How Hannah Berner Went From Competitive Tennis to Stand-up Comedy
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How Hannah Berner Went From Competitive Tennis to Stand-up Comedy

We’re going to go out on a whim and say that you’ve probably seen Hannah Berner on your TikTok For You Page at least once. Her chaotically hilarious interviews with strangers on the streets of New York City seem to go viral every time (to the tune of 19 million views). She asks men questions about how long they last in bed, what gaslighting means, if they go to therapy and how many tampons they think menstruators go through during the week of their period (one man really said four… smh). The content makes itself: Berner asks a spicy question and waits to see how quickly these men embarrass themselves. It’s a simple formula, with big pay-off.

There’s no denying it: Berner is the kind of funny that rattles through your head for days, as you try to re-tell her jokes to your best friend. And she has the accolades to prove it. This past summer, she was named one of Just For Laughs “New Faces Of Comedy” in Montreal, Canada, and she’s been touring her stand-up across the country (and selling out shows in the process). She has two podcasts, Giggly Squad (with co-host Paige DeSorbo¹) and Berning In Hell, with over 20 million downloads. On TikTok alone, she has 1.9 million followers who can’t get enough of her witty stand-up comedy bits, New York street confessions and LOL-worthy podcast snippets.

It seems like Berner was always destined for comedy, but she was actually on track to be a professional tennis player. She went to a tennis academy in Florida and even played on the boys’ tennis team in high school. “This is when I first discovered the kind of misogyny in sports,” says Berner. “I wanted to play like a boy but I was told that was problematic, so I was just trying to manifest being Mulan².”

Berner continued her competitive tennis career by joining the University of Wisconsin’s team while doing her communications degree. She did an internship at their athletics department and learned to film and edit videos, “so I thought I was going to be a sports broadcaster. I liked sports and I liked being on camera. But I did not want to start in a small city, where they recommend a lot of newscasters begin [their careers], so I just moved back to New York, and I took a job in cold calling sales,” she says. Berner caught on fast³ but she hated it. “I didn’t want to take from people anymore. I wanted to create.”

After taking a short detour doing marketing for a t-shirt company and editing videos for a college sports publication, Berner applied for a job at Betches Media, a woman-founded and led media and entertainment brand, that she was unqualified for. “They wanted someone with five years of video experience, and I did not have that,” she says. “I just submitted a really funny video and they brought me in for an interview. I brought them like 100 video ideas.” She emerged on the comedy scene by directing, editing and acting in videos on Instagram and writing viral tweets for the brand. “That's when I knew I was on my path to doing what I wanted to do,” she adds.

Then, reality TV came knocking at her door—more specifically, Bravo’s Summer House. “I was scared. But, I realized it was a way to be on camera and show that women don't have to be these black-and-white characters. Like they could be complex. They could be funny and depressed, and cry a lot and be super strong, and be outspoken and also shy when they want to be. I just wanted to be all those things,” says Berner. She started gaining a dedicated following and her dream of being a stand-up comedian came to fruition.

Except, one thing was stopping her. “I was afraid because it's what my ex⁴ did,” she says. “But I have to tell you, life is too short. I got on stage and I did stand-up. That's when I felt the most comfortable I've ever felt. There's lots of things that you could succeed at, but you have to do what really brings you joy. And that's what stand-up comedy is for me.”

And that’s what makes Berner’s comedy so popular—and refreshing. She’s not afraid to go there, talking about farting, queefing, bloating and all sorts of “female locker room chat.” Which is a welcome change, when so many male comedians before her have relied on racist, sexist and ableist jokes on stage. “Punching down is not funny enough anymore,” says Berner. “For women in comedy, there is that pressure of having to get so many more laughs to be considered a funny female comedian. And I take on that challenge.”

Comedian Hannah Berner wearing a pink suit and black heels lifting one foot up, with her hands in her pockets.

When asked why men have such a hard time with women being funny, she answers bluntly. “‘Funniness’ is historically a male characteristic—it’s a social construct.” There is a logistical reason why there’s few women in stand-up, Berner explains. “You're going to clubs late at night, you're traveling on the subway late at night, you're in this men's club mentality where they're all booking each other. It's not because women aren't funny, it's because it's actually difficult to break through. But I'm excited to be a part of this next generation of women who are tackling the male-dominated space of stand-up comedy. I think the internet has played a huge role, because I don't have to go to an unsafe space or travel late at night alone in New York City to get a joke out there. I could post on TikTok and I could get a million views.”

But going viral comes with its own set of challenges: ruthless trolls, the pressure to remain authentic online, compromised privacy. So, how does she handle it all? By not reading too many comments, especially the negative ones. “You can't constantly be scared of the critics. Once you're too scared to post something, [the haters] have taken your joy away,” says Berner.

The most important lesson of all—for herself and for aspiring women comedians is to not take yourself too seriously. “Because we're all just little kids trying to get attention, to be seen for who you are. Keep putting stuff out there, keep finding your voice, keep making your friends laugh and also, keep living.”

So, what can we expect from Hannah Berner in the next five years? A comedy special, perhaps? “I'm starting to sniff around doing a special thing⁵,” she says. “I'm also manifesting getting into some comedic acting. I started off doing funny sketches with Betches. That's what I love to do. I feel like being on set is so cool and fun. So, now that I've done reality TV, I’m down to do more scripted stuff and see where that takes me. But overall, I hope to continue to create and not have a boss ever again.”

And now, onto Rapid Fire. Who are you inspired by?

“I’m inspired by my mom. She became a principal of a middle school [when I was growing up], and I saw how she does everything with confidence and grace. Having her voice in my head all the time, is a big piece of what makes me, me. Having my idol in my family, I feel very fortunate. And whenever I lose confidence in myself, I remember that she's a part of me.”

How do you unwind?

“I will lie down on my couch in a certain position so my cat⁶ knows to lie on my chest. And I will put on a cult documentary, or a murder documentary. Just to gain perspective on life. That'll put me into a beautiful, nice REM sleep. I really believe in turning off completely and vegging as long as you need to.”

How many unread emails do you have?

“Oh my gosh, none. My bedroom is disgusting, but when it comes to my work, I am tedious. I try to immediately answer, because when you put things off, it just makes it harder [to respond]. As an entrepreneur, you will totally miss opportunities if you don't look at your email.”

What do you look for in an employee or collaborator?

“I want someone who's hungry on their own. I'd rather you be passionate and not that experienced than experienced, and don't have a hunger or drive to get better at whatever you're doing. And I also like when people are themselves and not afraid to speak up, and to give their opinions and to think outside the box. These are all things that have gotten me fired in the past. If your boss doesn't appreciate it, they're the wrong boss.”

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

“‘Even when it's raining, the hoop is always there.’ It's a basketball quote, and I love it because it's basically saying, no matter how dark or sad or horrible you might feel, the opportunities are still there, you just can't see it.”

Worst piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

“Change who you are so people will like you.”

¹ Berner and DeSorbo met while they were both working at Betches Media. They later went on Bravo’s Summer House together, a reality show that follows a group of friends who share a summer house in Montauk. She was on the show for three seasons and even co-hosted Bravo’s Chat Room alongside two Real Housewives Gizelle Bryant and Porsha Williams.

² Her favorite Disney movie, btw

³ Maybe it was genetics? Her dad works in sales and told her, “You have to do cold calling once in your life to toughen you up.” It sure did.

Berner is now happily married to American-Irish comedian Des Bishop. The hilarious couple tied the knot in May on the beach in the Hamptons.

Hey Netflix, if you’re reading this…

Her cat’s name is Butter and she was rescued in a dumpster in the Bronx. Berner says that she’s part Bengal and a feminist. “Pets are therapy angels from the Gods,” adds Berner.

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