Chicago, IL · Wed, Aug 10
· By Will Andrews ·
Hannah Roeschlein is an accomplished comic from the midwest who participated in Conquer Life’s first Q&A discussion with Dr. Cliff Saper. Mental health, addiction, and sobriety are all themes in Hannah’s work, as well as being an Asian-American woman from rural Indiana. She is a regular at The Laugh Factory in Chicago and can be seen all around the city doing stand-up performances.
Q: Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me. What motivated your move to Chicago from Indianapolis?
A: Since this past summer, I transitioned into doing comedy full time. With that growth came the opportunity to come over to Chicago to do everything that included the improv side of the street to access more stages as well. I got passed–which is a term in comedy for getting the golden ticket, basically. A booker saw you and gave you the highest co-sign they can, and I had that happen to me this past April at The Laugh Factory. That heavily informed my move as well.
Q: Before you made the switch to comedy full time, what were you doing?
Hannah: Serving. 20 years. 20 years in fine dining. I basically had a 15-year nightmare career with alcohol, from ages 19 or so to when I got sober at 34. Getting sober was one of the catalysts from turning away from serving and going full-time with comedy–things clearing up in my mind as the bricks of Pabst Blue Ribbon fell.
Q: What is the serving field like for someone in recovery? What is it like for those who haven’t entered recovery yet and struggle with mental health or addiction issues?
Hannah: With serving, it’s a culture where if you are struggling with any kind of problem drinking or any kind of substance abuse–it can easily exacerbate that. After 3 and a half years of not drinking, I’ve been talking about wanting to put together things like sober supper clubs and other things because I know there’s a shift coming of people understanding truly that substance abuse on top of mental health issues is like peanut butter and jelly of disaster. If I had access to resources, maybe serving would’ve been more gratifying.
Q: Now going back to comedy, what made you want to pursue that in the first place?
Hannah: I’m 38 now, and to say I haven’t gone through most of my life fascinated or wanting to do comedy would be a lie. I’ve been a funny person my whole life. Waiting tables was the way most of my intellectual property was utilized for 2 decades. People would throw me 20% tips and say ‘Hey dude, you’re funny! Did you ever think about comedy?’ I had been hearing that shit for so long. And 5 years ago I did my first open mic. I was still drinking at that time. I was in my last year and a half of my 15 years of alcoholism, so it was a pretty chaotic start because I was so fucking drunk up there, but I kept it up and got sober finally. I gave it a good college try and 5 years later I never stopped.
Q: Since you’ve gotten into comedy, what is the relationship between comedy and mental health there?
Hannah: It’s not a great relationship. But, there are more and more of my mentors, heroes, and even peers that are even sober or California sober. But sobriety is trending more. Not everyone interested in sobriety is blacking out. Now some people realize that only a couple of drinks makes their anxiety tweak or a couple of drinks and they don’t get on my mat for yoga–which is directly correlated with mental health. I’m not a child in comedy anymore, and I just recorded my first album–and for that whole hour, I talked quite a bit about mental health. It wasn’t even my narrative, it was just something that kept popping up because in my day to day, it does.
Q: And who inspired you to do comedy in the first place?
Hannah: When I was younger, that was the age of SNL where Farley was still alive–the cast was Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Molly Shannon. I was joking about this while recording my album the other day, but even now Asian representation is the best it’s ever been–but still not too much. When I was a kid, one of the people on TV I could relate to, what Ms. Swan–the cartoon Asian character on Mad TV! I knew how to make those kinds of jokes, but I was legitimately like, who the fuck else? Jackie Chan? I was resonating with certain things. I had the first 2 seasons of Da Ali G Show on DVD, and then the original Jackass I saw twice in the theater. So my early humor was really informed by a lot of dumb dudes. David Chappelle, Maria Bamford, too– Indiana itself has some really good comics that no longer live there, so there’s a hodgepodge.
Q: That leads to my next question, what has your experience been like, not only as a woman in comedy but as an Asian woman, in a field that seems to still in a lot of ways be dominated by men?
A: Oh, it’s not still in a lot of ways, it is. Probably 80% of stage time is still cis white males. And I say that dead serious, all the way across the board. I still see line-ups come out of LA, New York, Chicago even–that are uncomfortably male. And I’m like homies, get with it at this point! I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and are so thankful to see a female up there. I’m like, are we still here? With that said, I just have to be the representation that I needed.
In those early years in Indiana, I was basically talking to no one–I was describing being a mixed child of the corn, and probably one out of every 500 people I was performing to could relate. At the start of my comedy, I remember people saying that if I go all in on that [being a minority woman in Indiana] that it’s only for me– and it is only for me! Because it’s therapeutic, it’s what I know, and it’s who I am. 5 years later, it’s what’s galvanizing. It’s my spice blend. There’s nothing anyone can do to scratch that out of me. There’s nothing I can do to cover it up–and I don’t want to anymore. That’s one of the great things about sobriety and getting well– understanding that there’s some wood grained in you that you can paint over or you can work with it and smooth it out.
You can check out Hannah’s Instagram here, where you can learn more about her and her upcoming shows. Roeschlein’s upcoming album, Asian-American Psycho, will be released on streaming platforms soon.
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