Why Everyone Should Watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Why Everyone Should Watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette


Source: https://www.wired.com/story/hannah-gadsby-nanette-discussion/


Here’s the thing about Nanette: it is without a doubt the single most moving and powerful thing I have ever seen. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but let me explain further.

I went into this Netflix Special expecting to see a stand-up routine – and I did. For about the first fifteen minutes, Hannah Gadsby delivers smart, funny, self-deprecating jokes that comment on society from her perspective as a Lesbian who grew up in conservative Tasmania – such as how she once got caught hitting on a man’s girlfriend, angering the man until he realised she was a woman.

But then the tone switches a little and she announces that she’s quitting comedy because all her comedy is self-deprecating and it’s not healthy anymore. In her own words: “When [that humour] comes from someone who exists on the margins [of society] it’s not humility, it’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore.”

That’s a powerful statement and one that takes a moment to sink in. And she gives you that time, diving back into her comedy routine that ranges from taking digs at society’s need for gender norms to how the role of the “straight white man” has changed. She talks about mental health, about misogyny in the history of art and yes it’s all funny, yes she’s definitely a talented comedian and makes some very good points about our society, but that’s not why this routine is so ground-breaking.

Because again, she shifts the tone, getting more serious, explaining how comedy has actually harmed her. She describes how jokes only have two parts: a setup and a punchline. This leaves no room for what stories have and that is an ending. By talking about her coming out, she froze her experiences and her trauma and turned it into a joke. Hannah details that she didn’t deal with her trauma – and to a degree, she still hasn’t, which is why she needs to tell her story properly now.

Her story is that she grew up in an area where 70% of the people around her considered homosexuality a sin that should be criminalised. She describes “soaking in shame” in the metaphorical closet for ten years and how she just didn’t deal with that damage – and that on some level she’s still ashamed, which is why her grandmother still doesn’t know she is gay. Then she goes back to the joke she told at the beginning of the show, the one about her hitting on some guy’s girlfriend and she explains that because it was a joke, she didn’t tell the ending. She confesses: “Because I couldn’t tell the part of that story where the man realised his mistake and he came back. And he said: ‘Oh nah, I get it. You’re a lady f*ggot. I’m allowed to beat the sh*t out of you.’ -  And he did. He beat the sh*t out of me and nobody stopped him.”

That story, that retelling of the joke as its truth, catches you off guard and it should. This was her reality, a reality that many of us are unaware of or even wilfully blind to. She then takes the opportunity to speak directly to any men who might be watching, and what she says is heart breaking, it’s painfully sincere and it’s a reality for too many women, that too many people – but men especially – still need to understand and accept:

“I am not a man hater. But I’m afraid of men. If I’m the only woman in a room full of men, I’m afraid and if you think that’s unusual, you’re not speaking to the women in your life.

I don’t hate men, but I wonder how a man would feel if they had lived my life. Because it was a man who sexually abused me when I was a child. It was a man who beat the shit out of me when I was 17. It was two men who raped me when I was barely in my 20s. Tell me why was that okay. Tell me why it was okay to pick me off the pack like that and do that to me. It would have been more humane to take me out to the back paddock and put a bullet in my head if it is that much of a crime to be different.”

Hannah is right, I don’t know a single woman – no matter her age – who feels comfortable alone on e.g. a bus with strange men, let alone walking home alone at night. In a discussion with my flatmate, we talked about how so many women we know have a constant monologue running through their heads when they’re walking alone, consisting of “Who is that man? Is he coming towards me? Is the man behind me following me? If I were to run now, could I reach safety quickly enough? Would that person there help, or would they watch?”. It’s a constant fear that most – not all – but most men do not have to deal with and I’ve never before seen it talked about on TV, let alone in a comedy special.

What Hannah wants to impart most of all – and what I think she gives us – is her story, her painful and heartrending story that makes people who can in any way identify with her feel less alone. She isn’t a victim, she is resilient and she is right in saying that “to yield and not break” is incredible strength and we need to learn from the strong people like her, who share their stories, who reassure us that “to be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. […] The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless and they are the weak.”

Throughout this second half of her show, Hannah gets angry, and it’s an anger we’ve all felt. It’s at Picasso claiming that a 17-year-old girl was in her prime, it’s at our society’s obsession with reputation that has protected men like Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen who are not the exception, but the rule in their treatment of women and that shows just how little our society cares about women and children as long as powerful men’s reputations are left intact.

So, is Nanette my favourite comedy special? No. It’s not a comedy special, it’s more than that. It’s a chance to finally see someone who has suffered in silence as so many people around the world have, break that silence and say enough is enough. She calls BS on all the nasty parts of society that we know about, but neglect to think about and she asks for us to do better.

As a woman, I don’t think I have ever seen such a powerful and accessible calling out of what is wrong with the world we live in and it has caused me to realise more than ever that the way things are done, the status quo, societal norms – whatever you want to call it – need to change and we need to be the ones changing it.