Brooke Van Poppelen Hacks Her Life

Brooke Van Poppelen
Hack My Life — TruTV’s comedic take on everyday tips, tricks and shortcuts — recently had it’s mid-season premiere. In each episode, hosts Brooke Van Poppelen and Kevin Pereira take viewers on a crash course through various life -hanging hacks like opening a bottle of wine with your shoe, blowing up a basketball without a pump, or making your very own urinal out of an old beer keg. Admittedly, not all of the hacks are worth the trouble. As Brooke puts it, “Sometimes life hacks are ten steps harder than doing it the normal way. We’re really good at making fun of that on the show.” I talked more with Brooke about Hack My Life, how she ended up on Dr. Oz and how over a decade of standup comedy prepared her for the role of television host.

Hack My Life seems to have afforded you some interesting opportunities. I saw that you did a segment on Dr. Oz recently.

It was so strange. Never did I see myself getting to meet The Doctor. He is a television doctor! He’s also a big fan of life hacks. It was really cool to find out that someone was that excited about something that you do. I mean, I don’t invent them, but working as co-host with him was really fun. He did catch me off-guard though. He made me stay on set for a whole other segment that had been planned and I was like, “Oh, what?” and he was like, “Real quick, I need some life hacks for this and that.” I said, “I am no resource, sir.” His staff had to look stuff up real quick. He’s maybe more into them than I am.

His show is segment based, so I can see why he would like to incorporate life hacks into his episodes. Much like your show, his is the kind of show where clips probably get spread around more than entire episodes. I think more people would say, “Oh, did you see this thing from Dr. Oz?” as opposed to, “Did you see the recent episode of Dr. Oz?”

Right. I’m not a tune-in sort of person, but if he’s got a clip floating around out there about some sort of health supplement or something that I’m interested in… you’d better believe that I’m going to click on a video about oregano oil. “It can cure cold and flu symptoms! It’s good for this and that! This stuff is magical!” You know, I’ve never stopped to look at how well our videos do on YouTube, but I think they do really well, those little parts of the show that you can snap off and push out into the internet world.

You host the show with Kevin Pereira. Did you know Kevin before you started working together on the show?

No, I only knew of Kevin. I had a little bit of familiarity with Attack of the Show and G4. It’s one of those things where you walk in, meet your co-host and it’s like, “I know that guy!” It took a hot minute to figure it out and then it was like, “Oh my gosh,” just to know that you’re walking into a job with an established host when you’re the new person. It made me feel excited and confident about the job.

In hosting this show, have you discovered that this is a new way in which you can be funny? Sometimes as a standup you will get put on a theme show where you have to do an exercise or be asked to tell a story that is different than bits that you normally do. A lot of times you come out of those shows feeling like, “This can be a bit,” or, “This is a new way I can be on stage.” Being put in a situation where you have to do something different can sometimes inform your stage presence going forward. Are there things you’ve learned doing this show that you will be able to take to your standup?

As a standup comedian, you of course want to be funny and charming right out of the gate. There was a big learning curve to doing this job and that kind of got tabled for me for a minute while I was having growing pains and learning how to do it. Kevin is amazing. When I was getting in my head and worried about doing the job… he’s such a spontaneous and improvisational funny guy that he really got me out of my head in a way and back into wanting to riff and have fun. We just have a really good improvisational back-and-forth. The first season was very hard. There were so many moving pieces and because he’s the consummate professional with 10 years under his belt, he really, really helped me lighten up about the fact that I was doing a good job and made sure that we laughed and screwed around with the cast and production team. We developed a really great rapport. You come to realize that 13 years of hosting a comedy show in a dirty bar on a Sunday night suddenly has given you a set of life skills that you didn’t realize might come in handy in a professional setting. I think it’s more that standup really prepped me for this. Standing in front of people and bombing for years, making a show out of nothing. Suddenly, when you show up on a set that has a budget and people who are ready to make a professional experience happen, you’re like, “Oh. I can do this.” I’m not saying that there wasn’t a learning curve, but now I’m really having fun with it. Once I got over the hump it got really fun. I feel like I’m combining my standup skills with a professional TV hosting job.

Do you have any favorite hacks from the show? Maybe something that wasn’t on your radar before, but after doing the show you realized it could actually help your life.

Pretty much anything food and alcohol related is the stuff that speaks to me. I’m very domestic, but I’m not necessarily a handy person. I definitely like cooking and cocktails and all that stuff. All of my Lazy Cook segments are really, really fun. Anytime you can make ice cream out of bananas and Nutella, I’m listening.

You grew up in Detroit and moved to Chicago. Did you move to Chicago to pursue comedy or did you start out in Detroit?

I grew up in the Detroit burbs in Rochester, Michigan. I had a more bizarre, organic path to comedy. I was writing copy because I was studying advertising and realized that I was funny copywriter. Then I got involved in a local film festival at my university. For about three years I was an intern, then became a director in this one branch of the film festival. I just had a moment where, you know, I was only 22 and kind of doing this and had kind of an a-ha moment where I was like, “I want to be on the other side of the camera. I don’t want to be the person organizing the cool independent films. I want to learn how to do this.” I randomly got a fire under my ass and started taking comedy classes in Chicago. I had no idea where else to start. I didn’t take theater in college or anything like that. The Detroit scene was pretty non-existent at that time. It only had comedy clubs or established acts. There wasn’t really any where to get started, so Chicago was 100% the Holy Land. I started at Improv Olympic. One of my first-ever teachers was Dan Bakkedahl. He was amazing. He’s so funny on Veep right now. IO was a fun training ground. With about six months of improv under my belt, I got the bravery to try standup, which was a big fish to fry, but I had to figure out how to be on stage before I could even get the guts to do standup.

How long were you in Chicago before you made the jump to New York?

I was in Chicago just under four years. We really had a super fun but small scene at that time. The shows that we had are some of my favorites ever. The Lincoln Lodge is still going. I helped co-create Chicago Underground Comedy, which I think has its 11th or 12th anniversary coming up. There wasn’t a lot of comedy, so we had to make it. I’m proud to say that I helped create some shows that are now the cornerstones of what is considered good Chicago comedy.

I noticed that you are doing a lot of shows in LA, probably because of your filming schedule. Are you splitting time between New York and Los Angeles?

I just sort of ghosted New York. I fully moved here, but I’ve been kind of quiet about it. I’ll go wherever there’s work, but I wanted to be based here until further notice. I definitely won’t be moving my stuff back to New York anytime soon. So I’ve officially moved, I just didn’t make a big thing about it. My show filmed out here this winter and it was just a perfect opportunity to leave.

You did a web series with Giulia Rozzi called Seeing Other People. Are there any plans to take that — or some element of it — and develop it into a series for TV?

Yeah, I’m so happy you asked about that. We never pushed very hard for people to see it. It can be a very tiring thing sometimes when you do it yourself, post it on social media, and ask your friends to share it. We probably weren’t the brightest people in that sense, but we still managed to get some nice write-ups. We sent it out and got some nice returns and some nice things said about it. A lot of people loved the series, so we’re trying to get money for Season 2, which is ready to go. It’s fleshed out and written. We developed the concept into TV treatment. We’re in talks and have a couple of drafts of it that have gone to a British production company that we’re really excited about potentially working with. I think long gone are the days of thinking that just because you wrote a web series that you’re going to get a television show. It’s absolutely a great calling card and I recommend anyone to do it, but I think there was just this really tiny moment in time where it was just like, “You have a web series? All right, now it’s a TV show!” The market is really saturated with web series, so it’s all about timing, luck, and having a really good concept.

What else do you have coming up that we can look out for?

I’m super excited to say that my first comedy album will be out in June.

You just recorded it at SXSW, right?

I did. It was awesome. I recorded it with Sure Thing Records out of Austin, Texas. They’re a small, grassroots, for-comedians-by-comedians group. They’re great guys and they’ve got a fun little roster going. I’m very honored to be part of it.

Photo by Mindy Tucker.

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