With Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, one of Australia’s finest comedians says goodbye. And what an emphatic way to do so.
I really want to just write, “Well, Hannah Gadsby’s ruined it for everyone now. How is anybody ever supposed to follow that?” and try and pass that off as an article.
But that wouldn’t do her story justice, would it?
As a Tasmanian, I rarely get to celebrate the works of people of this state. All you mainlanders, you probably don’t understand what this means to someone like me. Before Hannah, all we had was Errol Flynn, who’s now mostly forgotten because he rose to fame roughly 80 years ago.
Yeah, we had some sportsball people or whatever. Woohoo. Big friggin’ deal. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking ‘international personalities who are known for their artistic works’, not ‘sportsmen who are primarily known for losing the Ashes multiple times’.
For nearly 100 years (screw you, math is hard), Tasmanians have literally had nothing to be proud of in mass media. And believe me when I tell you that Tasmanian culture is the reason for that.
I mention this because her wiki page says that she grew up in Smithton. That certainly explains a lot about her work, the relevance of which I will further explain by using a video game metaphor.
Press start to continue
When you play a video game, the default character is normally a straight white dude. This is because society was designed by (and for) straight white dudes. Playing the game of so-called ‘real life’ as something else – say, as a small town lesbian – increases the difficulty level.
So, you know how Aussie mainlanders always hang crap on Tasmania for being small-minded and inbred and all that wonderfully clever and highly original stuff that nobody else has ever used and aren’t all of you just so funny?
Well, Smithton is literally the place that the rest of Tasmania hangs crap on for being small-minded and inbred and all that wonderfully clever and highly original stuff that nobody else has ever used and aren’t all of us non-Smithton Tasmanians just so funny too?
So Hannah isn’t just playing ‘hard mode’ in this game we call ‘life’, she’s playing hard mode without any save slots while the onscreen prompts are yelling at her to ‘act differently’ the whole time – and just to top it all off she’s not allowed to access the DLC because of her class/avatar/whatever.
A little bit of context for the viewer
I first saw Hannah on some Comedy Special on TV, and I was shocked. Here was an openly lesbian comedian making jokes about her lifestyle. Lesbianism was illegal in Tasmania until about 10 years before that performance, so I knew that she wasn’t just telling jokes – she was also telling a story and making sure that people knew what life was like for her.
Or, in other words: it was a bunch of those ‘Tasmania is small-minded and incesty’ jokes told by someone who’d actually lived it and wasn’t just using it to get cheap laughs. Someone who was doing it for a purpose – to point out how why those jokes were made in the first place.
Do you know why most Tasmanians don’t get offended by those jokes? Because we actively celebrate being small-minded. So, when mainlanders put us down we don’t feel ashamed, we feel proud that everyone knows that we’re so insular.
Well, I mean, I get offended by those jokes because I’m an oversensitive jerk who hates that aspect of Tasmanian culture, but whatever, you know what I mean. For the record I’m sure Tassie isn’t the only place in the world with this issue, but I’ve never lived anywhere else so I wouldn’t know. Moving on.
I mention all of this because Hannah Gadsby: Nanette feels very much like a perfected version of that first performance I saw from her. The humour wasn’t the point of the show, it was a socially acceptable way for her to tell her story.
I mean, heaven forbid someone should just get up on stage and, you know, just be real. But that’s what she does in Hannah Gadsby: Nanette.
Early on in the piece, Hannah does tell a few Tassie incest jokes. However, they don’t appear for the rest of the show because she’s evolved well beyond that.
The comedy goes right past the jugular and directly to your heart
She raises many interesting issues, many of which I’ve considered before as a staunch LGBTQ ally or whatever the politically correct version of that phrase is now.
But I’d never considered them as a straight white male.
Now, a little clarification. I’m Aboriginal-identified.
But I look white, which is pretty damn handy when you live in a world mostly run by white folks. For all my struggles (and there have been more than a few) I’ve still been treading a fairly safe path. I’ve been asked what part of Italy I’m from (no Italian blood here, sorry) more often than I’ve been asked about my Aboriginality.
My point is that I could ‘pass for white’ (ugh) if I had to. That’s a privilege (I hate that word but there it is) that a lot of other Aboriginal-identified folks don’t have. Whether I’ve taken advantage of that or not (which I never have), it was still an option I had.
Hannah tells a story where a bloke was having a go at her for hitting on his girlfriend until he realised she was a female.
That’s what I’m saying: Society really doesn’t care what you think or how you act. First impressions are based on your appearance and very little else.
But that wasn’t the only point of her joke. It wasn’t just the ‘oh man, society is so strange, am I right?‘ thing – it was multi-tiered:
1) We still judge a book by its cover, because what other option do we really have when put on the spot?
2) The guy shouldn’t have backed off, because his initial instincts were actually correct. That’s right, jealous guys – females are a threat to your love life as well.
This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Hannah Gadsby: Nanette so much. I genuinely haven’t enjoyed a comedy performance on so many levels since George Carlin, and that’s high praise indeed.
Also, that’s not the end of that particular story – but I won’t spoil it here because I think you should watch the show.
I will say this: It’s not a joke with a happy punchline. It’s a real story.
I feel like I should have been offended but I wasn’t
Throughout the performance, Hannah made more than a few snide asides (dibs on the word ‘asnides’) directed at straight white males.
I didn’t like that. I’m not like all those other jerks. Am I? Maybe I am. Don’t they all think that they’re not like that? Does mean I AM like that?
This was a good chance for me to check my privilege.
Strange to feel like I’m on this side of the fence – but here we are.
I really enjoyed being the butt of the joke as a straight white male. This is because being the butt of a joke as a straight white male is about humility. Being the butt of a joke as a blackfullah is about humiliation, which is completely different.
I should mention that I stole that idea directly from Hannah Gadsby: Nanette.
Note that I didn’t steal a joke from her comedy, I stole an idea.
Or should I say, I accepted it – because the idea was freely given by Hannah so that we can all raise ourselves up, all of us.
This is what I meant earlier when I compared her to George Carlin: Her work has humour and meaning, and gives us ways to improve ourselves.
For instance, that whole ‘passing for white’ (ugh) thing? I’d literally never realised that until I saw this show. For 42 years I’ve lived ignorant of that particular privilege. No more.
Hannah Gadsby would be terrible at collecting stool samples because she refuses to take shit from anyone
At one point, Hannah implies (in a mocking voice which is uncomfortably close to my actual real voice) that many blokes have said to her: “If you hate men so much, then why do you try so hard to look like one?”
I thought she’d make a joke about how small-minded people are, or perhaps mock certain male traits.
Instead, she says, “Because you need a good role model, fellahs”.
The perfect response: funny, but meaningful. We do indeed need a good role model, and the so-called modern world is suspiciously quiet on that front.
A few times during her performance, she stops trying to make people laugh and starts trying to make them think. She explains a few times why she’s quitting comedy.
I won’t go into that here.
I will say that I finally got to see a performer deconstruct their art in a way that I honestly never thought I would, but that’s all you’ll get out of me.
Because her story is her story, and if you want to hear it then I implore you to watch Hannah Gadsby: Nanette.
If you enjoyed reading this review about a comedy special on Netflix, why not check out this article about the Greg Davies’ Special? Or maybe this article whose bombastic title I don’t agree with about James Acaster’s comedy Special but is still a great article anyway?
I’m glad I don’t have any bombastically-titled articles so I can just sit here judging other writers. Oh, wait – I have this one here about why Voyager is the best Star Trek series, so never mind, I’ll just shut up and get back in my box now.