THE GREAT GADSBY
New on Netflix, Nanette is the most talked about stand-up show, if that’s what you want to call it, of the #MeToo era—from a fawning New York Times profile to an outpouring of love on social media. But Tasmanian performer Hannah Gadsby’s ground-breaking show is an exercise in incongruity, and not just because it’s categorised as comedy when, in fact, there is little in it to laugh about: it is out of step with the smug insensitivity of humankind.
Nanette is protest art awkwardly pigeonholed as stand-up comedy, just like Gadsby is labelled a lesbian when she may be “somewhat trans” (sic)—a series of terse, dark and expertly timed skewerings of the labels and rulebooks written by straight white men and gender normal.
Gadsby’s disillusionment with comedy is a complaint against its incapability to be cathartic. A story, she says, has a beginning, a middle and an end. Comedy only has a beginning and a middle. The Tasmanian comedian, however, is done with telling stories that crystallise her trauma. Instead, she delivers the same story once as a gag and later as the tale of horrific assault that unfolds where the gag ends. Because she knows her story, like millions of stories out there, needs to be told, and the genre of comedy is too limited for that story.
At a time when dialogue about abuse and shame is seeping out of the cracks of prolonged silences, Gadsby puts her battered soul out for everyone to see, forcing us to look at the ugly viscera of her jokes and be ashamed. It is also a “Me Too” moment for everyone who needs their story of trauma and shame to be told, and to know that they are not alone. Tense and sensitive, Nanette is like no stand-up you’ve seen before. It deconstructs the warped concept of black humour for what it is—the privilege of straight men to ask you to “light’n up” and take ugly jokes for humour. It’s a “must watch” show not just because it is an important political statement but because it is the most humane piece of art on the small screen right now. One does not have to agree with Gadsby to appreciate her art. She appeals to the human in us, and all those who feel pain will find something that resonates.