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This is why everyone has to watch the comedy stand up show, Nanette

This is why everyone has to watch the comedy stand up show, Nanette

a close up photo of hannah gadsby, she has short hair, wearing glasses and smiling wryly

In December 2017 I went to see a comedy show in Melbourne, Australia for the purpose of reviewing it. But it’s taken me seven months to be able to write about it.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, now streaming on Netflix, is without a doubt one of the most profound and moving pieces of art I have seen.

Many people left the theater in tears, deep in thought reflecting on their own life traumas or at the very least, what they could do to better support the women and LGBTI people in their lives.

Why would I want to see a comedy show that makes people cry?

Gadsby is one of Australia’s most well known comedians and has built a career on taking the piss out of herself.

As a bigger lesbian from Tasmania (it’s kind of like Australia’s Florida), she thought she had plenty of material to mine.

But it turns out her career of playing to stereotypes was deeply rooted in shame. A shame she had picked up from Tasmania’s homophobia and as we come to learn in the show from violent trauma.

‘You learn to hate yourself,’ she says.

hannah gadsby sitting on a single seat lounge in a dark room glaring at the camera with a dog on her lap
Hannah Gadsby with one of her dogs. | Photo: Supplied

Nanette is Gadsby’s swan song because she has decided to move on from comedy.

‘I built a career out of self-deprecating humor and I simply won’t do that anymore,’ she says in Nanette.

‘Not to myself or anybody who identifies with me.’

Gadsby expertly mines the basic craft of comedy – building tension in the audience through story telling and releasing that tension with a joke.

‘Every story has a start, middle and an end,’ Gadsby says.

‘But comedy only has the start and middle.’

Gadsby has never told the end of her story, one it turns out was very violent and deeply rooted in misogynistic homophobia.

#MeToo and Australian marriage equality

Nanette is not an hour long lecture, but it certainly does teach some very important lessons.

Gadsby first performed the award winning show at the Melbourne International Comedy festival in March, 2017.

By the time I saw it in December, the #MeToo movement had happened and Australians voted on whether same-sex couples could marry. The postal survey on marriage equality was a grueling ordeal for LGBTI people as rates of homophobic incidents rose during the two month period.

It would have been very interesting to watch Nanette before and after these events, because Gadsby was already angry.

By December last year, she was absolutely seething at the treatment of LGBTI people who were told they weren’t fit to be around children and they didn’t deserve equal rights.

Pablo Picasso

I also have never seen a person use art history as a tool for telling jokes, which Gadsby does masterfully.

She really lays in to Pablo Picasso’s sexual abuse of a minor and society’s willingness to overlook it because of his ‘genius’. This analogy of course ties into #MeToo, society ignoring the men’s abuse of power because of their positions and influence.

‘We are overvaluing these men’s reputations, but what about their humanity?’ Gadsby asks.

This is why everyone has to watch Nanette

My only critique of the Netflix special – shot at the Sydney Opera House – is that it didn’t feel as angry as when I saw it live.

To get a feel for the rage Gadsby has, listen to The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum’s excellent interview with the comedian. Snippets from her shows in New York convey the power and anger of the show.

‘There is nothing stronger than a woman who has rebuilt herself,’ she says in Nanette.

But the reason that I think everyone should watch this show, is because I believe Gadsby is the only person who is able to convey the inherent fear of existing as a ‘non-normal’ in the world.

‘It’s dangerous to be different, normals don’t know what it’s like to carry around this tension,’ Gadsby says.

By building tension in her show Gadsby is able to explain the real tension LGBTI people, women or other persecuted groups face daily.

Even though she has to relive her trauma every night on stage, Gadsby knows what she’s doing is important.

‘My story has value, your resilience is your humanity,’ she says.

‘What I would have done to hear a story like mine (growing up).’

Tell your cis het male friends

Now, I might get a bit of flack for this, but I really believe white, cisgendered straight men are the people who need to watch this show the most.

They do not pass through life like the rest of us, their very existence doesn’t put them in danger.

It’s important for them to understand how terrifying life can be and how we do face discrimination everyday because of our gender, race, ability or sexuality.

I know for a fact cis het men will come away having learned something from Nanette. Some of the most open-minded, friendly men I know left the show shaken, not realizing what life can be like for women and/or LGBTI people.

It’s important because a greater understanding of what we experience will not only create empathy but maybe lead to a societal change.

Regardless of who you watch the show with, all I can recommend is you clear your schedule to watch it, because you will need a lot of time to recover from the hilarity and tragedy that is Nanette.

Nanette is streaming now on Netflix.

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