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Kathleen Hanna on buffalo chicken, Destiny’s Child, and the sketchy things she did to McDonald’s apple pies

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In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

Though Kathleen Hanna made her name fronting acts like Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin, her latest project takes her slightly out of the spotlight. As the voice of the titular character in the stunning short film Myrna The Monster, Hanna takes a turn at acting, realistically emoting as a young, heartbroken alien who’s just moved to Los Angeles. Myrna The Monster debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will screen next at the 37th Annual Big Muddy Film Festival in Carbondale, Illinois.


1. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Kathleen Hanna: Definitely McDonald’s.

The A.V. Club: Can you describe it?

KH: Yeah. I mean, I’ll probably get sued by McDonald’s, but first of all they asked me what shirt size I was and I said medium, and so they said, “Okay, here’s an extra small.” They put all the girls on the front line working the cash register, and all the guys in the back. And they had all the girls were wearing shirts that were two sizes too small. So there was that element to it that was really gross. Also, I was the newbie, and so other people who worked there always made me clean the bathrooms, which was disgusting.


I’ve been a waitress, also, and it’s kind of a tie between McDonald’s and being a waitress at a slightly fancier place. I just don’t like being in the service industry and having to deal with people yelling at me all the time. And one of my jobs at McDonald’s was changing… you know the apple pie thing?


AVC: Of course.

KH: They have apple pie and cherry pie. This was in the ’80s, so maybe, hopefully they don’t have this practice at every McDonald’s, or they don’t have this practice anymore—but at my McDonald’s, they had me take the pies out of the cardboard sheathes that they come in and change the date when they got too old. To a new date, so that they were no longer old.


So I learned all these kind of secrets. And it was, like, super fucked-up. If you made an ice cream cone that had too much ice cream on it, you had to throw it away in the waste basket, and they would count how much waste you used, and you would get penalized for wasting food. And for a McDonald’s that did a massive amount of business, the wastebasket was the size of a home bathroom garbage can. That was as much waste as we were allowed. And I was just like, “This is crazy.” It was the hardest job I ever had—so I have a lot of respect for people who work in the fast food industry. Because it’s a hard job.

AVC: How long did you work there?

KH: Like a summer. I needed the money for my abortion.

AVC: Have you eaten there since?

KH: Yeah. But only in moments of total depression. Like, self-hatred and loathing.


AVC: Have you had the apple pie?

KH: No. I would never, ever have one. Never. I wasn’t into them anyway.

2. When did you first feel successful?

KH: When I was able to quit working a day job and start doing my music full time, at age… 26?


AVC: Was that for Bikini Kill?

KH: Yeah, that was Bikini Kill. I quit stripping and then I just did Bikini Kill.


I guess stripping should have been the worst job. It was McDonald’s and stripping and waitressing. They’re all so terrible, but McDonald’s was so hard because they just worked you so hard. There was so much work and such little pay. But at least stripping I got paid a lot of money. And I had a lot of freedom to come and go, and choose my own really horrible costumes. People seriously called me the clown stripper because I was so ridiculous.

AVC: Why?

KH: I had a lot of themes, like dancing to The B-52s wearing ’60s go-go boots. I had a leopard print wraparound thong outfit that I wore for “Black Cat” by Janet Jackson and I would crawl on the stage, but my really big move was “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna, where I would stick my stomach out like I was pregnant. And then I would do “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and I would fake-box. I was a total cheeseball. But I made money.


3. If you were a supervillain, what would your master plan be?

KH: I would end capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia… but I guess that’s a little too obvious and not villain-y enough. Because that’s actually being a superhero. But in many people’s eyes, such as Dick Cheney, I guess it’s not. So I guess I’m Dick Cheney’s villain.


AVC: You’d definitely be a villain to some people.

KH: I would break down poverty with my machete; I would end world hunger.

4. What were you like as a kid?

KH: Scared. Nervous.

AVC: Scared of what?

KH: I was somebody you would call “nervous in the service.” That’s what my mom always said. “You’re nervous in the service.” I don’t know, I was afraid of adults… I just tried to fly under the radar, you know?


I mean, when I was little little. Because in high school I was a mess. I was suspended all the time and had to switch schools over and over and was just a mega-mess. But when I was a little kid, I was so good, and tried to do everything perfect, and I was just scared of fucking up and getting in trouble.

AVC: Getting in trouble is probably one of my biggest fears, and I don’t think I’m alone.


KH: I think my biggest fear is dying. Although sometimes my biggest fear is not dying. But yeah, I think health stuff for me is more what I’m afraid of these days.

Anyway, I was just kind of a shy guy. I wasn’t the outward, confident lady that you hear today.


5. Who was your celebrity crush when you were younger?

KH: Oh, Tony DeFranco. Nobody will probably remember Tony DeFranco. He was like low-budget Donny Osmond. I mean, Donny Osmond, definitely, but kind of a combination between Donny and Marie. I guess it would be better to say Tony DeFranco because nobody knows who Tony DeFranco is. He was like a one-hit wonder. He had a couple songs: “Abra-ca-dabra,” “Heartbeat, It’s A Love Beat,” and I really learned to sing by copying his voice and singing along with his 7-inches. And when I was in high school, I looked him up in the L.A. phonebook and called, and then kept hanging up. I don’t think I ever talked to him.


AVC: Do you know what he’s doing now?

KH: He was only a couple years older than me, so the potential is still there for me to have some kind of relationship with him. Friendship, of course. But I have no clue what he’s doing now. I’m typing him up in the computer after this.


But it was Tony DeFranco And The DeFranco Family, and they wore crazy matching beaded sweaters. He had a great voice. He kind of puts Justin Bieber to shame.

6. If you had entrance music, what would it be?

KH: I guess “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. It’s kind of my jam. It really says it all. I love that song so much. I love the sentiment of like, “I’m a survivor and I can make it.” It’s such a positive, “I can do it” song, but it’s also so psychologically twisted because they’re like, “I’m not gonna diss you on the Internet. Because my mom taught me better than that.” And the thing that’s so funny is she’s not gonna diss you on the Internet, she’s gonna diss you in a song that the entire universe is going to hear. Which is worse than dissing someone on the Internet, if you think about it. It’s just kind of genius.

AVC: People have forgotten how great some of the Destiny’s Child songs are. They just hype Beyoncé instead.


KH: I think there was a whole thing with her and Kelly Rowland, where it was like best friends sitting around laughing making up songs. And I’m not saying that their songwriting was just easy, and that they didn’t work really hard at their craft, but it’s like, “Bootylicious”—“I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly?” Clearly they were sitting in the studio goofing around and making stuff up, and then making it into this great, empowering song. As a woman who has best friends who make me laugh until I pee, I really relate to them as a songwriting team.

7. What have you done so far today?

KH: Well I’m still in my pajamas. I wrote in my journal, I took my medication, I answered like 300 emails, I got in a fight with someone on Facebook. I guess that’s about it. I ate some oatmeal.


AVC: Who did you get in a fight with on Facebook?

KH: Some random dude who said he was a fan. I guess he wanted to write a paper about feminism or some shit, and it’s like, that’s not my job to help you write your paper on feminism, you know what I mean? Why don’t you go read a book? Why don’t you read one of the thousands of interviews on the Internet? If you want to know about my personal career or my personal thoughts, you can just read an interview on the Internet. I have like 50 interviews that you can click on on my website.


I didn’t know that you could video call somebody but the phone started ringing through my computer like every time I would go on Facebook. This person would know I was on and would be like, “Why don’t you want to talk to me?” And I was like, “This is really weird.” And the person was like, “I’m a big fan of you, and I just want to know more.” And I was like, okay, whatever, that’s nice. But I was doing something else, writing to somebody else on Facebook, and the person kept calling me through the computer, and I kept rejecting. And then the person started writing, “Why won’t you talk to me? Don’t you talk to your fans?” And I wrote back and I was like “Hey, I don’t like video chatting, I don’t do telephone calls with people that I don’t know, I don’t do video chat with people I don’t know, and I don’t know you.” And he was like, “You could know me if you video chatted with me.” I have like 5,000 friends on Facebook. Am I supposed to video chat with all of them? Go write your stupid feminist paper. And then he called me an idiot.

It’s stupid. I’m a grown-up. I can’t be bothered with things like that. But it was just one of those things where I didn’t know what was happening because I didn’t know the phone could ring through the computer. So I was like, “Man, I am old.”


AVC: That’s gross and entitled, obviously. Do you think he feels like he should have access to you in part because you’ve been so open about your life?

KH: That’s the thing about being somebody who allows access to a certain extent. I do have personal relationships with a lot of “fans,” in quotations. I answer all my mail, I still get letters—like, letter letters—I get emails from fans, and I try to answer them all. That’s important to me, but occasionally there’s the thing where people basically ask me to write book reports for them, and I don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather be making art than doing somebody’s book report. And I’m always like, “Man, go ask Eddie Vedder to write your book report on grunge!” I feel like there’s a certain sexism involved, like because I’m a woman I’m supposed to constantly be like giving to everybody.


I think the access is complicated, because it brings wonderful things into my life, and it brings really negative things into my life. I just try to keep the negative stuff at arm’s length. Laugh at it and walk away. Block the user.

8. What other celebrities have you been mistaken for?

KH: That’s never happened. I don’t think anybody’s ever mistaken me for anybody. I mean for a celebrity of any kind. The only thing that ever happens to me that’s weird is that people will call me Kathy. Or they’ll spell my name with an ‘h’ at the end. So they mistake me for someone named Kathleen Hanna with an ‘h’ at the end. And what’s really funny is when they write really intensely critical, mean things and they spell my name wrong. I’m like, “You clearly did your research on me before you wrote this scathing critique of my work, but you don’t even know how to spell my name.” So I’ve been mistaken for that Kathleen Hannah but I’ve never been mistaken for another celebrity. No one looks like me, come on. I’m 5’4”.


Oh no! I know! When I first started dating Adam Horovitz, who is now my husband, I was mistaken for Ione Skye and I was very flattered.

AVC: People probably mistake him for the other Beastie Boys all the time.

KH: Oh, yeah. Mike D. We were coming out of the hardware store and dude yells across the street saying “Mike D!” It happens all the time. But, yeah, I was mistaken for Ione and I was like, if you’re going to mistake me for the girl who was in River’s Edge, go right ahead.


9. If you had to find another line of work, what skills would you put on your resume?

KH: Photoshop. I’m a total ace at Photoshop. And InDesign.

10. Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?

KH: I guess the only thing I collect is art. I don’t collect seashells or anything. I was about to say I don’t collect anything, but I’m sitting here looking at a wall that is full from top to bottom with pictures. So I collect art. I collect it because I like looking at it. A lot of it is really personal stuff that my friends have made, gifts that people have given me because they know I collect art, paintings that my husband’s mother made before she passed away, and things that I bought. I’m looking at my very first piece that I bought right now. And we also find stuff on the street that we hang up.


I buy abstract art on eBay, and I buy some outsider art on eBay, or what is called folk art, or outsider art, I buy a lot of. Sometimes I buy that on the street, but only a couple times. I have art from when I took over a class at a senior center for a friend who was out of town, and I did an art class and they gave me some work. I have that stuff up… paintings my ex-bandmate made of my dog, stuff like that. But also stuff I found at thrift stores. I found this amazing painting of this house with really weird perspective, and then somebody just took red paint and scratched the house out, and it’s so weird that that was just sitting at a Goodwill. Like, who’s going to buy that? I am. And I have a lot of photography by my friends Becca Albee and Tammy Rae Carland.

So I have a lot of professional work as well as more stuff my friends’ kids make, stuff like that. I have a real mismatch of artwork that I love. And it just makes me feel good. Especially because there was a time period where I was sick and in bed a lot. And so to have a wall of art to look at, I felt really surrounded by love, because so much of the work is related to my friendships.


11. What would your last meal be?

KH: Oh my god! I totally know that, I was just talking about this. Okay. There’s this restaurant called Heartland Brewery, which is kind of a touristy restaurant. Me and my husband and our friend Cey did this event at MOMA one time, and it was like, we had 20 people with us and we all wanted to go out to eat, but every restaurant was so tiny it couldn’t fit us. So we ended up going to Heartland Brewery. They have like 30 beers on tap or whatever, and it’s that kind of place, but that was the only place that could fit us. And they have this thing there that is an egg roll that’s stuffed with basically buffalo wings, buffalo chicken, and then you get bleu cheese dressing. My fantasy is that I would have one of those that was as big as a meatloaf as my deathbed food. It would look like a meatloaf or one of those round cakes, and then the frosting would be the bleu cheese dressing.


It’s so good. It’s disgusting but it’s so good.

12. The bonus question comes from Jonathan Banks, who played Mike on Breaking Bad. He asks, “Do you think it would be a good idea to adopt a child?”

KH: Yes. Absolutely. Yes, and I think open adoption is a great idea, because it allows a relationship between the birth mother and her child so that the kid isn’t like, “Where did I come from?” And to have it be like, “Look, you have a bunch of people who love you.” Not just the parents who are raising you on a day-to-day basis, but also to have contact with your birth mother and hopefully your birth father. So that you can be like, “Oh, they love me too, and they love me so much that they knew they couldn’t take care of me but they’re still in my life to some extent.”


I’m really happy that we live in an age that has open adoption, because I’ve known people who’ve gone through horrible things with closed adoptions, and always feeling like they didn’t know who they were or where they belonged. I’m a big proponent of open adoption.

AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?

KH: Do I know who the person is going to be?

AVC: I can tell you it’s an actor.

KH: I know what a good question would be for an actor. What’s your least favorite thing that you’ve ever heard an actor say about acting? Or about being in a movie?


There are all these really pat responses at press junkets which I think are really funny, when actors go, “Well, really, we were filming in L.A., and the city became its own character.” You know what I mean? They always say that. “New York was really the third lead in the film.” Please, really? How exhausted are you that you just said that? And I know that the poor actors probably go home and they’re like, “Oh God, why did I say that?”

AVC: Some people go through media training, too, because they don’t want to be loose cannons.


KH: Yeah. They get their talking points on a piece of paper. Don’t say this, but here’s the stuff you should focus on about the movie that will help us out.

But then what do you do if you’re in a movie and you totally hate it? And then you have to go out and do press for it. It’s so horrifying to me. I saw Wanda Sykes totally make fun of the movie she was in one time. I think she was on Letterman and it was about Stepmother or something like that for a Jane Fonda and J. Lo movie and she was just rolling her eyes the whole time and being like [In an unenthusiastic voice.], “It was a great experience.” And I was like, “Oh, she’s not going to get hired again!”