Hannah Einbinder’s ‘Everything Must Go’ Makes Sure We Know She’s Not Ava Daniels

The ‘Hacks’ star brings Max her first stand-up special — at least half a decade in the making, and a little overbaked
Hannah Einbinder’s ‘Everything Must Go’ Makes Sure We Know She’s Not Ava Daniels

Hannah Einbinder had just turned 24 when she was featured among the New Faces at the 2019 Just for Laughs Festival, and was the then-youngest comic to do a live set on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert as of March 7, 2020, before the show left its theater for the duration of quarantine. Since then, she’s broken out as an actor in the Max sitcom Hacks, earning multiple Emmy nominations for her performance. Now her first stand-up special, Everything Must Go, is coming to the same platform, to demonstrate how different Einbinder’s own comic voice is from the role that made her famous.

On Hacks, Einbinder plays a comedy writer named Ava Daniels. The series pretty much begins with her losing her sitcom job over an impulsive social media post. Because she doesn’t come from wealth and her only show business connections are ones she’s forged herself, Ava has to settle for the only job her agent can still get her: writing for Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a Vegas comic so successful she’s had the luxury of growing complacent. 

Einbinder’s own story is very different. The dek of her first New York Times profile announces that she’s descended from comedy royalty: her mother is Laraine Newman, a founding cast member of Saturday Night Live. And while no names are mentioned in that first Colbert appearance, Einbinder knows she has to introduce herself to his viewers, and paints a vivid picture.

Einbinder reuses the first chunk of the Colbert set — her breadwinning mother giving birth to Einbinder later in life; the subjugated father Einbinder’s mother refused to marry; the genetic engineering that failed, resulting in the daughter Einbinder’s parents specifically tried to select against — as her opener in Everything Must Go. Watching them in reverse chronological order, as I did, is a slightly jarring experience: What initially read as a bold artistic choice by a sitcom actor adding layers of artifice to her own self-revelation turns out to have been Einbinder’s performance style well before Hacks ever came along.

The unflattering portrait of Einbinder’s parents that launches the hour soon transitions to an unflattering portrait of herself. After inviting the audience to rate their own virtue, Einbinder admits she’s “only a good person on paper” — one who became a vegan so she could lower her odds of getting cancer without having to give up “huffing paint.” We learn a lot about Einbinder’s extensive drug use, both prescription and not. Solid points are made about rewiring a generation’s brain chemistry with speed, aka Adderall, for the sake of preparing neurodivergent minors to be productive laborers under capitalism — and is it more likely that so many people really have ADHD, or that they just hate their jobs?

You might think you’ve already heard every variation on the “traumatic first period story” until you’ve heard Einbinder’s. If the “Rod Cheyenne” who saved a young Hannah on that day is a real person, he is far more deserving of a syndicated advice show than Dr. Phil ever was. And I won’t spoil the reveal of the extracurricular activity that was so integral in forging Einbinder’s character except to say I never would have guessed it based on every other thing she says in the hour.

Knowing Einbinder has been working in this mode at least since her JFL set makes her Hacks role feel more inevitable. Einbinder’s performance style is highly polished and very actorly — not a syllable out of place; never seeming improvisatory — and Everything Must Go is much closer to a one-person show than stand-up. Though she (obviously) addresses the live audience, one doesn’t sense that she’s taking much back from them or that they’re expected to do more with their time together than receive her performance. 

Director Sandy Honig (of Adult Swim’s live-action sitcom Three Busy Debras) replicates the moody blue gels Colbert’s lighting crew supplied for that 2020 appearance; she beautifully frames Einbinder in every one of her over-the-shoulder asides. The maroon curtain behind Einbinder looks so rich that it’s no wonder when Einbinder wraps herself in it for a bit in which she does her impression of, what else, the moon.

But for our introduction to Einbinder as a solo comic performer, Everything Must Go can be off-putting. We don’t understand why these aesthetic choices were made — what resonance these references have for Einbinder herself. And though her stories are candid, her affectations keep her from seeming particularly vulnerable in telling them. Hannah Einbinder is an extraordinary writer, and it’s exciting to know she’s bringing viewers a piece of work she’s been iterating on for such a long time. I hope we eventually get a second special that feels a little more relaxed, and a lot less mannered.


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