Hannah Hart was not supposed to be famous — or at least not in the way she is now. But the internet, for all its faults, can also be a wonderful place, catapulting everyday people into a new kind of fame. For Hannah Hart, it took one video — one video of her highly intoxicated, and equally hilarious — sent to a friend as a sort of digital “I miss you” to change the course of her life.
For those who don’t yet know Hannah Hart, she is most famous for creating the YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen, or MDK for short. Much like the name suggests, the premise of the show is simple: Hannah gets drunk, cooks, and general hilarity ensues. But for someone whose career grew completely around a single drunken gag, Hannah Hart is surprisingly deep, an altruistic pioneer in a digital space that does not yet have a defined set of rules for what one is supposed to do with their internet success. In fact, she just may be the best example of what is yet to come in an era of new media, rapidly transitioning away from the traditional media we once knew.
It was two years and millions of video views after filming her first MDK that Hart would set out in an RV to tour the United States and Canada for her new online travel series Hello Harto. A big jump from the weekly drunken videos she had been making since 2011, Hello Harto, according to Hart, was a way of “doing something different for the fans.” Having funded the tour completely through the power of crowdsourcing, Hart set out to create something new and special that would allow her to break the barrier between the online world and the real world, meeting her fans — quite literally — in their homes. Hart, who originally only sought to raise $50,000, ended up raising over $223,000, allowing her to expand the tour to include 23 cities around North America.
In many ways what Hart did with Hello Harto is indicative of the largely untapped powers of the internet and its real ability to deliver results — not solely for the benefit of the stars, but also the communities they reach. For Hart, who had previously hosted a volunteer event in Los Angeles with her self-named community of fans, or “Hartosexuals,” the decision to turn Hello Harto into more than a meet-and-greet tour was a natural one. “I really wanted to do volunteer work in every city,” Hart told BuzzFeed. “Wouldn’t that be amazing, wouldn’t that be refreshing … a great way to do meet-ups? So it’s not just like, ‘The Hannah Hart Show,’ instead it’s like, let’s do something good.”
Throughout her travels, Hart and her team, which included producer Pearl Wible, director Sam Molleur, and driver / Hello Harto musical composer Nick Underwood, met over 2000 people in cities all over America and Canada, mobilizing Hart’s digital community to do good in their actual communities. For the internet’s many detractors, small moments like these represent a big win for the burgeoning reality of truly engaged online communities. She continued by saying, “In Portland, Minneapolis, Detroit, and New York, there are still Hartosexuals meeting up and volunteering.” In the end, Hart and her community packed 114,584 pounds of food, serving approximately 95,000 people throughout the course of the tour. This is the internet in action, crowdsourcing at its best, and all because one young woman got drunk, filmed herself cooking a meal, and instead of sending the video via email, decided to upload it to YouTube.
Before Hannah Hart was a “YouTuber,” or anything close to the entertainer she has become today, she was a Japanese translator. Having earned her degree in English Literature and Japanese Language from UC Berkeley, Hart made the move from California to New York City to pursue a respectable, yet somewhat menial job as a white-collar translator. It wasn’t until months after My Drunk Kitchen became a viral sensation that Hart decided to follow this singular opportunity into the new-media world of YouTube and pursue as a career the life of a comedian/entertainer, which had, until then, only existed as a facet of her personality.
Though Hannah’s story may seem incredible, it is not completely unique, as there is an entire group of burgeoning young entertainers who can now claim YouTuber as their full-time profession. In fact, two of Hart’s best friends, Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart (no relation), are themselves popular YouTubers with their own communities of adoring fans, whose millions of video views have made their lives as online entertainers possible. In many ways, the “YouTuber” is the personification of new media — highly personal and interactive — and perhaps most importantly, not easily separated from the life of their viewers. Whether it’s due to the personal nature of their videos, or the inescapable prevalence of social media, these YouTubers have managed to make their way into the lives of their audience members in a manner completely foreign to old media, or even the newer iterations of old media repackaged as “reality” TV.
And this is why Hannah Hart’s journey, though not singular, remains an important hallmark in the examination of new media and the changing role entertainment will play in our lives. Because when a young woman who was once a Japanese translator can, in the span of just a few years, mobilize a community of thousands of people to do good in cities all across North America, it is time, perhaps, that we begin taking seriously the largely untapped powers of the internet and its hidden communities.
As for Hart, she remains busier than ever, having just finished her first role in a full-length feature film, Camp Takota (out via digital release later this year), she is also working on her debut cookbook, due out next summer and named after her show My Drunk Kitchen. Not to mention she will soon be headed to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to complete the international leg of Hello Harto, once again meeting her fans in their homes. You can see how this would be a lot for any young woman at 26, but when I ask Hart how she deals with juggling everything at once, she simply smiles and says, “You know, I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.”