Hannah Gadsby: Nanette and Beyond

Alas! To quit comedy, or to not quit comedy, that is the question. Judging from the standing ovation Hannah Gadsby received in her latest stint on her TED talk, it may be the latter.

Although choosing to remain in comedy, Gadsby’s version does without the toxicity and rigidness that can restrict personal growth. 

So let’s rewind the clock and explore Douglas, the Tasmanian’s most recent interpretation of comedy she performed right here on our doorstep for the Melbourne International COmedy Festival (MICF).

Sitting in Melbourne’s Hammer Hall, the air thick with anticipation and pressure, Douglas opens with Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’.

The hall erupts into cheers and claps when Gadsby takes centre stage. Pausing to allow the noise to simmer down, “at least make me work for it,” she begins.

Since her previous show, Nannet, a ground-shattering social commentary, and exploration into the toxic patriarchy, comedy itself, her experiences with homophobia, and sexual assault; Gadsby has become “famous”. A word she cringes at and awkwardly tries to deflect. It seems, appearing at the Emmys and guest starring on the Jimmy Fallon Show is not Gadsby’s cup of tea.

For those of you already acquainted with Gadsby, Nannet is an incredibly tough act to top.

Douglas begins steady. After addressing the elephant in the room ‘Nannet’, the comedian moves onto a different species of animal, and goes into great detail explaining why “Douglas is the perfect name for the show.”

Gadsby’s mastery of comedy is on full display – she builds up tension and releases it in a steady stream of jokes about American vocabulary, her dealings with fame, her problem with high renaissance art and most notably how Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t belong in the gang.

Somewhere around midway, the pauses of realisation become greater and the laughter begins to die down. Gadsby launches into more serious topics. Topics a comedian, albeit a queer female comedian, should not touch. In a more sobering manner, Gadsby shows us the power behind name constructions and name calling.

Gadsby shows how men have long occupied the right to label – and how this has filtered through into today’s society, a society not made for women.

“We live in a world where everything is made for men,” Gadsby says, her demeanour shifts and this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.

The Pouch of Douglas? This vacant space found in the female anatomy was named by an 18th-century male midwife, James Douglas.

Three centuries on and according to her doctor, “don’t be silly,” he knows her mental and physical health much more intimately than she does.

This constant dismissal of female existence, contribution and perspective, Gadsby believes is ingrained within history. To tackle it, we need to reassess the way we view history.

Gadsby then addresses Nanett. With some labelling it a “one-woman show,” a “lecture,” and a “monologue”. She responds, “I’ll give you a fucking lecture”. Queue powerpoint presentation of High Renaissance paintings, laser pointer in tow.

In one painting Gadsby takes critical aim at a bunch of esteemed men who’ve named things.

Tucking the pointer into her suit pocket, she admits to finding solace in one name, Autism. Her recent diagnosis has helped her understand the way she sees the world, her obsession with rearranging, and the exciting “word orgies” that run rampage in her mind.

She debunks the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding autism, replacing it with a need for our society to embrace neurodiversity, as with women, as with people from different ethnic, race or LGBTIQ+ backgrounds.

Despite the pressures Gadsby faces with her new life in the limelight, in spite of her incessant jokes of napping and hiding as a reaction to it. Douglas proves that Gadsby has found just the right way to exercise this new found fame.

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