Nanette is fantastic. Cut that out, Nanette is unreal. It’s not a comedy special, it’s a piece of art – one that we need, but we truly don’t deserve. It’s so good that it should be compulsory viewing. For all those who don’t know, ‘Nanette’ is Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s recently released special on Netflix. But this one isn’t like other specials, it has, as Gadsby would say, more than a set up and a punchline.
The directors, Madeleine Parry and John Olb, have shot Nanette very differently from the usual comedy special. So here, all through the hour, the camera is focused entirely on Gadsby, with no shots of the audience laughing or deep in thought.
It begins routinely enough, Gadsby makes jokes about coming out to her mother, growing up as a lesbian in Tasmania, being a female, homosexual comic – the usual. Then she piques your interest by declaring that she intends to quit comedy altogether. Because she is expected to perform self-deprecating humour, and then she explains why she will not do that anymore. Because “self-deprecation from people existing in the margins is not humility, it is humiliation”, says Gadsby.That is when you know that you are in for something special.
The first 30 minutes of Nanette are interesting, but will not blow your socks off. But hang in there. She begins the next 30 minutes by talking about what her art history degree taught her about the world, and how the world treats men and women differently. It’s funny because it’s true.
Then Gadsby moves on to the most important piece of her show, the third act, or as she would say, her story. This part is not funny. This part is not the punchline, it is the pain and the suffering that the punchline overlooks. It is angry. And scared. Of the world. Of the violence in this world, of the misogyny in this world, of the homophobia in this world. This part is not funny. It is unsettling. As it should be.
At the centre of Gadsby’s act is trauma, the thing that both comedians – and audiences – overlook. Trauma that becomes a punchline, a joke that you laugh at and forget; never the whole story. This is where Nanette is different from everything else that we have seen, because when the two-part joke becomes a three-act story, we see the whole picture, and it’s not usually rosy, it’s terrifying.
There are multiple times in the show where Gadsby talks about how we raise children. When they are too young to understand gender, we assign pink for girls and blue for boys. As they grow up, we as a society create, or have created, a culture of hate around our children. We teach our children hate, we teach them violence, bigotry, we teach our children toxic masculinity. We teach them not to accept anything that is not ‘normal’. Anything that is not a straight white male is not normal. We have created a very narrow world for our kids. We raise all our kids the same way, the normal way, as if all kids will grow up to be straight white men. And anybody who doesn’t fit that description grows up lonely, confused, scared and often abused. We don’t create a safe environment for our children, for all of our children. We live in a very scary world. Gadsby isn’t afraid to call that out, and we shouldn’t be either.
Post Script: Hannah Gadsby talks about violence and trauma, don’t watch it if you are having a bad mental health day.
Jayanti Jha, 23, is a former TV producer, who is currently trying to navigate life in the capital with her cat, all the while reminiscing about Bandra. She tweets @JayantiJha7.
Featured image credit: Youtube