Hannah Gadsby's Nanette Will Leave You Deeply Moved And Vindicated
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is one of the most powerful performances that you will ever see.
Image: HAN HERO
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette has been hard to miss. Awarded Best Comedy Show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, Gadsby was also awarded the Barry Award For Best Show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and Best Comedy Performer at the Helpmann Awards that same year. Friends of mine who saw it pulled the same expression when asked how it was. Wide-eyed, their jaws would drop and they’d inhale an awesome sigh before exclaiming the show is “really good.”
Wow, I thought. It must be hilarious.
I had recently stepped into an uncomfortable space, ideologically, with my dad. Frustrated at feeling victimised as a straight, white, middle-class man, he had taken to engaging me in conversations about gender and feminism. I love him. But I am a queer woman, and I disagree with him that straight, white men face the same challenges as I, and those like me, do. My energy to rebut, explain, or try and educate him are depleted but nevertheless my conditioning to respect and listen to my father kick in hard. Exhausted, I quietly take it in. Good thing there is a hilarious and award-winning comedy show on Netflix that we can watch over dinner.
“Hey Hannah Gadsby’s show that won loads of awards is on Netflix now, it’s meant to be really good, can I put it on?” I ask, reaching toward the Indian takeaway on the coffee table. Dad’s leant back on the couch, Mum is sitting on the floor, spooning butter chicken onto her rice.
“When’s it on?” Dad asks.
“It’s on Netflix,” I reply.
“I heard you, I said when is it on?” he reiterates.
“It’s Netflix,” I hesitate. “You can watch it whenever, it’s just there and you hit play.”
“Oh,” he says.
We settle back with our bowls as Gadsby, in a smart blue blazer with black lapels eases in behind her microphone.
Early on it feels like we’re getting what’s on the tin – a stand-up comedy show. Gadsby’s quick jabs at Tasmania’s small gene pool allow us a titter, we’re invited to chuckle at her masculine-of-centre presentation confusing small-town men, and we smile at her “controversial” opinion that the Pride flag is a “bit busy” for her quiet temperament.
But soon Gadsby starts to introduce a new mood into the room. The story about men insisting she just needs “a good dicking” to get a sense of humour hits a tender spot amongst an audience rocked recently by #metoo and wearied by Australia’s battle for same-sex marriage legislation.
Jokes about being confused for a man make way for zingers about male privilege – “I wouldn’t be a straight white man, not even if you paid me. Even though the pay would be substantially better.”
She dips back and forth into her sardonic one-liners, but as the show progresses comedic relief is replaced by a sense that we’re about to hear something very important from someone ready to speak and exhausted by silence.
“I do think I have to quit comedy, though” Gadsby declares.
“I built a career out of self-deprecating humour … I put myself down in order to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself, and not to anyone who identifies with me.”
The audience erupts. I look down into my rogan josh and realise Gadsby’s comedy special might not just be an exceptional comedy show – but a devastatingly relevant political act. I don’t look at my dad.
“Do you know why I like telling jokes about straight white men?” Gadsby asks.
“Because they’re such good sports.”
What follows is an artful collage of social commentary, comedy, and raw honesty. Gadsby shares her art history expertise - slamming society for revering artists who’re responsible for “painting flesh vases for their dick flowers”, glorifying mental illness and the suffering artist, refusing to condemn the men who abuse their privilege, and then criticize her for being too sensitive.
‘I feel a little bit like a nose being lectured by a fart.’
To reveal the conclusion of Nanette would not do Gadsby’s incredible work justice. It left me curled around my empty bowl, biting down on the zipper of my hoodie, looking into the sincere and intense eyes of a woman who is so done with backing away and backing down.
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is one of the most powerful performances that you will ever see. Over an hour, she rises up from her quiet cup of tea to do nothing less than speak her absolute truth with a skillfully curated fury that will leave you changed.
As I unfurled myself from my foetal position, feeling deeply moved and vindicated, my dad said goodnight and took himself off to bed. It was 9:00pm.