Usually when I am reviewing television programmes I jot down notes to help me assemble the final copy: plot points, character names, quotes, my reactions and more.
With Hannah Gadsby: Nanette I began to do likewise. Somewhere after the halfway point I just stopped. She was so utterly compelling and raw that I was sucked into a vortex. Whatever pedestrian notes I was making could do little to reflect what was actually taking place in the theatre or on my couch.
Gadsby’s 70 minute stream of consciousness is a rollercoaster of laughs, tenderness, anger, demands. On stage alone at a packed Sydney Opera House show there’s no theatrical tricks with audience participation, guests, musical numbers, videos or props. It’s unfiltered Gadsby, blunt, honest, commanding and very, very funny.
Much of the show centres around growing up as a young gay woman in the isolation of Tasmania, which she freely admits has been her schtick for a long time. Until 1997 homosexuality was still illegal in Tasmania, and it was frequently at the centre of political discourse.
“No-one really ever talked about the lesbians,” she recalls. “Do they even exist if no-one’s watching?”
TV broadcasts of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras became her first introduction “to my people” but brimming in overt party-goers, it still felt foreign.
“Where are the quiet gays supposed to go?” said this minority within a minority.
Even the pride flag she considered full of “six shouty colours.”
“I don’t think I’m very good at being gay.
“I identify as tired.”
As the easy laughs continue from her naturally self-deprecating humour, including her experience of homophobia, Gadsby shifts the mood for a revelation she needs to share: she is giving up comedy, Nanette is her final show.
“I don’t feel comfortable doing it anymore.”
Self-deprecating humour is not humility, it’s humiliation.
“I simply will not do that anymore to myself or anybody who identifies with me.”
And while you can almost feel the audience waiting for a punchline to implode what is a party-pooper moment, Gadbsy’s truth-torpedoed make it painfully clear this is no joke.
As Nanette continues there are profoundly political statements, funny-not-funny social observations and calls-to-action that ripple through a spellbound audience. It’s no wonder this show has won awards at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Edinburgh Fringe and Helpmann Awards. Through the power of Netflix it will now impact global TV audiences. Word of mouth for this show will be its best friend.
Losing Gadsby from comedy is a major loss. But we should all be cheering at whatever art she chooses to do next. Brilliant.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette airs Tuesday on Netflix.