‘Douglas’: Hannah Gadsby and The Glory of Female Rage

Hannah Gadsby’s second Netflix comedy special Douglas had a lot to live up to. After the stir that Nanette created, Gadbsy’s fans (and haters, alike) have been eagerly looking forward to what she had in store for us in her “difficult second album” – which also happens to be her tenth.

Gadsby herself admits right at the very beginning that she can’t fathom what her audience is expecting from her in Douglas. More trauma? Another “lecture” in the name of stand-up comedy?

For all the expectations that Gadsby’s viewers had from her, she does not fail to disappoint. Douglas begins in a way no comedian has ever begun their show – with a detailed, part-by-part description of the show itself. Gadsby spoils her own show, if you will; and gives cues to her audience – when to act surprised, when to take things personally and when to walk away.

Gadsby, who was diagnosed with autism four years ago, says that Douglas is about what it’s like being on the autism spectrum. She talks about how her high-functioning autism has always acted as a hindrance that’s prevented her from tuning into the same frequency as everybody else around her. Douglas is about Gadbsy embracing this part of herself, and letting the world know that she is not one to shy away from being different: “My brain takes me to places no else lives,” she says. The show also stands as Gadsby’s continuing disavowal of the narrow, stifling rules of comedy that we have come to accept as tradition.

You can tell that in Douglas, Gadsby is unfazed by her critics, specifically those who slide into her DMs to let her know that “they’ve never heard of her”. She very well knows that she doesn’t play by the rules of comedy, and is unapologetic about tricking her viewers into listening to her bring down her fury onto the world under the guise of comedy.

At one point in the show, Gadsby quips,”Don’t blame me. I didn’t write the rules of comedy. Men did. Blame them. I do. It’s cathartic.”

If Gadsby wants to sit down and lecture her audience about art history in a comedy special, there’s nothing that could stop her. In fact, some of Gadbsy’s funniest bits are in the section dedicated to art history, where her brand of humour and expertise in the subject both shine in equal measure.

Also read: Hannah Gadsby Talks About Autism And The Risk of Failing in Her New Show

While Douglas does make its audience laugh a lot more than Nanette did, Gadsby is still very angry. About a lot of things. The show, named after her dog who was named after a cavity in the female reproductive system, is full of wisecracks and neat one-liners delivered by a confident Gadsby whose eyes twinkle with glee every time she is about to deliver the punchline. Her punchlines are crisp and clever, and they really do feel like a punch at times.

There are several parts where Gadsby builds up the tension, and right when it reaches its crescendo, she leaves it aside and moves on with her show. As her “gentle needling” of the patriarchy brings it crashing down; she walks over the mess to the next target of her anger – golfers – and decimates them. She calls these her ‘puffer fish moments’ – where she is so overcome by anger that she floats around in her own bubble of fury, unable to do much else with it.

It’s a treat to see Gadsby unleash her anger and fury on the world – from anti-vaxxers to the way we’ve failed to hold our boys accountable for their actions, from the paleo diet to the inconsistencies in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It is a treat to see a woman being angry on stage, because that’s not something we get to see very often.

Among the many emotions that women are often blamed for having an excess of, anger rarely ever features on the list. Anger, or at least the expression of it, is reserved only for men. If we were to just look closer back home, so many male actors in Bollywood have built their careers simply by being angry onscreen. For women, anger tends to be written off as either a symptom of the hysterical, the hormonal or the “crazy bitch”. As a culture, we have barely ever taken female rage seriously.

In Douglas, Gadsby is unabashedly woman. To see her “puffer fish moments” (the intensity of some of which, as she says, depends on the moon and tides) feels both refreshing and reassuring. To see Gadbsy breaking away from the bonds of a cruel history where women have been denied the right to be angry and owning it, feels nothing short of a personal victory.

Sanjukta Bose is currently pursuing a Masters degree in English, and, yet, is terrible at writing bios.