“Yes, Yes Nanette!”
my soul shouted after watching Hannah Gadsby – hereafter known to me as the Great Gadsby (sic) – work her dramcom magic in a one-woman show to remember.
Hailing from Down Under, Hannah Gadsby is a stand-up comic who goes from understated to overwhelming as it crosses borders, boundaries, genres, and genders in a tour de force act called, Nanette. Unlike the 1940’s musical comedy No No Nanette where a girl helps her philandering casting-coach billionaire uncle escape retribution from all the ‘show girls’ he’s lied to, Gadsby’s Nanette is an indictment of Western Civilization for having tolerated, and even celebrated, misogyny when veiled in eccentricity and artistic grandeur.
Gadsby is not only a fresh and funny voice for the LGBT community, but an acutely philosophical raconteur whose scope hits way beyond the comic mark. Beginning her act with a Woody Allen styled riff where self-deprecation-meets-intellectual observation, she soon abandons witticism and wry commentary in favor of a message. Like Bill Hicks, and his Lenny Bruce before him, Gadsby is content-driven. She risks non-funny moments that give pause, moments far from the trendy talking points that ordinarily mark socially conscious comedians.
Devoid of agenda, the former art history student, Gadsby, brings up Pablo Picasso where least expected – in a set that would ordinarily be reserved for go-to abusers like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Her primary target turns out to be even more unique. It’s neither to be the miscreants nor the apologists who get the brunt of her wrath. Instead, it is us, for a history of romanticizing artistic genius to the detriment of all else. Under the aegis of eccentricity, sociopaths have been given carte blanches to commit morally repugnant, cruel and criminal acts. By glamorizing the ‘bad boy’ image, we’ve armed a large number of already narcissistic men with a sense of entitlement.
There’s nothing gratuitous in Hannah Gadsby’s comedy. She neither rides the contemporary wave of rage directed against those who’ve abused power, nor does she fall back on one-liners that capitalize on our common ire. Instead of joining the #Metoo pantheon of Officially Outspoken women, Gadsby makes her audience aware that applauding her or laughing at her jokes is a lazy thinker’s way out of genuine change.
At one point, Gadsby deconstructs comedy, explaining that she, the comedian, and we, her audience, are in an abusive relationship. Subverting the populist notion that comedians are heroes for the underdog who irreverently confront painful issues and provoke thought within an aesthetically palatable form, Gadsby concludes that comedy is the derailment of truth. It gives people permission to bypass genuine insight just in the nick of time.
Gadsby’s deadpan asides are often purposefully awkward. The jarring mood swings from pure wit to rumination tear at the very fabric of the art form itself. Her sudden start and stop tactics make viewers aware of the inherent cross purposes of much that makes for good comedy. Namely, its revolutionary stirring style and its desensitizing results. By cloaking dark revelations in well-polished humor, the comedian becomes a guilt-free medium for helping one attain indifference. The audience’s laughter is a celebration of the ability to fathom suffering without being troubled by it.
Comedy makes the listener feel insightful, in-the-know, it grants one the illusion of having an iconoclastic sensibility coupled with great emotional depth. In the company of likeminded enlightened cynics, a privileged few can recognize injustice, all while philosophically laughing it off as one of life’s little absurdities.
In return for receiving a free pass from one’s conscience, we reward the comedian with laughter and applause. Issues that would otherwise demand a strategy and call to action become large ornamental mirrors in which we look exceedingly bright and removed from mortal fears or moral obligations. Gadsby forces her audience into a self-conscious state. She makes her listeners aware that comedy is feigned reflection, it promotes inaction while giving us the feeling that we are forward-thinking and on the advance.
At 40, Hanna Gadsby is said to be closing the live performance chapter in her career. The announcement comes at a time when her newly won international audience is ready to see her for the first time. Slated to migrate from the stage to television over the course of the next few years, one can only imagine what wonderful havoc she’ll reek in the new medium. If her earlier work is anything to go by, Netflix better brace itself for a paradigm shift in comic programming.