From Reality-TV Villain to Stand-Up Comedian: ‘Summer House’s’ Hannah Berner on the ‘Torture’ of the Hamptons

·10 min read
Jeff Tan/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty
Jeff Tan/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

It’s not often that a fan favorite on a popular reality TV show transforms into the villain overnight, with fans campaigning for the network to give that person the boot. But it’s not often that a character like Hannah Berner comes along.

The 29-year-old joined the third season of Bravo’s Hamptons-set reality series Summer House and became the resident funny girl, known for her relatability and outspoken and blunt nature. But by the season’s post-finale reunion episode in late April, most of her cast mates had decided her charms had worn thin and she broke into a fit of tears as they ripped into her.

“It was eight hours of torture,” she tells The Daily Beast of filming the episode.

The reunion was the boiling point of a summer that had been anything but smooth sailing. For starters, Berner’s confusing back-and-forth, not-quite relationship with Luke Gulbranson unraveled when he brought new cast member Ciara Miller into the Hamptons mansion. Meanwhile, her friendship with Amanda Batula was on its last legs over the constant bickering between Berner and Batula’s fiancé, Kyle Cooke.

In mid-May, after a handful of other squabbles, Berner announced that she wouldn’t be packing her bags for the Hamptons again this summer. Instead, she would be focusing on her comedy career, hitting the road with her standup tour, dubbed House Broken, and performing in New York City on Thursday before making stops in Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey, and Indiana.

Berner says it was the right timing to step away from the show and pursue comedy, especially because her first tour in early 2020 was derailed by the pandemic. That led her to return to New York and bunker down before heading into the chaos of the last season on Summer House.

“I definitely, emotionally, had a really hard pandemic,” she admits. “There wasn’t as much laughter as I wanted, so that’s why I’m very excited to laugh this summer.”

“Three years in the reality TV game, I have gray hairs. I’m not gonna lie,” she laughs. “Comedy was something that I’d been working on for a while. So [stepping away] was a combination of a lot of things where I’m like, ‘OK, now I can invest my time and have some privacy... also to have time to really tour and pursue something that really brings me a lot of joy.”

“It’s nice to feel like things are back on track.”

Along for the ride is Berner’s new fiancé, Irish American comedian Des Bishop, who will also be cracking a few jokes during her set. “Traveling as a stand-up can get very lonely on the road,” Berner explains. “His tour got postponed until the autumn, so I selfishly was like, ‘Do you wanna make my show even funnier?’”

Including Bishop in the set makes sense for Berner. She first made a name for herself with her viral tweets and relatable memes about her life and the pitfalls of dating in New York City, first for Betches Media and then through her personal social media platforms. Now, she hosts weekly podcasts Berning in Hell and Giggly Squad, the latter of which she started with close friend and Summer House co-stair Paige DeSorbo during the early stages of the pandemic.

But within the span of a year, she went from being single to having a boyfriend to getting engaged, so Berner needed to reevaluate her usual repertoire of jokes and bits. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, how do I work this out?’” she says. “The set evolved into how I used to view relationships, to now how I view relationships, also kind of analyzing quarantine, my own struggles, and my own insecurities.”

“I think after being on TV, having the opportunity to experience people in person is a real thrill for me, just unedited, raw, and unfiltered. That kind of energy is what makes me really happy.”

While she’s focused on her tour and exploring her options in the comedy world, Berner says there's a possibility that she could return to Summer House down the road. “Bravo and I are on very good terms,” she says. “They've let me know there's definitely a door open because you never know with life.”

However, there’s a long road ahead if she decides to rejoin the show after the massive falling out that she had with her cast mates. Plus, she’ll have to win back the favor of some of the show’s fans.

The backlash against Berner wasn’t entirely unwarranted. Her summer began on rocky ground, with tension between her and Gulbranson, who had been playing hot and cold with her for the past year. The question of if they’d finally date was quickly stamped out when Gulbranson brought in Miller and pursued a relationship with the travel nurse right in front of Berner. However, she was already hot and heavy with Bishop, leading everyone in the house to question the timeline of when they got together and if it was Berner who had been pushing the narrative that Gulbranson was leading her on.

She was also butting heads with Cooke, her best friend Batula’s fiancé. That came as no surprise because Berner has long been at odds with Cooke, co-founder of the hard seltzer and canned cocktail brand Loverboy. For Batula, the feud between her friend and future husband ended up being too much to handle. She sided with Cooke, leaving the women’s friendship on the rocks.

There were other antics of Berner’s that didn’t sit well with her cast mates, including entertaining a false rumor sent to her by an Instagram psychic about Gulbranson supposedly hooking up with house member Lindsay Hubbard. Then there was the time Berner and Bishop had sex in Cooke and Batula’s bathroom.

Still, Berner thought these issues would all blow over. “Obviously, watching it back was hard and different than what I thought,” she admits. But “there weren’t any really deep things that I thought happened that we couldn’t move past.”

As the season aired, fans grew increasingly irked by Berner’s behavior and she landed in hot water with her cast mates for remarks she made about them on podcasts and in the press.

Berner faced further backlash when fans unearthed dismissive and flippant comments that she made about Gulbranson’s struggle with suicidal ideation while on stand-up comedian Andrew Collin’s podcast Puddles. Berner quickly put out an apology, saying her remarks were insensitive and “crossed a line.”

“You have to reflect, and you have to learn,” Berner says, explaining she’s always been very open about her own struggles with mental health. “Jokes definitely miss. It’s important to understand where you were coming from when you were trying to make a certain joke. Is it out of hate? Is it trying to hurt someone or was it trying to make someone laugh?”

When the reunion rolled around, Berner’s cast mates’ pent-up frustrations unleashed during the explosive taping. Berner only had DeSorbo and Miller in her corner. At one point, she walked off stage, pushed over the edge by Gulbranson, who claimed producers made him invite Berner to his home state of Minnesota the previous summer. He later admitted what he said was misconstrued and he had wanted to hurt Berner’s feelings.

Since the taping, not much has changed in her relationships with her co-stars. “It was hard because we all were actually getting along after the summer,” Berner says. “Then the season airs and you see how it’s shown and how people are reacting. Things got very heated, but I didn’t have any idea that there was going to be a gang-up to that effect. I actually came in being like, ‘I don’t want to fight these people,’ which is ironic. But I wanted to diffuse and listen. I just feel like the reunion… you see some other sides of people that you’re like, ‘Damn.’”

“I tried not to cry and it didn’t work,” she continues. “I didn’t want to raise my voice or give anyone an excuse to say, ‘Women are just crazy and emotional.’ All season I stood up for myself against guys who I thought were playing with my emotions or guys who I thought were disrespecting me. I always have to stand up for myself.”

Berner was especially surprised by Hubbard, Carl Radke, and Danielle Olivera leading the charge against her. “I personally have never had any issues with Carl,” she says. “Really never any serious issues with Lindsay. Never one issue with Danielle, so I was pretty taken aback. I really wish them all the best because I’ve never had any beef with them.”

To help deal with the online firestorm, Berner says she talked to other reality stars who had gone through similar experiences, including Blake Horstmann from Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette.

“He had a great season and then he was crucified during Bachelor in Paradise, especially online,” Berner says. “He said he didn’t get out of bed for three months, and how hard it was.”

Berner says Horstmann gave her an important piece of advice: The person that producers want viewers to love isn’t as great as they are portrayed onscreen. And the person they want you to hate isn't as bad as they are made out to be.

“I think overall, just as a person in the entertainment industry, understanding that when people love you, they don’t know you,” she says. “People who hate you, they don’t know you. You can’t let either get into your head because the people who are my huge fans, I love them, but I’m not as great as they think I am. For the people who hate me, I swear to God, I’m not as bad as you think I am.”

“I think being on reality TV but also being in a comedy space has been tough and has caused some clashing because they are very different audiences,” Berner contemplates. “Sarcasm doesn’t always hit the same way on reality TV as it does in comedy.”

“Comedy is not about drama; comedy is about being silly. Reality TV, people are like, ‘Who’s trying to crucify who and why does this person hate this person?’ They’re two different worlds, but I was coexisting in both, which was fascinating.”

Despite the lion’s den that Berner could face if she decides to spend another summer in the Hamptons, she’s not scared. “Reality TV is scary, but so is comedy,” she says.

“I like to do things that scare me, and I think that’s what life’s about. The thing with reality TV, you can’t control anything and I’m kind of a control freak, Type A person. So, I think this happened to me for a reason. I always said my biggest fear was going on a show and people seeing me in a light that isn’t authentically me, and I survived it.”

“I never went on the show to be perfect. I went on the show to show that I deal with depression, I have anxiety, I make mistakes. I want to show that women can be strong, can be athletic, we can be funny, we can be angry, we can be annoying, and we can be silly. Women are just so much more complex characters than the villain, or the heroine, or the woman who needs help.

“I always give it my all whenever I’m in front of the camera. I just hope that everyone was able to escape a little, even if it was through my wild summer to get away from their own problems. If I made them feel a little bit better about themselves, then I did my job.”

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