Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process. In this week’s edition, we’re extremely ecstatic to feature Hannah Cohen, an emerging actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and theatremaker based out of New York City! Growing up in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio, Hannah Cohen first discovered her passion for drama by doing community theater. She began as an actress, until her interests grew, driving her to pursue production: working as a choreographer, producer, director, and more. Hannah’s creative drive eventually landed her with a BFA in Acting from NYU Tisch. She reflects fondly on her college years, accrediting her university with her “strong foundation in theatre” and attributing her work in NYU’s acting film studio for helping her develop a deep love of cinema, something she’d never considered growing up.
What is the connection between your art and social justice?What inspires you and your creative process? I’m constantly consuming different forms of art and entertainment and am subsequently constantly inspired. Right now I really really love Jameela Jamil, who’s an actress on The Good Place but also a wonderful activist. She’s started a huge movement online in terms of eradicating unhealthy body image standards for women, something that I’m a firm believer in and hope to also promote with my art. The way she’s able to balance being a fun and relatable actress while still making an impact and being taken seriously is something I highly admire…..In terms of my process, I pull from anything and everything: TV, music, movies, art, people on the subway. Honestly a lot of my material for stand-up comes from people on the subway!
I'm very into mental health awareness and body standards, and I am trying to incorporate those issues into my art more. Part of what I love about art is how impactful it can be, but that is sometimes a negative thing. You seem so many horrible, false portrayals of mental illness in the media—people exaggerate and vilify and glorify it. I really disliked the Thirteen Reasons Why Netflix series because of that; it was making suicide into a spectacle, something that is exciting and attention grabbing, rather than actually educating its audiences about depression. I want to do that! I want people to see the reality of mental illnesses in a digestible, entertaining and enlightening form. I’m currently writing a short film about disordered eating habits that I hope to start filming in the next few months, which will hopefully highlight the reality of living with an eating disorder.
What inspired you to pursue playwriting and acting? What were the challenges you overcame in this? I’m not sure if I was ever fully “inspired” to pursue acting—it was just kind of the only option? As in, I never had anything else I was drawn to as much as theater. It was a no-brainer for me, honestly. My whole childhood was theatre, theatre, theatre, so it was the logical next step into adulthood! When it came to stand-up, it kind of just crept up on me. I love comedy and always have, and worked on it a lot in college. In a comedy writing class at Stonestreet Studios, our teacher had us create “character reels” that showcased 3 different comedic, unique characters that we then filmed. Some comedians perform characters as part of stand-up, but that wasn’t the point of this class—it was just to create a comedic reel for our websites and such. But then she asked me to perform two of my characters at the stand-up show she hosted, and I did, and it went surprisingly great? But it wasn’t really stand-up—I was doing characters that weren’t me. I was still acting. Then a few months later, my friends Natalie Gifford and Brittany Raper approached me saying they were starting an all-female stand-up show and wanted me to join. And I did, and it also went surprisingly great, and now I love it…..It was hard at first because the open mic & stand-up scene, especially in New York, is predominantly white men that love to just make jokes about their dicks and the women they date. It’s hard to get a laugh and feel validated and talented when you’re facing a room of them. They don’t want you to succeed, because they don’t want a women to be funnier than them, so they don’t laugh, even if your material is good. And that’s hard, really hard. But working with Women Stand Up helped me ignore those types of people at shows—it gave me a supportive community that encourages and applauds you for even trying to do the scary, crazy, intimidating thing that is stand-up comedy!
What’s been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you?
The relationships you make and the people you meet. Getting to work with so many wonderful people, whether they’re my friends or strangers. It’s great. You learn so much about yourself and your art by working with others. They impact you and you impact them. It’s such a symbiotic system, and I love that. It’s the best feeling to know that you have a web of artists surrounding you that you will always support and will always support you. My advice to future artists would definitely be to find those people—find the people that make you excited and inspired when it comes to creating art. The people that will help you, whether they’re co-producing your show or bringing their friends to fill the audience or just dropping off dinner to a rehearsal because you didn’t have time to eat. People are your best resource in the arts (and in life). Do you have any advice for future artists? Go see stuff! Share stuff! Do the thing on social media! Artists, especially stand-ups, need audiences to test out their work and grow and move forward in their careers. The best thing you can do is be there for them in that capacity and try to widen their audiences.