Her candor is inspiring, but light enough to keep the crowd laughing. She is passionate about making space for women and people of color on stage. It seems she is effortlessly funny as hell. Hannah Roeschlein is an Indianapolis native, now Chicago-based comedian. She frequents stages such as Almost Famous, Helium, The White Rabbit, and Laugh Factory. Red Flag Comedy, an Indianapolis-based independent comedy producer organization, was created by a few local comedians including Roeschlein. They host shows in Indianapolis at myriad venues and bars. Catch her first album recording, titled “Asian-American-Psycho,” live at Almost Famous on March 10. We sat down to discuss all the moves she’s made since beginning her sobriety and her eternal love for Indiana.
Cory Cathcart: What is your involvement with Red Flag Comedy?
Hannah Roeschlein: Red Flag Comedy was created by me and Dyke Michaels. He is a friend of mine that also does stand up. We created it because we felt like the lineups that we were seeing over and over were stale and lacked diversity in general. We knew that he and I alone were bringing two mixed kids to every lineup. So, we just kind of did that. At that time, I was still drinking heavily, I had not sobered yet, and I was kind of a red flag. Red flag was legitimately pitched to me by Dyke at Dorman Street over drinks with this idea that we know what funny is, we are brand new to comedy, but we were already in our 30s. It was like, we’re not children in this thing. I was not willing to participate in something that brings me so much happiness at a frowny face level. So we conceived it and started booking shows. It was also nice, because I was able to get some stage time. Otherwise I was somewhat of a liability to book early on. I was writing from an English major’s point of view and my brain that I’m still unpacking now, but every single stage from the open mic level to a showcase I was drunk until I wasn’t drunk. Which was three and a half years ago. My first year and a half of comedy, at some point, I was blacked out every single day. I have very few recollections of my actual stage time. I remember it being a great time, and I remember my friends being there, but it was overall a wreck. That was basically how Red Flag came about. We just celebrated its fourth year.
CC: Have you adopted more people into Red Flag?
HR: For sure. Jake Johnson was involved from the very start. We’ve brought in some people now like Dustin Burkert who does a lot of the hosting and things like that. I shifted so hard in the past couple years into my solo pursuit of comedy, so I’ve become more of just the baby’s mother. I feel like a showbiz mom. You know, mom shows up every now and then to be like, “Hi!”
CC: What helps you stay motivated?
HR: Comedy has been the first thing I’ve had that really felt like it was my own. It’s a good representation of my intellectual property. I am driven and powered almost exclusively by my sobriety. You want to talk about the past couple of years and everything coming around… it’s a result of putting that bottle down and losing a 15 drink-a-day habit. There are places I started to be able to drive to because I was sober enough to drive a car. That created an ability for me to go all around the Midwest and make a name for myself slowly. I have wanted to leave home since I was in high school. I just got out of Indiana. I took the long scenic route. It’s been a powerful process and journey as well. I’ve been able to see the beauty of the strength and power of what a home gym can represent. I’ve never been trying to abandon Indiana. In fact, I am still here as much as anywhere else. I just had to see another skyline to start to contribute to my own. I knew that my kid (Red Flag Comedy) was in good hands with those fathers. I’m just so thankful for home.
CC: We love people who love Indy.
HR: I want to put stuff here, you know what I mean? Like I said, this isn’t a fuck you Indiana. It’s a hey, I got to get on some other stages. Chicago is so close that it allows me to run back and forth. It also gives me an explosive amount of space and new equipment in a jungle gym. There’s just so many more opportunities. They shoot a lot of shows in Chicago and it made me aware of the different ways I can utilize my comedy.
CC: What’s it like being in yet another male dominated industry?
HR: Tough, tough. It’s not for the faint of heart. Men occupy 80-85% of every one of our stages. Most of them still, if you look at comedy flyers from even the coast on in, are occupied by straight white men. Being an Asian American from the cornfields of Indiana is not exactly pocket aces as far as lineage. I have a public school education from a cornfield town. In Indianapolis, which I absolutely fucking love, as far as creativity goes a lot of times people here would rather hate or step on the necks of the people they should be collaborating with. I also realized that if you want the dialogue changed you better start talking differently. I know it won’t always be like this.
CC: You’ve traveled from LA to Miami to New York City for comedy. What’s your favorite stage?
HR: Right now Laugh Factory in Chicago. It’s a stage that I’ve started to get on. It was a stage that was a goal of mine. It’s a Midwestern A-Room. It’s one of the better venues for comedy in the United States as far as who’s on stage from night to night. Being able to be up there is gratifying. It’s a theater-like set up with hundreds of people. Now that more people are able to come back out, it’s one of the biggest audiences I’ve done comedy for. I’ve taken something that I’ve cultivated here at home in Indiana, and tumbled in like an air fried egg roll into a place that is a lot woker. In the bigger cities, I never expected to stick out because I thought there is all kinds of diversity. My mom is from the Philippines. My dad is a pastor of a church. I don’t care if I have more liberal sensibilities, I still know every word to Garth Brooks and George Strait songs. I’ve never been more Indiana, which is the craziest thing. I think I realized there’s no hiding it. I think Indiana is his home to some of the most talented, next level creatives out here. If the best I ever am is Indiana famous, who does that put me with? Michael Jackson and Mike Epps? I’ll take it. Good!
CC: What kind of people have you met along the way?
HR: So many. I’m multi-interested, it’s part of the reason I dropped out of college. I can’t figure out what exactly I fully enjoy. I’m good at comedy. I just started doing it and never stopped, but it’s not the only thing I want to do. Last year I acted in my first little feature role here in a movie that was shot in Indianapolis. In the same week I did a Pacers commercial. There’s all these new humans that I’m meeting just through that. Being able to work with comedians who are on Netflix, that’s been awesome. Bobby Kelly is a comedian I worked with. I opened for him in April when I was in Chicago. I actually got to do some shows with him at rehab centers, which was really powerful and personal for me. It led to him dropping my name to his label, 800 Pound Gorilla, in Nashville and saying I was a person to keep an eye on. Now I’m signed to that label to record an album. He saw something in my particular brand of goon dick and was like I’ll cosign for this idiot. I’m mesmerized at how this whole thing is unfolding.
CC: That’s so exciting that you were signed to the label!
HR: It’s really nice to be seen in a lot of different ways. Hearing people talk to me about how my representation as an Asian American makes them feel is rad. Growing up in the 80s and 90s the only person I knew that was half Filipino and half white in Hollywood was Rob Schneider. I only knew about it because he was in a Filipino magazine my mom had sent to the cornfields for the culture. I mean, if Deuce Bigelow was the only representation you can give me, I’m gonna grow up to be an asshole. I’m doing exactly what everyone set me up to do. The point is, I was never trying to be a role model. I’m happy to be at least in a position where anyone else who feels a little bit mixed up or is not feeling seen by one group or another can start to understand there’s a lot of different spice profiles going on. I got to do an all Filipino lineup at Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville for the Philippine Nurses Association. I got ultra emo. In Indianapolis doing Filipino jokes maybe one person every now and then understood what I was talking about. At that show I was just talking about myself.
CC: You are someone who is quite vulnerable. Why is that important to you?
HR: Because my vulnerability is like my truth. It’s also my peace. At the end of the day, I’ve got 15 years of my life that I was blacked out for that other people remember more than me. Going forward, that’s not the case. There’s a great deal more intention and attention going into everything that I’m saying and doing. I just want human beings to know that life is incredibly difficult, but on a day to day basis… doable. Beyond. I want people to understand it’s good to have goals, but it’s more important every day to show up to the office and be a person that your peers are fond of and say the things that you truly have the heart for. No one is going to buy in or believe in this entire thing if I’m not straight up, OG Hannah. I’d rather take things a little bit slower in comedy to make sure that it feels like me, than to be accelerating sitting in someone’s passenger seat. I’m so thankful for this recording contract. It is a privilege. I’m on a roster that has Grammy nominated comics on it. That’s intense, and that’s a goal of mine. There’s a comedy album category for the Grammys- something I’ve known and wanted. I guess if I’m gonna apply my English major to something, that would be an intense way to do it. There’s nothing I have to hurry to do. Chelsea Handler just got nominated for a Grammy for her comedy album for the very first time, she’s 46. I’m 38. By the time I’m 50 I’ll have done comedy for 16 years, and that makes the back of my brain blow out.
CC: You’re already doing a lot of different things. What was it like being in a Pacer’s commercial?
HR: I was in New York for the first time doing shows in October, my birthday month, and it just all happened. It was a big week. It was a fun week. I got a text from someone on one of the social medias. I was on their big screen for a game. I remember getting goosebumps. It brought tears to my eyes, because I used to watch games from the nosebleeds at Market Square arena. That’s so nuts. I’m emotional just thinking about it now. I don’t necessarily feel like I deserve that. I’m a lifelong fan. I’ve got two fucking tattoos. I’ve been thrown out of those stadiums. But why not, you know?
CC: Tell me about the podcast you are starting.
HR: Handora’s Box. I’m gonna start podding right after I record the album.
CC: It’s called podding?
HR: Yeah, podding is what I call it. I’m just gonna throw my full attention into all the other projects that I’ve wanted to do: writing pilot scripts, getting involved in some things. I have a lot of different ways to be funny. You don’t even have to be on stage if you don’t want. If I just wanted to figure out how to create content all day I could blow up on Tik Tok and not have to do any of this leg work. I wouldn’t have to do this “hee hee and haw haw” for 35 dollars at a time only to not even get a quarter of the stage time the dudes do. It’s neither here nor there. The tides are truly turning and honestly, the females in comedy are the baddest bitches out there. You can’t tell me any differently. Even crowds are shifting. Women are smarter, funnier, often dirtier.
CC: Your sets are so smooth. How do you bring confidence onto the stage?
HR: Well, I’m working on that. Thirty-eight years into life and I’m only a little over a presidential term into comedy. I do understand myself to be somewhat a novice in this. I just don’t bring a child’s approach to it. You can often see I do have a true whimsy. We’re just getting it started and when it’s over, it’ll be over and I won’t even know. But until then, let’s go.