Even Before Hacks, Hannah Einbinder Was Obsessed With Stand-Up Comedy

With her debut solo special, Everything Must Go, Einbinder takes center stage.

Hannah Einbinder
Hannah Einbinder photographed by Eddy Chen.

When HBO’s Hacks premiered in 2021, it quickly made a star of its young lead Hannah Einbinder who impressed audiences with her wry portrayal of Ava Daniels, a down-on-her-luck comedy writer tapped to provide new material for the past-her-prime stand-up comic, Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart.

But the now 29-year-old Einbinder—whose mother, Laraine Newman, was on Saturday Night Live and is a founding member of The Groundlings—had already been making a name for herself on the stand-up circuit before landing the career-changing role. “I love the art form,” she says, “I love storytelling and characters and straight stand-up club comics, alternative comics, clowns, burlesque. It's just pure to me.” In 2020, Einbinder became the youngest comic to perform a live set on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert—a moment that she revisits in her first solo special, Everything Must Go, now streaming on Max. In it, she delivers a series of tightly curated anecdotes about growing up in Los Angeles, the differences between dating men and women (“Men are idiots, and women are annoying!”), and her persistent memory loss due to being over-prescribed Adderall for ADHD as a teenager and following that up with heavy marijuana use. (“We’re in a neurodivergessaince!” she declares at one point. “ADHD is in.”)

Einbinder in a moment from her special

Eddy Chen/Max

What you won’t find is any references to Hacks. This is a special about Hannah, not Hollywood. “Before I started acting, I was still a local comic,” Einbinder tells W. “I had just started featuring for other comedians on the road and being an opening act. Hacks gave me the ability to tour on my own.” The show’s title refers, in part, to the fact that she’s purging herself of the material. “I'm really excited to get it out. There are some jokes that are months old. There are some jokes that are years old. It feels like a time capsule, this hour, of my life artistically. And I'm ready to move on to the next thing.”

Here, Einbinder discusses the third season of Hacks, her comedy heroes, and takes W’s Culture Diet questionnaire.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue stand-up?

I was doing improv in college, and I had some good moments but I was too in my head to be excellent at it. Nicole Byer came to my school to perform. She asked if any of the kids from the improv team wanted to open for her, and I volunteered. That was the first time I ever really did a show, was opening for her. I have a hazy memory of that time, and frankly my whole life, due to copious drug use, but that is a moment I will never forget. I was so nervous. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. I had crazy chest pains. The second I walked out, it just melted. I love that feeling. I don't know if I should say love, but maybe it's more like drug use—this full-body high. And it's equally as painful when it doesn't go well.

Is there a show you’ve been obsessed with lately?

I'm addicted to Shogun.

Who are some of your favorite comics?

In terms of the last special that I loved, I would say Jacqueline Novak’s Get On Your Knees and Rory Scovel's latest special. Both comedians are so unique. My all-time greats are like, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey's early work, and Richard Pryor’s Live in Concert special. And the albums of Bob Newhart and Ellen DeGeneres, actually, as well.

What are your comfort shows that you return to again and again?

My comfort shows are wildlife and nature documentaries. That's the type of thing that I put on to feel good.

Do you remember the last movie you saw in theaters?

I saw a screening of Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman at the Los Feliz Theater. They screen old movies as a part of the American Cinematheque AC Film Club. It’s wonderful, a wild psychological ride with some good laughs throughout, actually.

What’s your social media intake like?

I only have Instagram. I fear TikTok would be too good. You'd lose me forever. I'd be quarantined to the home if I were to download that. But yeah, I am on Instagram. I be posting. I be on my story posting a video of lava being like, “Whoa, cool.” Or a little tiny mushroom on a crazy long lens, being like, “Damn. Hell yeah.” Or things like that. I definitely don't post like you're supposed to—my story is very much as if I still have 2000 followers.

What’s the last concert you went to?

The last concert I went to was Japanese House at the Fonda.

What have you been reading lately?

I'm reading a book right now by Gabor Maté called The Myth of Normal. It's a book on trauma. And I'm also in the midst of reading a book by Johann Hari about attention and the lack of attention in our culture. I'm forgetting the name, of course.

What was it like to work with Jean Smart for the third time?

It was heavenly. The time away was difficult. The strike was long, much longer than it should've been.

How do you think Ava grew this season?

She's on her little, enough is enough journey. She left her life behind in LA and made a lot of sacrifices to go back and be with Deborah. And she burned her. I don't think that Ava is changing into the type of person who would blackmail Deborah. I think Deborah is forcing her hand. And I don't think it's who she is. It’s a survival mechanism, but it's really the last straw.