Hannah Gadsby quit comedy in her new special, "Nanette," which just landed on Netflix and has gotten the Australian comic more worldwide attention than ever.
In the special (filmed at The Sydney Opera House), Gadsby, an openly gay woman, tells her audience that she grew up in Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal until 1997. The punchlines mingle with the real-life pain, bringing you from one side of the comedy spectrum into completely new territory, one where Gadsby isn't going to relieve that tension you feel with a joke. "I want my story heard, because what I would have done to hear a story like mine," she says.
Mid-way through the special, Gadsby brings you over to that darker side; the switch from "whimsy" to "fury" (as The New Yorker's Cassie da Costa wrote) gets flipped, and she announces that she's quitting comedy. "I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anybody who identifies with me," she explains. For someone who has lived in the margins, "It's not humility. It's humiliation."
She generously shares more personal revelations and traumas she's suffered in life, and does so without relieving the pressure with a punchline. "This tension, it's yours. I am not helping you any more," she says, "You need to learn what this feels like, because this tension is what not-normals carry inside of them all the time. Because it is dangerous to be different. To the men in the room, I speak to you now, especially the straight white men: pull your fucking socks up."
Gadsby has brought comedy right where it should be in 2018, more raw and uncomfortable and real. Though she's stepping away from that comedy label—ultimately, she says, "The only way I can tell my truth and put tension in the room is with anger... [and] anger is never constructive. Laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure."
Earlier this year Gadsby performed "Nanette" at the SoHo Playhouse (the above audio is from that time), and now she'll be back again this month, though don't expect a cookie cutter of the original; she told Forbes, "It’s constantly evolving because it's very much a live show. So this [Netflix] special is a document of sorts... of the show as it was when they filmed it."