Han­nah Gadsby: Nanette Net­flix

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE MONTHLY — NOTED - by Evan Wil­liams

By now, some­one in your life has urged you to watch Nanette, the Net­flix spe­cial from Aus­tralian co­me­dian Han­nah Gadsby. They would have de­scribed it in the same breath­less way peo­ple de­scribe their ex­pe­ri­ence of a med­i­ta­tion re­treat. It was con­fronting, rev­e­la­tory, mov­ing, life-af­firm­ing, trans­for­ma­tive, un­for­get­table. Well, what­ever they said, they likely un­der­stated it. It be­comes clear quite early on that Nanette isn’t go­ing to be your typ­i­cal stand-up set. “I have been ques­tion­ing this whole com­edy thing,” Gadsby tells us. “I don’t feel very com­fort­able in it any­more.” One of the rea­sons she doesn’t feel com­fort­able in it – to the point that the vet­eran comic says she will be quit­ting com­edy al­to­gether – is the ex­pec­ta­tion of self-dep­re­ca­tion. You could ar­gue self-dep­re­ca­tion is the lifeblood of not just Aus­tralian com­edy but also Aus­tralian cul­ture. Nothing is more frowned upon than not be­ing able to take the piss out of your­self. It can be healthy when ap­plied to the rich and the pow­er­ful, but what about when it’s ap­plied to Gadsby, who grew up in a deeply ho­mo­pho­bic part of Tas­ma­nia, “soak­ing in shame in the closet for 10 years”? “Do you un­der­stand what self-dep­re­ca­tion means when it comes from some­body who al­ready ex­ists in the mar­gins?” she asks. “It’s not hu­mil­ity; it’s hu­mil­i­a­tion. I put my­self down in or­der to speak.” Gadsby wants to tell her story prop­erly, and she’s had enough of self-dep­re­ca­tion stop­ping her. She’s also frus­trated by the con­fines of the com­edy genre it­self, ex­plain­ing the re­stric­tions of joke struc­ture and how they have warped the sto­ries she’s been able to tell about her­self. Of­ten a co­me­dian dis­sect­ing joke form can feel like a novel, look-at-me ex­er­cise. But when Gadsby does it here, it feels es­sen­tial. We can see she is in pos­ses­sion of truths too large and un­wieldy to fit in­side sim­ple set-ups and punch­lines. Truths about ev­ery­thing from sex­ism and Pablo Pi­casso to ho­mo­pho­bia, toxic mas­culin­ity and anger. At times, the emo­tional power of th­ese truths ap­pears to – un­der­stand­ably – over­whelm the co­me­dian. But while Nanette sees Gadsby at her rawest and most vul­ner­a­ble, it also sees her at her most as­sured and mas­ter­ful. It’s the rarest com­bi­na­tion: a co­me­dian who has some­thing truly im­por­tant to say and a truly unique way of say­ing it. With ef­fu­sive praise from The New Yorker and The New York Times, Nanette has proven to be a break­through mo­ment for Gadsby. But it could also prove to be a break­through mo­ment for Aus­tralian com­edy. In an en­cy­clopae­dia of com­edy, what would re­al­is­ti­cally ap­pear un­der Aus­tralia’s brief en­try? Some guy say­ing “That’s not a knife, that’s a knife”, per­haps. Maybe a sen­tence or two about a man who does a crude im­pres­sion of a Mel­bourne house­wife. Our com­edy has had a ten­dency to rely on the crass and vul­gar, shy­ing away from any­thing too cere­bral or con­tem­pla­tive. But now we have Nanette. We have some­one who has de­liv­ered a grand state­ment on the most im­por­tant is­sues of our time, all while burst­ing through the bar­ri­cades of the very genre she’s per­form­ing in. And it’s the kind of show that could only come from a tough-as­nails, funny-as-hell comic from Tassie. “My story has value,” Gadsby says to­wards the end of Nanette. This, like your friends’ reviews, is an un­der­state­ment.

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