Hannah Gadsby in Nanette. Pciture: Netflix
Hannah Gadsby in Nanette. Pciture: Netflix

Aussie comic’s Netflix special a must-watch

FOR all the pomp and circumstance each June about it being Pride month around the world, the emotion and the celebratory aspect of feeling proud was something long lacking in Hannah Gadsby's life.

Gadsby could joke quite easily about the boisterous parades and the rainbow flags: "Where are the quiet gays supposed to go?" Gadsby, by contrast, finds pleasure in the sound of a tea cup placed on its saucer. Quiet, indeed.

But for the past year-and-a-half, the Aussie comedian has enjoyed award-winning runs of Hannah Gadsby: Nanette in Melbourne, Edinburgh, New York City, and points in between (for Netflix, she filmed before a packed audience at the Sydney Opera House). She has been torn between her responsibilities as a comedian and her ability to accept herself for who she is and what that means for her moving forward. In fact, she proclaims during Nanette that she is quitting comedy.

Why would she ever want do that, having achieved such success?

Growing up in Tasmania, Gadsby knew she stood out, and still is self-aware enough to know her identity confuses strangers at first; especially those in small towns. In 2018, Gadsby says our culture has become hysterical about gender identities. She realises she's not normal, but she jokingly chooses a different term for herself: "I identify as tired."

Nanette came to life onstage several months before the #MeToo movement swept across the world, existing now as part confessional, part manifesto, or to borrow her own term, gender-not-normal-festo.

In 2017, after America installed Donald Trump as president, Gadsby experienced the same kind of self-revelatory moment that Dave Chappelle went through when he decided to quit his Comedy Central series in 2004.

Everything Gadsby had joked about for a decade, she now looked at through new eyes, a truer, more mature perspective. How she joked about coming out to her family, or misunderstandings with strangers, all of that rang slightly false to her now. As she explains: "Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It's not humility. It's humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak … And if that means my comedy career is over, then so be it."

Tension lies at the heart of comedy, Gadsby continues, with premises creating audience tension, only to diffuse it with punchlines. And that's what truly tires her in this day and age.

Because the truth is, Gadsby was still too ashamed as recently as a year ago to come out to her grandmother; too full of self-hatred in her youth to accept her own sexuality, growing up in a state where her neighbours would have deemed her a sinner and a criminal for her very existence.

The truth is, life has made her quite angry. After several minutes of passionately and not-quite-humorously reliving her childhood and adulthood traumas, she stops to apologise for her anger.

"People feel safer when men do the angry comedy. They're the kings of the genre," Gadsby says. "When I do it, I'm just a miserable lesbian ruining all the fun and the banter. When men do it: Heroes of free speech."

But what do straight white men, who have held and manipulated power over all others in society for centuries, have to be angry about, exactly? "If they're having a tough time, the rest of us are goners." Gadsby goes further, though, than a joke, suggesting that if white men can't take jokes or criticism, perhaps they shouldn't have all the power to themselves any longer.

As a student of high art, Gadsby also has quite the perspective on long-held romanticised beliefs about mental illness fuelling artistic genius. Suffice it to say, she disagrees. Strongly. While Australians may teach us a new way to pronounce Van Gogh's name, it's how Gadsby compares the misogyny of Picasso to modern politics that proves more topical.

Comedians are just as much to blame for perpetuating hatred of women, Gadsby says, by turning Monica Lewinsky into an easy punchline for years. From Bill Clinton to Trump two decades later, and all of the #MeToo celebrities outed as sexual abusers in between, it's an even longer list of men whose reputations needed protecting more than we needed protection from their inhumanity.

And so Gadsby reveals her own #MeToo stories of abuse, both sexual and physical.

She does so because she needs us to know her truth. She needs us to know what life is like for people like her on the margins of power and society. "I am not a victim, I tell you this because my story has value," she says. "I need you to know what I know."

Adding: "There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself."

A generation after Helen Reddy, Hannah Gadsby may not be your idea of a traditional woman. But she is still woman, and she is still human. Hear her roar.

She won't continue as an angry comedian or performer, though. Because anger is a disease that spreads virally into hatred. So maybe, hopefully, she'll find her way forward through comedy, after all. As she concludes: "Laughter is not the medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine."

This story originally appeared on Decider and is republished here with permission.