Hannah Berner Took the Funniest Possible Road to Fame

If Hannah Berner were to credit her career to any one individual—apart from herself—it might be the driver who hit her with a car during her senior year of college. “Not to brag, but, physically, I handled that car,” the comedian and podcaster tells me. “You should see the car!”

It was a frigid pre-dawn morning at the University of Wisconsin, the 2013 Big Ten tennis tournament on the horizon. If Berner could pull off a strong performance, she hoped to go pro after graduation. Instead, as she stepped into a crosswalk on her way to practice, a car struck her from the side. “Long story short, I was thrown, and I had a really bad muscle contusion, [the doctors] called it,” Berner explains. “I’m not a woman in STEM,” she adds. “I don’t know what that means.”

She’d avoided any broken bones, but her tennis career suffered post-recovery: She lost several matches in tiebreaks after she returned to the court, and it quickly became clear her Wimbledon dreams were slipping away. “At a young age, I had to break up with the longest relationship I’ve ever had, because it wasn’t working out anymore,” she says. “I felt like I was disappointing a lot of people. I felt like I was disappointing that young girl who wanted to be a champion, but I wish that girl knew how much happier she was going to be…I thought, in life, you had to be a masochist to accomplish incredible things, when you actually can just listen to your gut and make your gut happy. I know a lot of hot girls, we have gut problems, so it’s hard to listen to your gut, but it’s okay to do what seems like the easier path.”

“Easier path” seems a bit of a misnomer, given where that path led: a role at the digital media company Betches (fun job, bad pay); a stint on the Bravo reality TV show Summer House (good visibility, brutal treatment); an astronomic rise as a comedian-interviewer-personality on TikTok (bigger audience, unpredictable results); and, finally, a comedy special on Netflix called We Ride at Dawn, which dropped on the streamer yesterday (incredible platform, but what if no one thinks you’re funny?). These risks and trade-offs have defined Berner’s post-college career—she’s now 32—as has her endearingly dare-me-to-do-it attitude. Five years ago, she says, there “wasn’t even the technology” for her to do the sort of work she does today, amassing her platform of more than 4 million followers across social platforms.

After her Summer House saga ended in 2021—a chapter that took an ugly pivot as she became a character fans loved to hate—Berner refused to disappear. She dug in her heels with comedy sets and podcasts and social media, where she set a goal for herself: For three months, she’d post on TikTok three times a day. She told herself, “‘I’m not going to judge. I’m just going to do it, and then after three months, let’s see where we’re at.’ It changed my life.” Over the ensuing years, her comedic man-on-the-street interviews about bedroom habits and “coochie shaving” led to her getting time with Jesse McCartney, the Jonas Brothers, and both Jennifers Lopez and Lawrence. Her podcasts—particularly Giggly Squad, co-hosted with her Summer House castmate Paige DeSorbo—climbed the Spotify and Apple Podcasts charts. She married a “zaddy,” fellow comedian Des Bishop, in 2022 and wrote about it for this very site. She became not just popular but known.

hannah berner wearing a sweater dress and sitting in a chair

David Urbanke

Berner often repeats the sentiment that comedy “saved her life” once Summer House shaped her into someone she didn’t recognize. (Clashes with housemates, particularly her former friend Amanda Batula and Amanda’s now-husband, Kyle Cooke, earned her an unfavorable edit and audiences’ ire.) “After reality TV, I was feeling a little dirty,” she says. “I was feeling a little misunderstood; I was feeling confused.” She found refuge in on-stage comedy sets: “The one time my mind was quiet, and I wasn’t on my phone, and at least I was on stage being judged for [being] authentically me and what I was putting out there.”

She’d first started meeting stand-up comedians pre-Summer House, while working as a video producer at Betches, where she hosted comedians in sketches. But stand-up didn’t become a legitimate practice of her own until 2019, when the success of her first podcast, Berning in Hell, earned her an invitation to try a live recording at the now-closed Carolines on Broadway. There, she incorporated a 10-minute stand-up set into the recording. She’d expected to feel the sense of foreboding that had loomed over her tennis matches, or the sort of scrutiny she’d picked up on Summer House. Instead, “when I was on stage, I felt like I was FaceTiming my best friend,” Berner says. “I think my sensitivity is what makes me good at standup but not good at reality TV.”

Having sold tickets to live shows since early in her career, the Brooklyn-born Berner knew the next steps to take. As she road-tripped between clubs, she narrowed her enormous bucket of comedy content into a tight hour-long set. In 2022, she was named one of Just For Laughs’ New Faces of Comedy, and in 2023, Variety gave her a nod as one of its annual 10 Comics to Watch. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, I think I’m doing something right,’” Berner says.

By the time Netflix expressed interest in filming a special, it was her husband, Bishop, who told Berner she needed to take her time. He advised her to continue touring, perfect her material, and then give Netflix the go-ahead. “He basically was like, ‘Your first special, there’s no reason to rush into it,’” Berner says. “I actually had to be really patient when Netflix offered it to me, and I told them I wanted to wait an additional 10 months before I shot it. Netflix gave me the flexibility, like, ‘Okay, we can wait longer for you to make sure it’s the best it could be.’ But art is hard. Art’s never fully done.”

hannah berner in a brown dress smiling at the camera

David Urbanke

The special was at last taped in Philadelphia this March, featuring bits about Berner’s marriage to Bishop, unrealistic sex scenes in movies, Disney princes and Plan B, bachelorette parties as cults, and her “gun jokes” and “queef jokes,” which are her personal favorites. “I was feeling very calm and confident up until two weeks before the special [taping], and then I had a full-on mental breakdown,” Berner admits. She “called up the big guns,” including her therapist and the popular spiritual coach and motivational speaker Gabby Bernstein. “I fought my demons for two weeks, and then right before I stepped onstage, a calmness came over me,” she continues. “It was a crazy, intense emotional experience.”

Now, as We Ride at Dawn lands on Netflix, Berner’s already planning her next special. (She thinks she’ll tackle bits about tennis and her parents.) But she’s not abandoning any of her other projects in the meantime, particularly as Giggly Squad continues to perch high on the podcast charts and her TikTok interviews garner the attention (and participation) of Hailey Bieber and Charli XCX. She has no intentions to turn off the social media faucet; she enjoys making celebrities feel comfortable, making them laugh, even if she only gets five minutes to shove a mic under their chin. She’s even thrilled to talk strategy as our interview veers into theories about the dreaded algorithm. Her rules for Instagram? “Don’t post stuff to make someone jealous, unless it’s an ex. Don’t post something to try to make yourself look like something you’re not. Don’t edit your photos too much, or you’re going to hate yourself in real life.” For TikTok? “The first four seconds are really critical. Get into it, show them what you’re going to say, and then end with a really good hook.” For both? “Post every day. Once you find something that works, lean into it.”

Most recently, she announced on Instagram that she and DeSorbo will publish a book in April of next year, How to Giggle, as a sort of self-help spin-off of the podcast. When Simon & Schuster first approached the women about a book project, they thought it was a joke. “We were like, ‘What about us made you think these girls are novelists?’” Berner says. But with some editing help from Berner’s mother, a former middle school teacher, they put together a collection sans ghostwriters. “How to take life less seriously is what the book’s about. We talk of everything from anxiety, to finding your personal style, to things that are difficult to do in bed. It really is a manifesto of our silliest personal thoughts.”

Still, her stand-up journey remains, perhaps, the accomplishment of which Berner’s most proud—and which she’s most excited to continue pursuing. She brandishes her “nontraditional” path as a signal to other comics, primarily female-identifying ones, those who might not have explored stand-up previously “because, physically, it’s not always the safest place,” Berner says. “Going to bars or clubs at midnight in Brooklyn and then taking the subway at some point, you’re kind of like, ‘I don’t know if this is worth it.’”

Her unorthodox rise is no coincidence, she says, particularly as social media and podcasting allow creators to find an audience outside of the usual club circuit. “I hope women see the special and decide that there’s a safe space for women to go and watch comedy and love stand-up and feel like you’re out with the girls, and you’re not going to be uncomfortable,” Berner says. But, just as importantly, she hopes fans see a future for themselves: “You don’t need the traditional gatekeepers to tell you you’re funny [enough] to make it.”

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