By STEVEN KURUTZ
“The amount of mozzarella sticks I’ve eaten in this bar,” Mamrie Hart, a YouTube personality with more than 1.1 million subscribers, said wistfully.
What was the appeal of a bar so close to Penn Station? Its proximity to the Peoples Improv Theater, the troupe where both women cut their chops in the mid-aughts.
Back then, the struggle was real. Ms. Hart, now 33, was bartending at City Crab & Seafood Company, where she wore “a full-on crab tie,” she said with a laugh. Ms. Helbig, 30, was trying to be a comedy writer “like Tina Fey,” waitressing at a chain steakhouse and living in a dingy apartment in Brooklyn with a landlord who hit up her and her roommate for money. “He’d ask for $20 and take it off the rent at the end of the month,” she recalled.
Soon she alone was hired by a company to post videos five days a week, building up a large, loyal audience before most people really understood the possibilities of YouTube. Later, she started It’sGrace, her own channel on the site.
Ms. Hart, meanwhile, used YouTube to vent creative frustrations. “My thinking was, ‘I’m bartending and I hate it and let’s put some joy into this process,’” she said.
Ten years later, the women live in more comfortable circumstances in Los Angeles and have returned as conquering showbiz heroes of sorts. Ms. Helbig’s fans turn to her for everything from a nonreview review of Olympic fashion to a tutorial on how to make corn dogs, while Ms. Hart hosts “You Deserve a Drink,” her pop-culture show with bartending recipes.
LIFE ADVICE (with Mamrie Hart!) // Grace Helbig
Video by Grace Helbig
Now they are starring in a movie, “Dirty 30,” which opens Friday in select theaters and will be available in digital HD on iTunes. The loose plot centers on an out-of-control birthday bash two friends throw for Ms. Hart’s loveless character. Another co-star is their friend and fellow YouTube personality Hannah Hart (no relation to Mamrie).
It’s the second feature the three women have made largely outside the Hollywood studio system (“Camp Takota” in 2014 was the first). Ms. Hart and Ms. Helbig are thrilled they don’t have to submit to industry gatekeepers.
“I used to go to auditions for sexy wife,” Ms. Helbig said.
“Mine was weirdo neighbor,” Ms. Hart laughed.
Ms. Helbig said: “It was such a meat-market feeling. It never got easier or more comfortable. It solidified for me that I really love the internet. I love the freedom to create anything I want at home.”
Although the women have millions of social media followers between them, they are a new breed of star, still unknown to many in the entertainment industry. They get recognized and approached like any celebrity, they said. But they’re just as likely to grab a beer and hang out with their fans.
After a few drinks at the Triple Crown, the women headed to their next stop: Benihana.
Going to outposts of the Japanese hibachi chain restaurant became a ritual when they filmed their travel show, “HeyUSA.”
“There was one time we were in Anchorage, Alaska,” Ms. Hart recalled. “On a whim, I asked Siri where the nearest Benihana was and she was, like, ‘0.3 miles.’ I don’t know if I’ve ever lost it so hard.”
The reporter informed them he’d never been to a Benihana.
“Oh my God!” Ms. Hart said. “We’ve got a Benihana virgin.”
The chain is known for chefs who prepare your meal tableside and perform tricks, they explained in the car. “You hope you get a good one,” Ms. Hart said. “But if you get a bad one, you just have to support them.”
At the restaurant, the women enthusiastically ordered sake bombs and several dishes, instantly getting into the festive spirit. When their chef, Pedro, began rapidly slapping his knives on the grill, they both smiled. He was a good one.
Pedro shaped onions into a mini mountain. As if judging an Olympic diver, Ms. Hart nodded approvingly and said, “Possibly the best onion volcano I’ve seen.” Pedro was emboldened to start flicking shrimp into the air with his knife and catching it in his hat.
Ms. Hart shouted: “No way, no how! No way, no how!”
Ms. Helbig said, “This is the closest thing we get to being cultured.”
When Pedro spelled out “I Love You” on the grill in fried rice, Ms. Hart turned to the reporter as if in confirmation.
“Did I tell you or did I tell you?” she said.