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Comedian Hannah Berner on Her Netflix Special, ‘Summer House’

Hannah Berner‘s former life as a reality TV show star has turned her into a documentary fiend.

The 32-year-old comedian finds herself increasingly less inclined to turn on Bravo but can’t get enough of unhinged true stories about Ponzi schemers, con artists and cult leaders.

“I’ve always really liked reality TV, but doing it left a bad taste in my mouth,” says Berner, who appeared on three seasons of Bravo’s Hamptons-set series “Summer House.” “So, what’s the next realest thing to reality TV? Documentaries. Put on an insane cult documentary, and no matter how bad your day was, you can be like, ‘At least I’m not in a cult!’ It could be worse.”

Berner exited “Summer House” in 2021 and is better known these days for her stand-up, man-on-the-street TikTok interviews and popular podcast “Giggly Squad,” which she hosts with her former “Summer House” castmate Paige DeSorbo. But she also credits the show that gave her a start for pushing her to pursue a different passion. “If I didn’t do reality TV, I don’t know if I would have gotten into stand-up,” Berner says.

Before embracing a life in the public eye, she dabbled in comedy as a video producer at New York-based entertainment company Betches Media. But she didn’t take stand-up seriously until a dare from her Bravo brethern. This was in 2019 when Berner was invited to do a live recording of her former interview podcast “Berning in Hell” at Caroline’s on Broadway.

“I did 10 minutes of stand-up, which you’re not supposed to do in front of 300 people your first time. But ignorance is bliss,” Berner says. “At the end of the show, my reality TV friends were like, ‘Oooh, that’s what you’re meant to do.’”

Berner’s comedy career will have its biggest showcase yet, when her first Netflix special, “We Ride at Dawn,” drops on July 9. Her material covers her mental health, her older husband (she’s married to 48-year-old Irish American comedian Des Bishop), unrealistic sex in movies and other hot takes about pop culture. Before “We Ride at Dawn” lands on streaming, Berner spoke to Variety about how her days as a college tennis champion gave her confidence on stage and her grandma’s critiques of her jokes.

You start the special doing the worm. Is that a new skill or an old party trick?

It’s an old party trick that I used to do in college. And let me just say, I never said I was good at the worm. I remember I would do it in college and my stomach would get stuck on the sticky bar floor. And my friends would be like, “Why would you do that?”

You’re very candid about dealing with anxiety and depression. How did you feel leading up to the taping of your special?

I was, like, too calm until two weeks before the special. I was like, “I got this. I could do this with my eyes closed.” Then I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t get one word wrong!” I have high expectations for myself and dealt with anxiety the week before. But I had a lot of comics telling me that it’s healthy to have nerves before shooting your special. It means you care.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I drink the white flavor of Gatorade Zero. I used to drink Gatorade before my matches when I was a tennis player, but I have to drink the white one now because I can’t dye my lips blue or stain my outfit. I normally nap beforehand, and then I was listening to a ton of Megan Thee Stallion and Ice Spice. I highly recommend “Princess Diana” by Ice Spice if you’re going through a nervous time in your life.

How would you describe your sense of humor?

I would describe it as a female locker room, where the girls are like, “Thank God she’s saying these things,” and the men are like, ‘I actually learned some stuff.” I was always the goofy friend who was not afraid to say things that other people were nervous to say.

What is your process for memorizing an hour of material?

I actually don’t have a good memory. I had to study really hard for tests. Stand-up is kind of like telling a story. You’re not going to forget the story. Doing a whole hour, I viewed it like an album. After this song, we have this song.

My first exposure to you was watching your crowd work videos on TikTok. Can you tell by looking at someone if they’ll be game to banter?

Crowd work is fun for me because sometimes I’ll get bored if I’ve been doing shows all week — I’m curious and want to talk to people. I feel like being good at crowd work is knowing what direction to take it regardless of what the audience member gives you.

I find that crowd work has made me kind of psychic. I can see a couple sitting together and know they’ve been together for eight months. Or I’ll see a guy, and know what he does for a living. I’ll be like, “You’re a finance bro. You’re definitely an electrician. You’re a lawyer.” Every now and then, I get something crazy right, and the crowd gets freaked out. And I’m like, “No, I do this every night. I can see the little hints.”

In your special, you joke that bachelorette parties are like cults. Have you been to many? What’s the craziest thing that’s been expected of you?

So the funniest part about that is that I was one of my first friends to have a bachelorette party. I was the bride, and that’s when I remember feeling this sense of power. Everyone was following me around, and I was like, “Oh, this could be abused in the wrong hands.” Then I started getting invites and seeing the amount of money involved. I love being a mouthpiece for the girls who are like, We don’t want to go! Maybe your best friend wants to go. But this has become too much. We don’t need to go to Capri.

You speak about being close to your grandma. Does she approve of your sexual humor?

My grandma is really evolved in terms of people being able to talk about sexuality. She doesn’t like when I curse, though. She’s like, “Instead of saying shit, could you say sugar?” And she doesn’t like it when I talk about farting or diarrhea. But I’m like, “Nana, let’s normalize it for the girls. We can’t keep lying that we don’t have stomach issues.” She’s the coolest grandma ever, but if my 83-year-old grandma thought that all my material was perfect and made for her, then I would be upset with my material.

You got your start on reality TV. Did “Summer House” prepare you for stand-up?

I definitely think so. I was 25. I loved parts of it, but I was uncomfortable with a lot of it. Reality TV helped me get my launch into people knowing who I am. It’s an example of “Put yourself in different situations, take what you like from it, and then move on.” I like feeling like myself in front of the camera. I started posting raw stuff on TikTok after reality TV, because I’m like, “What’s the most unfiltered, unedited thing I could put into the universe?” If I didn’t do reality TV, I don’t know if I would have gotten into stand-up.

What do you remember from your first set?

When I was a tennis player, I dealt with performance anxiety. So I remember the moment before I stepped on stage I was like, “Are my demons going to come back?” I don’t even have a driver’s license. I get too nervous. But I walked on stage and felt like I was at brunch with my friends. I felt a freedom I never felt with tennis, or other high-pressure situations. I love performing. But I didn’t find the right outlet until standup. When I walked offstage, I wasn’t a winner or a loser. I talked to myself very positively. It’s not this ego-driven competitive thing that I had in my previous tennis career.

You’ve dabbled in many different areas of entertainment. Would you ever do scripted TV or film?

I do have this bug to go into acting, whether it’s writing something or being a part of a project. I think my next step is going to be seeing the acting world and how I fit into it.

Would you ever return to reality TV?

Yeah, definitely. As long as it isn’t a show that, like, hurts people’s lives. If it was something fun and light and had real humor, I would get involved. I love showing people being multifaceted and the strengths and weaknesses of humans in a more developed way. Sometimes in reality TV, you get put into one character. It’s not always realistic.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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