In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with YoutTuber, comedien, and actress Grace Helbig. When Helbig first began posting videos to YouTube, the digital landscape looked a lot different than it does today.
How has social media changed the ways in which content creators present their authentic selves? Cornell and Helbig discuss this at length, along with what it’s like to go out as an introvert, and how NYC nightlife now compares to its 2010s heyday. Plus, how did Helbig acquire so many Uber credits in the app’s early days? Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Jake Cornell: Hi. As you know, it’s Jake, again. I’m feeling pretty good today. I’m very excited about this week’s episode. I used to watch their videos when they were living in New York and I was stuck in Vermont waiting to get here. It was so exciting to finally get to talk to her. She’s an iconic YouTuber, and iconic podcaster, and an iconic comedian and actress. Enjoy me going out with Grace Helbig. So, I have followed you for years and years and years.
Grace Helbig: Thank you so much.
J: Of course. I’ve enjoyed it from the beginning. This is a show where we talk about going out, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. And I was excited to talk to you because I think you’re someone who, in conversations I’ve heard you have on your podcast or in videos, I know that that is a part of your life. But it’s not something that you really show in your content. I’m not seeing you out. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t actually know what your relationship to it is.
G: It’s ever changing, ever evolving. When you asked me to do this podcast about going out, I was like, “Oh, OK.” I’m going to dig into my archives of what that was like two years ago. I think I’m at the precipice of acclimating myself to going out again. I’m naturally an introvert and got very comfortable being at home for a year and a half. But I also like going out. I just have to talk myself into it now and push myself out the front door. And then I have a nice time.
J: Pre-pandemic, as an introvert, were you at a point where you didn’t even need the talk up? Were just able to go out?
G: More like when you exercised a bunch and then you’re like, “Exercising isn’t so terrible.” It was kind of like that, where I felt more lubricated socially to go out and talk to people and hang out. That was way more normalized. I do feel like now people still look around like, “Is this OK?” I’m curious, because you’re in New York.
G: So are you out there doing it, meeting the people, overhearing their conversations?
J: My experience has been very different from a lot of people’s because, for the first year and a half of the pandemic, I was working in a restaurant. My at-home, isolated moment really only happened in two blocks, which was like the one that everyone had from March to May or June. I worked in restaurants that first summer of 2020. And then my restaurant closed December of 2020 for the winter. They didn’t go out of business, they just said, “We’re not going to do this winter outdoor thing. It’s insane.” Then we were closed again from December to, I think, late March, early April. I had these two chunks of being home alone — or, not home alone, I have a partner and I had a roommate for the first chunk — but being cooped up in the house. When I talk to people like you who are like, “I haven’t socialized in like two years, this is really intense for me,” I skipped that because I had to go back to work. I was socializing when everyone else wasn’t, because I was working in a restaurant, which I’m kind of thankful for. You can go to bars and restaurants now and everyone is vaccinated, which is nice. I wouldn’t say it feels normal, but I’ve definitely struggled less than a lot of people with that sort of transition back, because I was working.
G: Did you miss it, when you weren’t out? When you were more cooped, were you like, “I want to get back out there?”
J: The first block of it was obviously terrifying, because we didn’t know it was happening. It was so scary. The second one was hard at times because in New York, it was cold. You couldn’t even go for walks and stuff, so you were just in your f*cking apartment.
G: It’s really you against your brain at that point.
J: It was brutal because my boyfriend works from home. He would have a stressful work day and want to go do something, but he had to stay in the room where he had just had a stressful workday. It kind of feels like you never get to leave work. So he would be going really stir crazy. He’d be like, “Can we just go somewhere?” It’s 20 degrees outside. I have the saddest photos on my phone of this one day. He was like, “I really need to go out,” and I have this photo of us drinking Margaritas in 30-degree weather on an outdoor patio. We’re so visibly cold, but we just needed to get out.
G: You gotta do what you got to do. You gotta do what the heart wants even if the body is like, “Please no.”
J: Body’s like, “You’re going to die.” We’re going to die if we stay inside, too. We really don’t have a choice here.
G: These Margaritas will help. It’ll warm us up and we’ll love every second of this.
J: This is fun. What was nice was, before the pandemic, I had been really entrenched in the comedy scene. You’re kind of bouncing off everyone else and I think I was really caught up in everything, and it was hard to figure out what my own voice was a little bit. I think I had lost sight of a lot of things. That alone time was really helpful for me to get back to that stuff and find what I want to talk about and do all that. And I enjoyed that a lot. I definitely got sick of doing comedy without a live audience. I’m sure you can relate.
G: Mamrie and I have been doing shows again. We started a couple of months ago and we hadn’t performed live in two years. I got so used to being at home doing content for an audience. So it’s the reverse for us. I just need to hear someone laugh in real time so I can still see if my meter of what I think is funny is operational.
J: You start to go crazy. When I was starting to have success or whatever, people would be like, “How does it feel?” It’s numbers on the screen. I’ve been doing comedy now and building an audience for a year, and I haven’t heard one single person laugh out loud at it. So I am actually losing my f*cking mind.
G: But you’ve seen many Lol’s written out for you. Now just imagine what that sounds like.
J: I’m playing my own laugh tracks in my living room. That was the part I missed the most. Now, I can’t say no to a live show. I’ll literally do a live show anywhere at any point in time.
G: It works the comedy muscles.
J: It feels like making up for lost time. Hearing people laugh, being in front of audiences, and also seeing other people perform. I missed all of that so much.
G: Totally, totally, totally. It’s definitely a muscle that, when it starts to get worked out again, you’re like, “Oh, this is very nice.” It’s also still a little bit stressful, but very nice.
J: But it’s stressful in a fun way. It’s the adrenaline thing, you go up and you go down and ride the wave a bit.
G: Also, just being out in the real world and experiencing the way people are existing, only gives you more content.
J: Inspiration and material, 100 percent.
G: When you’re by yourself at home trying to scrape the bottom of the barrel of what can I talk about? Should I show my dog again? It’s getting old.
J: I know, it’s so true. Whenever people ask me what I do when I run out of content, go for a walk. Go somewhere and see something. Looking around your apartment, you’re going to lose your mind. That’s when you’re going to make the video that people watch and will be like, “Is she doing OK?”
G: It’s all I get now, anytime I post anything, “Are you OK?” Which is extremely kind that we’ve all decided to reach out and check in on our friends. But it’s pretentious and demeaning.
J: You can say more than a bit that’s brutal. If I posted a video and someone was like, “Hey, are you OK?” I feel like I’m not good.
G: The answer is, probably not. But I’m getting through it in the way I see fit for myself. So are you doing stand-up in New York?
J: Yeah, I mostly do stand-up now. I was much more in the improv world before everything, and I don’t really do that anymore. It’s pretty much exclusively stand-up.
G: I feel like the improv world ceased to exist in the last year. I kept wondering, are these kids just playing zip, zap, zop at home?
J: God, I f*cking hope not. I mean this with all the kindness in the world. A couple months ago, I did a show and I was talking to people who I knew from my improv days who I hadn’t seen in years. I was talking to them and asked, “So like, what are you doing?” They were like, “Well, my improv team has been practicing all this pandemic once a week on Zoom.” And I almost passed out. I was like, “You did what?” I cannot imagine.
G: Wow. I mean, kudos to them. But that’s not something I see myself being a part of.
J: I don’t see that, for me, in the future.
G: Good for them.
J: I’m not one to judge. Did I play Jackbox game and get really fucking drunk on Zoom? Yeah, that happened.
G: But you pick your lane and you stay in it.
J: I don’t know if you had the Zoom parties of drinking with your friends while on Zoom back in the day. Do you remember the first time you got really drunk with friends on Zoom, closed the laptop and then you’re like, “I’m just alone and drunk in my living room.”
G: Years ago, we used to do Google Hangouts Live and then I’d get drunk. They proved to be real problematic real quick.
J: Yeah, because you are ultimately drinking alone.
G: You’re drinking alone, and then by the time you’re done, you’re like, “Oh, I’m way too drunk by myself.” I’m in my safe space technically, but I don’t feel safe right now.
J: Totally. Is going out something you ever enjoyed? I know you started out in New York and then moved to L.A. What was that kind of trajectory for you?
G: I was always super shy and introverted growing up. When I got into improv comedy in New York at the People’s Improv Theater — which closed down during the pandemic — that’s when going out became just so inherent in my life. It’s a community that you become part of. You perform once a week and then everyone goes to the bar afterwards, or the theater has a bar in it that everyone moves to. So you have these Wednesday nights that you know are your “tie-one-on” nights. That laced into the culture of everything. Also living in New York, it was just so easy to go out. The sh*tty apartment that you lived in wasn’t a dream to go home to. That’s when I started doing YouTube stuff. I worked from home all day long, and to go out at night and do shows and then go out after, was the release from being alone in my brain cage all day. Moving to Los Angeles was a bit of a culture shock. Everything’s much more spread out. You realize that if you don’t live in the proximity of your friends, you don’t hang out with those people.
J: They’re not your friends.
G: They become acquaintances and you will like each other’s Instagrams every now and then. It was a much more regular routine of going out in Los Angeles pre-pandemic, and I liked it. Once I was in the rhythm of it. Now, like I said, I’m trying to figure it out again. We just went to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. It was really fun and we went out to a couple different bars and things like that. I realized that I’m older in knowing my capacity. I go out and then sometimes, I need a nap. I also have that thing where I am a little socially anxious. I get overly excited when I’m having conversations with people that I don’t space out my energy level. I go from zero to 60, and I either have to be brought down or I need to go home. I’m getting back into it now. In my life, I have become close friends with people like Mamrie Hart, who are much more extroverted. I admire her ability and desire to go out so naturally all the time. I like having that as a close friend, that helps push me a little bit past my boundaries in a good way.
J: Totally. It’s interesting to talk to you about that. My boyfriend and my best friend who are both introverts, I would say. I’m the Mamrie of the situation where I’m definitely like, “We could go out tonight or tomorrow night.” I’m always down, and I need to be pulled back a little bit and they need to be pushed a little bit. It’s always about toeing that line of who needs to be pushed and who needs to be pulled tonight.
G: I’m sure that you felt the same way that she does about how you’re kind of making up for lost time of being out and socializing and having adventures and that sort of thing.
J: I am. But at the same, I think that part of what drove me to go out when I was younger was FOMO, especially living in New York. I’m sure it’s similar in L.A., but you can constantly feel there’s always something happening and I’m missing out if I’m not out. What’s the point of staying home? With age comes that thing of, there will also be something tomorrow.
G: It’s hard to rationalize that when you’re like, but I can see on people’s stories that they’re out.
J: I know, it’s hard.
G: The craziest thing is when I lived in New York, Instagram had just started. There wasn’t even the ability to check in on where everyone was. You just had to text and meet up with people at bars and find out who was there when you got there. You had to kind of gamble on the FOMO rather than seeing it firsthand.
J: Trying to explain to Gen Z the feeling of a full album being uploaded to Facebook of a party you didn’t even know existed until the album goes up. And then you spend one hour clicking through the full album and being like, what if I died?
G: Let’s see if they have other angles of different parties.
J: Oh my god. So they have an album too. OK, interesting.
G: Oh, and then they showed up after midnight. Wow, this got wild. Damn it.
J: And then you’re like, “I didn’t even know it happened.”
G: When Instagram and Snapchat first started, I had friends that would use it so organically and post everything that they were doing in real time. That’s so f*cking crazy to me that you’re just putting it out there for everyone when I don’t know if I’m going to have a good night or bad night tonight, depending on what we’re drinking. So I like to keep it on the down low and post later if it went well.
J: At that point, were you already somewhat of a public figure?
G: Yes and no. In New York, it started towards the end. I moved in 2012, and that’s when things started to peak. When I would walk around New York, occasionally people would come up to me, and that blew my mind. Everything’s in these boxes and, like you said, you just see numbers.
J: Yeah, it’s numbers on a screen.
G: You forget that those are real humans attached to those numbers. It always used to freak me out. Especially when I went out with Hannah and Mamrie at the time, because sometimes when we would go out people would think, “Maybe that’s one of them.” But when we were all together, it’s definitely confirmed. The redhead’s with them. When we moved to L.A., it was so hard to go out because Uber hadn’t even started yet.
J: You’re that niche population that chooses to not drink and drive. So that’s hard.
G: Absolutely. Also, I come from living in New York for five years. I hated driving. I had to get used to that. But I remember when Uber first started, they would reach out to influencers before they were all called that. They’d be like, “If you take Uber and take a photo of it and tag us, we’ll give you $25 dollars towards your next ride.” We were all like, “Holy sh*t, I love this.” Probably eight or nine years on my Instagram, you can probably find photos of me and Mamrie in terrible lighting being like, “Going out. #Uber.” Then we’d email their social media person to be like, “I posted it.”
J: Give me my $25.
G: May I please have my credit?
J: That’s so funny. I interviewed Suchin Pak for the show, which was incredible. She was talking about how great going out was before the pandemic. Or not before the pandemic, before the pandemic of social media. She was specifically talking about how cool the Hollywood celebrity parties before social media actually were. Because they were the only places where those people actually could act behind the scenes. It wasn’t being broadcast out to thousands of people and it was this really exclusive, fun thing. I kept on thinking about that after the interview. I was thinking about all the things about socializing that were different before social media, and I was like, “Damn, it really hadn’t occurred to me.” It’s that thing where a fish doesn’t feel like the water there is starting to boil. What’s the saying? My brain started to fully run out of gas on that one. A fish doesn’t know water is getting hot ’till it boils?
G: I don’t know, that makes sense.
J: Keith is mouthing to me, “Frog.” Are you saying that a fish would know, but a frog would not? Because it was happening gradually, I didn’t really think about it at the time. Before, it just happened in a very different way.
G: Because the people that I’m closest to, as content creators, have it embedded in them a bit. That’s not necessarily their go-to. Occasionally, there’s been drunk nights where we wake up in the morning and you check your phone immediately and then you delete, delete, delete, delete, delete as much as possible. But I remember, four years ago or something, seeing the new wave of content creators and that their parties were wild, especially in L.A. Every angle is documented by every single person, constantly. One, it blew my mind that there was so much documentation of this. But two, no one’s actually enjoying the party.
J: For these photos to look good, this party is fully lights-on. You lit the party. I’ve always thought that. I look at the photos and I’m like, “Was this party lit?” Not “lit” fun, is there a lighting kit at this party?
G: It’s a series of ring lights in a circle around everyone.
J: It’s so cursed. Going out and socializing in general, especially with you and your cohort that were kind of at the forefront of this shift of new media, how do you place the line between what is my social life and what is content?
G: Originally, when I started making content, it was comedy first. Mamrie and I have talked at length over the years about all of this. Real thoughts and opinions about the world and things were second. Personal life was maybe tertiary, if that. But then there became this wave of people like daily bloggers and family bloggers who were basically producing their own reality shows on the internet.
J: Wow, that’s such a good way of wording; producing your own reality show.
G: I’m obsessed with reality television, so obviously I was just hyper fascinated by someone’s ability to be without boundaries. I’m still a pretty private person in a lot of ways. You felt this pressure in keeping up with content creation to be a little bit more personal and reveal more parts of your personal life. I feel like I swung that way for a little bit and then I felt icky about it. About putting my relationship super out there, putting all the behind-the-scenes stuff out there. And I lost a little bit of my focus on comedy. Now I’ve had a bit of a healthier restructuring of boundaries, but also my overall thoughts on content creation. I’ve kind of stepped back from it a little bit over the last couple of years and have been recalibrating my adult life and trying not to get stuck in that thing that I think is so easy to get stuck in. The 2014-2015 of it all and living in the nostalgia of it and trying to evolve and grow. That’s what I’m hyper fascinated about, with the future of content creation and where my brain has been over the last two years, of wondering how everyone’s going to evolve with all of the constantly evolving technology. For myself, I found that I wasn’t able to grow because I was just putting everything in these boxes online and not actually living my own private, personal life.
G: We’re still focusing on comedy and that sort of thing. Mamrie and I have a podcast that we talk pretty personal on, and it’s been a really healthy space and community to do that in. Especially because we’re still in control of what and how much we’re putting out there. We both love and respect each other enough to not make it uncomfortable for ourselves. But I do get concerned when I see people publicly spiraling. That makes my heart hurt so much. I always say, you can’t take back the really personal things that you put out there. And it’s only getting harder to try and walk yourself back from those lines. It’s easier said than done to be conscious of it. But I still try and make sure that I have a bit of a boundary set for myself.
J: It’s so important. It scares me, especially with what you were talking about with filling these boxes. These platforms kind of demand that you create your content in certain ways, or create your comedy in certain ways, or whatever you’re making in these certain ways. So that it works within these certain contexts or these certain platforms. If you’re doing that to hyper-customize whatever you’re making so that it works on TikTok, you’re not creating something that’s you. It’s TikTok. But then when you start infusing your own humor into it and your own personal life into it, you’re selling your soul to the devil a little bit. And it scares the sh*t out of me when I watch people do it. It started to freak me out, because the first place I started building a following was on TikTok. I think I did one video where I made a joke out of a TikTok trend, and then I was like, “Oh, I’m actually just never going to do this again.” Take advantage of the platform for the fact that you can get yourself out there, but make it your own and don’t try to become part of this thing. I don’t want to be known as a TikTok-er. Do you know what I mean? I’m not on this app’s payroll.
G: That’s the thing that I think a lot of YouTube creators have come to you epiphanies on. In the beginning stages of YouTube, they really made their content creators feel like they were helping grow the platform together with the company itself and treated everyone really amazingly. But then it grows so massively that you realize, oh, you’re just a cog in the machine. You’re not, like you said, necessarily on the payroll for this platform that other people are using in ways that you might not agree with. So it’s hard to be associated with that. But also, in those beginning stages, the platform — all content creation platforms — grew under this umbrella idea of consistency and authenticity. They threw around this word, authenticity, so much. Everyone that came up was like, “How do I present my authentic self?” But then it steamrolled into, “How do I do what’s popular under the guise that I’m presenting an authentic self?” When I see someone like you, I’m like, there is genuine authenticity to what you’re doing and stuff that you can tell that you think is funny. Which is what I love watching people do. The stuff that’s like, this is just for everyone else, I genuinely think this is funny. That’s how we all started making content. At least for me, I had one person in mind that I thought was the funniest person. Every time I made something, I was like, “Will this make that person laugh at home?” That was the only kind of rubric I had for myself at the time. It’s hard now, because it’s an actual business. At the time, it wasn’t a business. We were all dreamers trying to make it happen and appreciate the fact that we had opportunities to do stuff that we were genuinely passionate about. I haven’t been able to recalibrate myself from operating from the idea that it is a business, and I should treat it like that sometimes.
J: It’s hard when it’s your own thing, but you also need to make money off of it and make a living. But if you treat it too much like that, then it loses the spark of whatever it was. That line is almost impossible to tow, but it has to be towed.
G: Question for you in terms of going out.
J: Thank you for bringing us back to track.
G: This is also a problem I have, I’ve been podcasting for so long that you have to call me out if I ask you too many questions.
J: No, this is great. This show is whatever we want it to be. But it’s just funny that we’re fully off track and then you’re like, “OK, to bring it back to the subject matter.”
G: This is very loosely tying it back in. You film out in public a lot. Do you go to certain areas or do you just not give a sh*t if people are watching you record?
J: Great question. I have the luxury of having a backyard. If you watch my videos, you can probably figure out which setup is my backyard. There’s a patio table on a stone platform with a fence around it. That’s my backyard. Those outdoor videos, I can do it in my backyard. One time I had to record a full video where there was a guy leaning out the window above, just ripping a bong over and over again. I was like, “What does he think I’m doing?” He’s just getting higher and higher and higher. It was funny. For those videos, I’m just in my backyard. The gay Brooklyn dad videos, which are the ones I record outside, that’s the greatest example of me running around like a f*cking maniac in public. One of them was made in my backyard. The rest that are outside are mostly in Fort Greene Park. I started in, like, the winter during the pandemic, so the park was kind of empty and it was fine. But then I kept making them. There were a few days where I was like, “The park’s kind of full.” I just have to find a secluded area and do it. Once those videos started getting popular, my greatest fear was someone filming me filming this video and posting it. I will die. Someone probably has a video of it on their phone somewhere, but I haven’t seen it posted anywhere publicly. I just had to be like, “All right, f*ck it. I’m doing it.” Because it’s just me filming myself on a phone, there’s a world in which someone doesn’t realize I’m filming a video and thinks I’m having a meltdown.
G: It’s funny because you’re like, “That’s what I hope they think.” I hope they think that I’m having a meltdown and not making a TikTok video right now.
J: Recently, I did a character that was Kirsten Sinema’s stylist.
G: Yes, I just saw that.
J: I’ll send you a blooper I have of it where I’m walking down the street in Bed-Stuy. I don’t think it’s a line that made the final cut, but there was a line that had some sort of ridiculous joke in it and I’ll never forget filming it. This woman’s head came around the edge being like, “What the f*ck did you just say?” You see me in horror, seeing her begin like, “I’m so sorry!”
G: I also do feel like the culture of it is everywhere. You must walk around New York and just see other people filming things all the time.
J: Can I ask this, because my version of that for L.A. is, are you just driving in L.A. and running into people doing full dance routines in the street professionally at all times?
G: I don’t think the area that I live in has a ton of that going on. But my fiancé used to live in an apartment building that was full of content creators.
J: I just started getting so anxious.
G: They were also young and they had no clue who I was. I would see them in the elevator with their full setups of the vlog mic with the puffy microphone on the handle. It would be a sad-looking guy and a really hot girl coming back from having shot something. Then they get off the elevator and there’d be two people that looked very identical to them getting on the elevator with equipment. And I was like, “Oh, wow.” It’s everywhere now, it’s happened.
J: It’s fully happening. I don’t see it that much in New York. I guess you do see it a little bit, but I think there’s a lot of people doing the comedy stuff. The content creation that you’re talking about, that feels a little more like L.A.-focused. Except for food content, restaurant and food vlogging content is endemic in this city in a way that is so intense.
G: I feel like everyone’s out in Santa Monica and Venice in that area, doing stuff around the beach over there. I live on the opposite side of town from that, so I don’t get to see it as much. I don’t know why it makes my body cringe when I do see it, but I have to give props to people that are so unabashedly unembarrassed, going out and getting their content done.
J: Yeah, I try not to judge it. But I do.
G: You can’t help how you feel sometimes. Recognize the feeling, let it go.
J: Truly, it’s so funny. It’s been interesting, most of my stuff is on the internet right now, people who recognize me from my work know me for the stuff I’ve done on the internet. Sometimes I think about that, they put everyone who’s done stuff on the internet in one category. I’ll get people who are like, “Shoot a video right now, let’s make a video together,” and I’m like, “What would that look like?” What are you talking about? I had this recently where I was hanging out with someone who I’m very, very close with and then they brought someone who I had never met before. That person kept on being like, “Let’s make a video, let’s make a video.” I don’t know what you mean.
G: It’s like when you tell someone you do comedy and they’re like, “Tell me a joke.” That’s not how this works.
J: Recently, like three months ago, I stopped working in restaurants. So now comedy is my only job, which is very exciting. The thing that I didn’t expect or hadn’t thought about was just how many days in your life you get asked, “Oh, what do you do?” I used to just say bartender, because that was the thing I did for money. When it stopped, I guess the answer is “comedian”? The way I had to stop doing that real quick, it is the worst answer you can give anyone in your life ever. It’s not, “Tell me a joke,” that I get. People are like, “What do you do comedy about?” I don’t know. It’s my whole job. I told this one guy, “I don’t know. It’s about a lot of different stuff. It sort of changes day to day. I do a lot of different stuff.” He started to walk away and then he was like, “No, because some gay guys, they do gay stuff. Do you do the gay stuff?” And I go, “Well, I’m gay. So I guess anything I do could be considered gay stuff.” He was like, “That makes sense. That makes sense,” and then he walked away. Now I tell people I’m a freelancer.
G: Oh, that’s a great answer.
J: It’s not a lie. But it sounds boring, so no one ask more questions.
G: There was a point in which, if someone asked on a flight or if they asked in an Uber, I would say that I was a party planner.
J: Oh, nice.
G: Because people don’t seem to want to ask more questions about that. I always say, “It’s pretty stressful.”
J: I don’t talk about it.
G: And that’s it. Saying that you’re a comedian is hard. I sometimes say I’m a writer. I’m back in school now, so I just say that, which is an honest answer to give. But Mamrie and I have been doing these shows on tour. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what we do as we’re getting into an Uber to go to a theater, holding a bunch of posters and stupid props. We perform.
J: You mentioned Mamrie and this reminded me of stuff that you two did way back when. There was an alcohol component to a lot of the stuff, like drinking games.
G: Why Dad, “You Deserve a Drink,” yeah.
J: Yes, I have a funny story resulting from a recipe from a Why Dad from college.
G: Oh my God.
J: It’s actually the only Why Dad drink I ever made. But it was the vegan Baileys recipe.
G: Oh sh*t, yeah.
J: That’s the thing Grace, there should be a disclaimer on this video that says, “Hey, this is three times stronger than normal Baileys.”
G: Yep, yep, yep, yep.
J: So I made two pitchers of it for my family Thanksgiving, which resulted in a full-grown mother of three crawling on the floor pretending to be a dog.
G: If that’s not what Thanksgiving is all about.
J: I will never forget David — my best friend — and I standing against a wall in my living room, looking at her and being like, “We shouldn’t have made this.” This was a mistake.
G: Oh my God.
J: But also, it was amazing.
G: Hannah will be so happy to hear it.
J: Also it’s such a delicious cocktail, but it is so boozy.
G: Every one that she makes should come with a warning label. They are delicious, but you gotta be conscious of what you’re putting in your body, because all of a sudden you don’t know where you are anymore.
J: You’re getting ripped. When a big part of your public persona had an alcohol and cocktail component to it, did that bleed into when you guys went out at all? Did you feel like people were like pushing you to drink or like pushing you to do shots at them?
G: Oh, hugely. Hannah had her kitchen, Mamrie had “You Deserve a Drink.” So any time we were out, especially to Hannah who would get recognized more than any of us, people at bars would always either send over a drink or want to buy her a drink. And she’s a petite, little woman.
J: When it’s your birthday party and everyone’s trying to buy you a drink and you’re like, “I’m going to black out, I have to stop.”
G: Exactly. So she had to learn a hard and fast boundary. Like, “Thank you so much, but I really can’t do this, my body can’t handle it.” There was a period of time where we just said yes to all the dresses. We were just like, “Yeah, sure, OK.” I learned very quickly that my organs now, I think, are paying for that era of our life. But it was always so sweet. In any other situation, this would seem very threatening and very harmful. But at the time, it was always very sweet. It got to a very sweet, bizarre level every time we do shows and people would just bring gifts of booze to us. I’m talking like 10-year-olds walking up saying, “My aunt bought you guys these bottles of tequila,” and us being like, “I don’t know if this is the impact that we wanted to have.”
J: That is so funny.
G: It was always very, very sweet. But yeah, we had to rein it in a little bit. It was also the era of drinking and doing challenges. YouTube became so prevalent for everyone. I remember a few years after that, stepping back and being like, “Ooh, that was some boozy era.”
J: Getting full-tail drunk on the internet.
G: I know. But that’s the fun thing now, is that people come up and tell Mamrie stories like yours. You helped me have my first drink when I was 21. Oh, if you’re going to make a fancy cocktail for yourself at 21, that’s not a bad impact.
J: No, that’s great. That’s honestly fantastic.
G: It’s not just swigging from a bottle of Popov and hoping for the best.
J: I will say, you guys kept it together. I don’t remember anything too embarrassing from you. Do you mind me asking how old you are?
G: I’m 36. How old are you?
J: I’m 29.
G: Hell yeah.
J: It’s the age of internet where, now you don’t feel all that much older than me. But when you were 23, I was like 15. I lived in Vermont, so watching someone who lived in New York was so cool.
G: In hindsight, we felt like adults. But now I look back and I was 23 running around drunk in Brooklyn. How did I make it through alive? How did my parents think that that was totally OK? To our benefit, like we said earlier, we didn’t have as much outlet for social media live in real time while we were at bars. There’s many nights you don’t remember.
J: I’m so glad you said that because that reminds me of what I was going to bring up earlier. We were talking about the rise of social media and I was asking if you were already a public figure when it did. Something I experienced over the past year and a half is that I’m definitely on my phone way too much now, but for different reasons. I never had TikTok before I was a public comedian. But my Instagram has since become part of my job. It’s where I post videos and it’s where I promote my shows. My relationship to it, as a platform, has become so much more mentally healthy. It’s not just me and all my friends, and it doesn’t feel as much like an extension of my social life.
J: Whereas when I had 2,000 followers, do I have 2,000 friends? No. Was I comfortable unfollowing any of those people? I don’t think so. It’s like such a bizarre thing. It felt so much more like an extended arm of my social life, in this way that was really toxic. You’re comparing yourself to people and whatever. Now it’s just this thing that I use to promote my shows. If I make a video, I post it there. It’s not at all a representation of my social life. I guess I post stories sometimes, but even those are about shows and work even more than they are about where I’m at or where I’m at or what I’m doing. This is so much more healthy and fun. I’m curious what it was like to be someone who was famous when that was all happening, in this way that people around you weren’t. You’re experiencing social media in a different way than they were. Does this question make sense?
G: Yeah. I still struggle with this to this day, which is why I don’t post a ton. Like what you did, I’m trying to reframe my relationship to social media. The majority of the content that we were making was on YouTube. That was like our platform, that’s where we worked. Then all of a sudden, Instagram was created and Twitter was created. I didn’t fully understand them. I thought they were kind of dumb. Also, it stressed me out to now have to think about content for other platforms. So I just threw up stuff at random without much thought. It was just fun to be able to participate. But then I feel like I blinked and I opened my eyes and suddenly you have all these beautifully curated Instagrams. When I first heard about figuring out your Instagram aesthetic, I was like, “What the f*ck are we doing?” I have to figure that out now, too? I could not wrap my head around it. I always resisted the idea of trying to make that situation work for me.
J: Were you experiencing professional pressure to do that?
G: Yeah, because it felt like everyone that was creating this 360 brand was trying to create individual content for all platforms. Which will burn you out quicker than drinking vegan Baileys. Unless you have a great team around you. I’ve never strived to build up the brand in a way that creates a network of people working for me. I don’t have an assistant. Everything is just me and Mamrie doing our stuff, and our individual stuff. Maybe that’s for better or worse. I watch people truly grow successfully and build out their stuff and create content across all platforms. But to me, it flooded my brain to think about that. I’d love to get back to the point where I don’t give as much of a sh*t about it and I can post more freely without thinking everything has to be completely figured out before you put it up there. But it’s also hard. I open TikTok and I’m like, “These are the funniest people.” Everyone’s posting the funniest things. What do I possibly have to contribute to this platform? What do I possibly have to say that isn’t already said or done in a more hilarious way than what I could do? I started a grad school program a year ago, and so I’ve kind of taken a step back to figure out how that affects my life and how I want to deal with social media.
J: Is it in sociology? Did I make this up?
G: It’s technically an Engaged Humanities program, and it touches on psychology a little bit. It’s very fun to be in a program with people from all different areas of art, creation, and creativity. Working in content creation, all of a sudden you look around, and every single person that you know is some sort of content creator. It becomes very homogenized and my inspiration is a bit lacking right now. To be able to interact with people that are in completely different universes than me is really refreshing.
J: That was how I was feeling in comedy before the pandemic. Everyone’s trying to do the same thing that we’re bouncing off of each other and it feels completely homogenous.
G: So it’s been very nice, but I’m still trying to figure it out. When you make content for so long and so consistently and you’re in the flow of it, that you don’t even realize until you’re totally burnt out. You look back and go, Oh, there’s a whole f*ck ton of sh*t that I cracked out that lives on the internet forever. No wonder I’m feeling a bit exhausted.
G: Mamrie once said this to me years ago when I was having a bit of a crisis about how I felt about everything. She was like, “Not to use like a sh*tty computer metaphor, but you’re exporting so much stuff onto the internet, you need to step back and import life into your body and brain.” That’s the dorkiest but most helpful way to frame this for myself. It’s been comforting to talk to a lot of other content creators that were in that wave that we were in that have felt different variations of burnout and pivoting and trying to figure out what the next step of their creativity looks like. And I think that’s what we’re all kind of in right now. It is wild. I have to keep myself from looking so much at social media and getting into the hamster wheel of comparison. Look at all these people seemingly effortlessly putting this content out there, why am I struggling so much with this? Now is not the time if it’s not right to be making stuff, if you’re not in the flow of it.
J: Totally, and everything comes and goes in waves. The metaphor I always use is digestion. The computer one is better because it’s not as graphic. But I’m always like, “You shouldn’t be straining and pushing. So if nothing’s coming out, you need to eat fiber and drink water.” You need to eat fiber and drink water and take stuff in, and then eventually good stuff will come out. This is why the metaphors flawed because the good stuff is sh*t.
G: That resonates with me deeply. I have very bizarre gastrointestinal issues, so I understand that on a very deep level.
J: Any time I’ve ever posted something and watched it back and been like, “Absolutely not” and deleted it, it’s because I had to put something out. I gotta make something today. You actually truly don’t. Well, I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where it’s not my full job. I don’t have to post a video today. My videos have never been my job, and I don’t think I ever want them to be because of that. I want to make them when I want to make them.
G: But also, if you get into that flow state, don’t hold yourself back.
J: There are weeks where I post five videos and then there’s weeks or I’m like, absolutely not.
G: Yeah, totally. I got to a state where everything I was making was very repetitive. I’ve just created formulas rather than content for myself. I’m not being rewarded by making this. This doesn’t feel good. It’s that same mentality of, I have to versus I want to. Recognizing that is huge
J: Has this stuff with Mamrie felt different? With “This Might Get Weird” and that whole world, does that feel very different?
G: It’s been such a blessing. We started that after we did this show on YouTube that was five days a week, and the funding got pulled from it very abruptly. I was already doing my podcast, “Not Too Deep,” so I had all this equipment. I was like, “What if we just translate this to a podcast and see what happens?” It’s become such a joy for us to be able to continue to work together, but also to have a format that allows us to be less edited, less curated, and more naturally ourselves. To hear that it resonates with people is so wonderful. That’s also why going out and doing these live shows and making more of an actual full comedy show scratched an itch that we haven’t been able to scratch for a bit.
J: I’m sure that felt so amazing.
J: I find it very inspiring to hear everything you’re talking about. It’s so impressive that you’ve been doing this for so long and you’ve done so much. It’s so cool to take this step back from a certain part of it and be doing all this input. I’m personally very excited to see whatever comes of it. Even if you become a romance novelist.
G: Honestly, that’s not off the table.
J: I think it’s so great. It’s so easy to paint yourself into a box and then not see that you can get out of the box and remove yourself and take the time to live — drinking your water, eating your food — and see what comes out of it.
G: Your having to be forced into quarantine and find your voice was a benefit. You can create for so long and lose your voice that it’s about re-finding it again.
J: I don’t think anything can just move uphill forever. It has to come down so that it can then go back up. I think we should talk about that more because we would be comfortable with that and enjoy the down to get to the top.
G: Totally. There is this wave of a hustle culture mentality that I think is very beneficial in certain ways, but it will burn you out in very devastating ways if you’re not careful with your own capacity.
J: That was the biggest thing I learned over the past few years. I thought that hustle culture was it, and I was so busy all the time, but I wasn’t actually doing anything. For me, it’s discipline culture. If I have an idea, do it. But if I don’t have an idea, don’t sit around being like, “You got to hustle today.” It’s a different mindset around it, I think.
J: This was so lovely. Thank you so much for doing this show. I’m so excited.
G: Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.