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July 23, 2018 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]


Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special Nanette is something special.
The introduction to Gadsby’s set tells the story of a gay woman trying to survive in rural Tasmania, a state where (until 1997) being homosexual was illegal.
Gadsby gives her first impressions of identifying as a lesbian with deadpan delivery. She tells a story of when she was 17 and confronted by a man, confusing her for a man hitting on his girlfriend. She admits the latter part was true but expresses bewilderment at the man’s lack of irony when he remarks, “oh sorry, I thought you were one of those faggots trying it on with her”.
“Where do the quiet gays go?” Gadsby quips, as she retells her first experience of Australian Mardi Gras. Even on the subject of the Pride flag, Gadsby has an unorthodox opinion; “I don’t even like the flag. Controversial. There I’ve said it. The Pride flag—I love what it means… but the flag itself? A bit busy. It’s just six very shouty, assertive colors stacked on top of each other. No rest for the eye.” While hilarious, these remarks and others like; “I don’t think I’m very good at gay”, belie the struggle of someone who not only identifies as queer in an openly homophobic area but also, the struggle of someone who doesn’t fit into the community her birthplace tries to relegate her to. Gadsby remarks that she’s received pressure from others to come out as transgender (which she doesn’t identify as), and it’s with her response to this discussion that Nanette evolves into something beyond a conventional stand-up special.
“I identify as tired,” states Gadsby, “I do think I need to quit comedy though.” What follows in the back half of Nanette is a masterclass in storytelling. Gadsby turns her previous jokes on their head by informing the audience that she will no longer make a career out of self-deprecation and a deliberate devaluing of her identity. To do so, she claims, “is not humility but humiliation”. Instead, Nanette offers not the setup and punchlines of a gay comedian, but an uncompromising tale of the real and debilitating damage done to a person who is different. Gadsby then proceeds to tell the “ending” to her setups and punchlines, first revealing that the man who thought she was a man returned calling her a “lady faggot”, before proceeding to beat her. Her reason for not going to the police: “I thought that was all I was worth.”

From Picasso and Van Gogh to Weinstein and co, Nanette dissects a festering nexus of societal water cooler talk. That is to say, it brings conversational threads about the abuse of storied power through history, the dangerousness of being different, and the misunderstanding of mental illness in one prevailing voice.
Hannah Gadsby has used her role as a great stand up to ferociously skewer so many of her audience (this author included) with polished barbs of a lived experience that is told in such a powerful way, that to try and squirm away from her insight just makes it that more poignant.
The last third of Gadsby’s show is relentless and is simply Must. Watch. Television. It’s almost difficult to overstate how good Nanette actually is. Just go and watch it. Seriously. Stop wasting her time.


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