Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’: Comedic catharsis
In 'Nanette', Hannah Gadsby wants to tell her story properly, without the humiliation of the filters she applied to her routines in order to stay funny
In the opening shot of Netflix’s comedy special Nanette, Australian comic Hannah Gadsby makes herself a cup of tea, places the cup on a saucer, and adds to it a splash of milk. Then she’s on stage, bespectacled and fitted in a blazer, short hair framing a friendly face, telling us about her introduction to “her people", the gay community in Australia. She watched them “flaunting their lifestyle in a parade" at Sydney Mardi Gras from her television set in small town Tasmania. As a quiet soul herself, she would think: where are the quiet gays supposed to go? “My favourite sound in the whole world is the sound of a tea cup finding its place on a saucer." It’s hard to flaunt that lifestyle in a parade, she quips winningly.
So far, so tidy.
And then: “I don’t even like the (pride) flag. Controversial? There...I’ve said it." The tension creeps up stealthily in Gadsby’s astonishingly bold and bruising commentary. She uses facial expressions to remarkable effect, defusing the heaviness of her questions about our messy universe with very clever punchlines as she goes about subverting every relevant stereotype there is.
At the receiving end are a wild variety of things: those who tell her she doesn’t have enough “lesbian content" in her routines, the politics of self-deprecation in comedy and why she won’t do it anymore, the hysteria around gender and most preciously, the arrogance of the straight white male. Gadsby studied art history and a viewer would not see what’s coming next: why she hates Picasso and the high-brow misogyny of the art world. If there’s one perspective on the #MeToo movement that everyone needs to hear—for the sake of humanity, really—it’s Gadsby’s. In 1 hour, 9 minutes, she asks questions to last us a lifetime: Why do we care so much about reputations and separating the art from the artist when it’s dangerous to just be different, or to be a lone woman in a room full of men? Why do we raise our children to be “soaked in shame"? (While hilariously, she tells us why we must do away with pink and dress all babies in blue). And why can’t we conduct debates about sensitive things more sensitively?
In Nanette, Gadsby wants to tell her story properly, without the humiliation of the filters she applied to her routines in order to stay funny. And so she lays bare her trauma. There’s anger, bitterness, and laughter. Choking up, you hear her say: “Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure." Do not miss the titles of the books that lie by her side while she sips tea in the closing shot. This is glorious transformative viewing.
Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special, Nanette, is now streaming on Netflix India.