Hannah Einbinder and Reggie Watts Are Prepping for the End of Days
The curmudgeonly but charming female lead is a tough niche to fill, but Hannah Einbinder has it covered. After spending years shopping her deadpan absurdist standup around Los Angeles, Einbinder landed the lead role in HBO Max’s Hacks—a dark comedy that propelled the 27-year-old L.A. native from cult figure in the local comedy circuit to bi icon splashed across every other billboard on Sunset Boulevard. On Hacks, Einbinder plays Ava, an upstart TV writer who falls from grace after an untoward tweet. The mishap leaves her an industry pariah, and she’s banished to Las Vegas to write stale jokes for an aging comedian (Jean Smart). But Ava’s career nihilism is no match for her own ego—a combination which makes Einbinder’s ability to endear audiences to her prickly character all the more remarkable. In fact, some of that nihilism may be Einbinder’s own. Here, the actor and comedian dropped by the home of her friend Reggie Watts for a chat about the end of days, AI’s imminent takeover, and the problem with pool parties.
REGGIE WATTS: So, what do you think the future of media is, for TV shows and movies?
HANNAH EINBINDER: Well, I hope that storytelling lives on, but so much of what reality television has done to media is put the storytelling, quote unquote, in the hands of truly anyone who can record themselves or who’s just kind of aimlessly living. And I think with YouTubers and bloggers and this generation sort of staying in that zone in terms of what they consume—I mean, kids of a certain age really don’t watch TV, from what I can tell.
WATTS: No, for sure not.
EINBINDER: They’re online, they’re on TikTok, they’re-
WATTS: They’re working. That’s what it feels like.
EINBINDER: Completely, yeah. But I think that signals to me that it’s just going to be bite-sized, very little narrative. I truly think the end of the road is people watching a video of someone sleeping. Like, cut to the Emmy’s 2055, and Best Drama is just someone sleeping. It’s really, I think, heading to a crazy bizarre place. But here’s the concrete idea: Life itself is such a nightmare. The reality of life in our country is so unbearable for kids who know no normalcy whatsoever. For this group of kids who are coming up at a time where there is just death all around them, media will be sort of ASMR. They will watch people living life in a calm and peaceful way, making their meals, cutting fruit, taking a shower, walking a dog, doing simple things, and will get pleasure from experiencing a caricature of human life that is not achievable.
WATTS: If it actually ends up happening exactly like that, and there is no other form of storytelling, that would be kind of dire—but possibly not dire as well. Possibly just what it is.
EINBINDER: It is what it is, and it will be what it is, if that is what it is—really there’s no cleaner way to say that. But I do believe that if that is how it ends up, then it is out of necessity.
WATTS: Yeah. In Idiocracy the highest grossing movie was called Ass, and it was just a shot of a man’s naked ass for two hours straight.
EINBINDER: Absolutely. That’s 2022, we’re there. In fact, that’s 2018.
WATTS: But at the same time, we do have these incredible TV shows and movies. And also AI is making such progress that it can possibly start to generate films.
EINBINDER: And with that comes the conversation of, who gets to make movies? Is AI included in the community? Is that work valid? Can it compete against human work? And that whole conversation obviously extends beyond movies. But we see it so much right now in the media and culture and art and cinema. Like in Her—we’re already starting to examine it. What constitutes life? Does it have anything to do with our current political divisions?
WATTS: I don’t know. My hope is that AI progresses far beyond the trivial idiocy of human beings—the things that we get hung up on, all the categorizations and whatever fragmented fences and barriers we put up to delineate each other. Those things are so stupid and just so truly unnecessary and easy to avoid. The correct answers to how to create a better world, to create a better quality of life for as many human beings as possible, are all there. The information is there, all the solutions exist. But it’s all just in the hands of a few assholes that have resources and have access to things that can determine who lives or dies.
EINBINDER: It’s so simple.
WATTS: Super simple. At the same time, progress is undeniable. I think there will be a time when we’ll have an unlimited source of generating energy. Then every country will be able to produce its own.
EINBINDER: And surely the men on top will find a way to make that a war.
WATTS: They’ll try, but at a certain point, I think people are just going to get tired of it and be like, “I’m kind of done with this.” You know what I mean? Because it’s outdated. It doesn’t work anymore. It’s not interesting. It’s the same thing with Generation Z or Generation Alpha and what they’re interested in, what is important to them, like issues of gender, binaries, and how the world is built around that, what it means. It’s that generation’s way of creating counterculture, on one hand. It’s a true, interesting topic for human beings to talk about for sure, the traditionalism of binary systems and the way that applies to gender, to the way that people are treated, and the way that one identifies themselves through that lens or that spectrum. So it’s a conversation, but it’s also a counterculture movement. It’s a movement that delineates itself differently than an older generation. It’s a way that a generation is seeing itself and asking questions. For my generation, Gen X, the counterculture was to be, like, punk rock. It was being contrarian and doing seemingly violent things—things that had the appearance of violence and the energy of violence, but weren’t actually violent.
EINBINDER: I saw a meme that I loved so much, it said, “Hippies are bad people pretending to be good, and punks are good people pretending to be bad.” Isn’t that so funny?
WATTS: Oh my gosh. That’s so true. I know some mean hippies.
EINBINDER: I mean, the word “hippie” in LA is so hard to even conceptualize because it’s like, does that mean “new age”? Does that mean it’s rooted in, like, a wellness practice?
WATTS: Is it just kind of crusty living?
EINBINDER: Yeah. And that’s something that I don’t even ascribe to L.A. really. It’s more Portland, Vermont.
WATTS: Right, yeah. But what’s interesting about all of that is I think we’re all trying to find our way back to ourselves. Our world makes it seem as though everything is so compartmentalized. We have different eye color. We have different hair color. We have different aesthetic tastes. We drive different vehicles. Just think of whatever makes a person who they are—the attributes of where they were born, how they were raised, what they had access to, and so on. All that makes an individual feel different from those around them. But at the end of the day, everyone just wants to have a good time. In general, we all just want to feel safe and secure and to solve problems. I think people really love helping—they love having a place in the world and being useful.
EINBINDER: Yeah, completely.
WATTS: So we get a better understanding of who we are as beings by asking questions like, “Where are we going? What do we mean to each other? What am I doing when I’m working all the time for these numbers that appear in a bank account that I never actually see?”
EINBINDER: That don’t exist.
WATTS: That don’t exist! And I get it, I understand how it works. But is that the best we get to be? Is that it? Did we pinnacle?
EINBINDER: I think we’ve reached a breaking point where counterculture today centers around asking the question, “What do the most basic, internalized ideas about human society even mean?” The answer is, “Nothing.” Everything is meaningless, including the oldest fucking ideas about what man is and what woman is. It’s over. That is the beginning of blowing the lid off the whole fucking thing.
WATTS: Yeah, I hope so. It’s an opportunity for us to evolve beyond the petty—stirring up controversy on purpose to keep people occupied, and all that. That’s just a misuse of gifts and powers and opportunity.
EINBINDER: I feel like I’m most aware of this when I’m on a walk and I pass someone and hear a snippet of their conversation. Hearing that random person makes me feel like a random person.
EINBINDER: Everyone is just some guy. Period. Guess what? If you’re reading this, your dad—sorry, baby—is just some guy. You are some random fucking guy. I am some random fucking guy. And that is so freeing.
WATTS: It is freeing. It enables you to walk up to strangers and just immediately comment on something as though we’ve known each other a long time. I love that. It’s not a huge effort to talk to someone as though they’re your friend. It’s like we’re all one being, and you can access that if you hit it at the right angle.
EINBINDER: Absolutely. And what you’re talking about is such a beautiful way to shake someone awake, because it can be jarring. Sometimes they’re a person who’s kind of resistant to that familiarity so they’re awkwardly laughing it off or whatever. But when you keep going and you look them in the eyes and they join you, it really is like shaking someone awake.
WATTS: It’s the most rewarding feeling in the world, isn’t it? When you do have that moment. And obviously some of us are more able to do that than others. I love going into a party where no one’s dancing and then I start dancing with my friends, we start having a good time, and suddenly everybody’s on the dance floor. It’s like, “I want more people to be dancing and having fun, so let’s just make a reality.”
EINBINDER: The party analogy is so incredible, and specifically a pool party, right? Pool parties when you’re 12, yeah everybody’s in the pool. Pool parties now, it’s like, “Why is there a pool here? No one is in the pool. No one is going to go in the pool.”
WATTS: The American prudishness.
EINBINDER: Oh my god. Correct.
WATTS: We pretend, “Oh yeah, we’re so hot.” But only if you’re ultra-hot do you have no fears. So anything less than that ideal is like, “I’m a work in progress”
EINBINDER: Right. Because in America, real bodies are so not normal whatsoever.
WATTS: Oh no. Forbidden.
EINBINDER: Yeah, like a “no diving” sign. “Normal bodies forbidden.”
WATTS: Totally. “Elite bodies only.”
EINBINDER: Because America revolves around the entertainment industry and celebrities are expected to be stunning and beautiful and perfect. We are all shamed when we are not that.
WATTS: But now that’s changing.
EINBINDER: And that rocks! Look, there’s a girl with cystic acne on billboards all over this city, and it’s me! But yeah, when somebody gets in the pool at a party, it just elevates things. I remember being at this party at the Roosevelt with two of my little sisters and they were the only ones getting in the pool because it was this Hollywood shindig and everybody was so cool. But they got in the pool so then I was like, “I’m going to get in the pool, too.” And I did, and then other people started getting in the pool and the party became—
WATTS: A fucking party.
EINBINDER: A fucking party! People’s guards went down and it went from shitty Hollywood pretentious bullshit to handstand competitions, and it was fun. Getting in the pool at parties is totally counterculture.
WATTS: Oh yeah. Actually taking advantage of the thing that generally is only a symbolic attractor. It’s almost like the pool party is more of a conceptual idea.
EINBINDER: “It will be stunning to look at the pool at this party.”
WATTS: “It is a pool party because there is a pool.”
EINBINDER: “The pool’s coming.”
WATTS: “It’s the idea of a pool and a party.”
EINBINDER: “The pool determines the attire for the party.”
WATTS: In general, when there’s a dance floor or there’s a pool and they’ve set up this stuff for people to interact with, it needs to be activated. As you say, it changes the dynamics. And then everyone’s like, “What a blast. We weren’t obsessing over our insecurities, or masking them with our various strategies. Instead, we just embraced the situation.
EINBINDER: And you transition from being an individual to being part of a whole. Anxiety is real, I have it and I understand it. Part of the work that I am to combat is it reminding myself of this idea that we are all part of one thing. Even just knowing that you can say something to the person in the elevator—why does it have to be so fucking quiet?
WATTS: Totally. There’s a lot that’s coming to a head, culturally right now, and the only antidote I see is to live like the world is the place you dream it to be—storytelling is a huge part of that. All of these categorizations—Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, whatever—need to go away, because they’re not useful tools anymore, they don’t solve a problem anymore. So now they’re no longer tools, they’re just things that perpetuate problems. So we need to go beyond that language and way of thinking and say, “How can I connect with you as a human being?” If people immediately approach each other just as a person, it’s amazing. By the way, are we still recording this? We are, oh my god.
EINBINDER: We’re still rocking and rolling. Just an author’s note: When we moved to the kitchen, shit really started to fly.
WATTS: Yeah. Kitchen talk: good. Couch talk: okay. Not totally us. This is us.
EINBINDER: This is us.
WATTS: A great show.
EINBINDER: On ABC. Eight, seven central…I actually don’t even know if it’s on ABC.
WATTS: What if this whole thing just turns out to be us trying to convince people to watch that show. [Both laugh]
EINBINDER: Please entitle this interview, “Reggie Watts and Hannah Einbinder Want You to Watch This Is Us.”