stiller who long ago said, “How can you say my parents helped me get anywhere?” And it’s like, “Come on Ben, obviously.” But, at the same time, comedy and stand-up is still an industry where the people at the top expect you to devote your time to it. And if you really want to be respected, you have to somehow go through the stages. It doesn’t matter who your parents are if you haven’t hung out in clubs or toured. Obviously, yes, she has parents who are helpful. But she’s hilarious and an incredibly talented person and you need both to skyrocket your career so quickly.
I want to get into stand-up, because I don’t think a lot of people have seen her play. What does his comedy look like and who is it aimed at?
Ashley: My full disclosure: I’m comic friends with Hannah and Meg Stalter. I started doing comedy in Chicago and Meg was one of the first comedians I did shows with. I think they’re both really hilarious. For Hannah, I think her stand-up is a version of the character she plays hacks. She’s funnier and less like a stereotypical boring millennial like on the show, but it sounds a lot like a queer, bisexual, weird voice from someone who I think is outside the norm of what you’d expect from this little white girl. It’s interesting because now people find out about his stand-up through this character on hacks, which isn’t really her, and they kinda combine the two in their heads.
Solid stuff. So she’s not that bad.
Ashley: You know you can’t – well, I was going to say you can’t play Hollywood Improv unless you’re good, and that’s a lie, so.
Katherine: If we took out the nepotism in Hollywood, we wouldn’t have Hollywood. But I think especially for creative fields, it’s not like, He’s my terrible nephew, let’s lock him in the mail room. Especially when someone has to stand on a stage and make people laugh – there’s an immediate answer to whether or not they’re successful. You’re probably pretty good because you have a nepotistic relationship with that thing you grew up with. To which you have been much more exposed. Isn’t that right? Sure, that’s not fair, but that doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. It just means you had a lot more opportunities to get good at it. That plus the ability to have access to like, What kinds of movements should I do?
At vanity lounge post-Oscar party.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Vanity Fair
Ashley, I didn’t know this lady was 26 before that. She’s so young, and she kind of plays for me.
Ashley: She looks a little older. When you look at the show and the people involved in the show, they’re nothing new. They are TV veterans. I don’t think they wanted to risk a show like hacks about someone they didn’t think was talented enough to carry the show. They had to find someone who could stand next to Jean Smart and hold him down.
Kathryn, how do you feel being next to Jean Smart?
Katherine: It’s difficult. She has a character that she was chosen to play partly because people feel like you have to be both an individual and a representative of an entire generation of people. You have to be yourself and also everyone – and you have to do it next to Jean Smart. There were times when I could feel that tension in the scripts, when it felt like this character was being asked to replace a lot of things without specifics. When it works is when she’s still able to find that combination of being a person and the idea of people looking up to her and seeing a lot of things about America. It’s a Herculean task that anyone has to do.
Ashley: It’s like Hannah Horvath’s dilemma, you know.
Katherine: I was just going to say it! It’s not like we haven’t seen it before!
Ashley: It’s as if Lena Dunham had invented a character who was to represent someone boring – as the worst of a generation. But also, you have to kind of encourage them even though you’re supposed to hate them. And the audience is like, No, she’s annoying. I hate her. It’s like, yeah, they’re making fun of millennials with this character. It’s my prejudice as a comic woman, but I must love hacks because it’s the first thing I’ve ever looked at where it is, Yeah that’s how it feels. I can see what she stands for, but I’m also bored by her. She nails that. One thing I will say that is not so accurate and something that bothers me hacks is that when you look at comedy reality and the premise of this white girl being punished and sent to Vegas because she tweeted something bad. Like, that’s right do not something happens.
Katherine: Plus, she wouldn’t have been canceled for that tweet. It just wouldn’t happen!
You just wouldn’t!
Ashley: Especially to a connected white comic woman? Never. Many times when I look hacks, I think what she’s going through, that would actually apply to a black female comic or a minority comic. They are the ones who bear the pressure. Where I think white women in comedy are able to challenge those boundaries and are able to do weird things.
Was there a response gap between actors and viewers?
Katherine: On our own team at Vulture, it’s been really fascinating to watch. There was a mixed reaction. Especially for some of our staff members, there was some frustration, where it was like, “Okay, if you’re going to do a Joan Rivers show, just do the Joan Rivers show.” In the worst case, it’s impulse control, and we need to be able to be more open about who the real people are. But it’s also subject to the same kinds of questions that any TV comedy has to deal with in its second season. How, after creating and resolving tension between two people, do you create that tension again? That was my big question.
Ashley: For the comedians, there are the comedians who look on with resentment because we audition for so many roles on the show. But we remain strong and we continue to monitor.
Katherine: Heroes all.
Ashley: Thank you, we are very brave. But as a comedian, I was so glad they didn’t talk about Joan Rivers. I’m glad it wasn’t a real comic. I’m wearing a Deborah Vance shirt right now. [Editor’s note: She was.] I loved that they created this fictional woman. Give us Deborah Vance, give us this new character where we see the tropes of so many female comics that have become a footnote in the history books and are only known in the retirement game. There are so many comics that inspire me that I’ve seen being locked in there. But because she doesn’t exist, we really don’t know where these two could go. Are they going to be the next Hannah Gadsby, you know?
Katherine: Whatever your opinion of Nanette was, no one can say we’re not going to keep arguing about it. If nothing else, it’s so useful.
Ashley: Like literally, you can just use it as shorthand for a stand-up comic that tells long stories.
Katherine: What worries me is this implication that we like Deborah Vance more and we think she’s not going to be as hacky because she’s going to tell the truth about all this dark stuff. And I think there’s a simplicity for women in that implication that you’re not going to be that character anymore: you’re going to say something really sad, and now you’re going to be important. And I hope they find a way out of the frustrating collapse of art and “authenticity”. My giant on-air quotes better be in the transcript.
Ashley: Part of me feels like there’s something to celebrate about how Deborah is a hack. And I think part of the show is that they both have to let go of some of those morals.
So this role breaks down the identities that Hannah already inhabits in a way. I wonder about our fascination, as an audience, for her as a young person. Are we concerned about this depiction because it’s so close to what she actually does in life? What if she’ll have the ability to move around the industry and if we’re going to be fair about the role she plays?
Ashley: Any comedian who gets that big role dreads filing them. Hannah doesn’t have a ton of specials taped, yes, but stand-up people know her so well that the people who book her for their shows know what they’re getting. But it’s the audience – like there are people who want Hannah to be the character of hacks, to the right?
Katherine: However, people are much more affected by the characters than by the people who play them. That’s what television is for, you know; it is accessible to millions of people in a way that living upright cannot be. So it’s a frustrating trap building that must be infuriating, but it feels like that’s what television is best at. So the question for Hannah or anyone else is: Do you want this? Do you adhere to it? Do you stop doing it for a while? It’s about choosing the type of relationship you want with him in the future. I think both paths will be available to her. Do you want to try to do everything at once? Do you choose a role – I try to think the opposite of that kind of role. A serial killer ?
Ashley: Yeah, like an action movie.
Marvel’s Next Star!
Katherine: Or like a cabin baby, right? Or as something very objectified and empty. Really any direction. But it’s a question of gender: Does she want to swerve or lean? I am very happy that she has the ability to make this choice.