Hannah Gadsby’s Stand-Up Special ‘Nanette’ Isn’t Joking For Your Benefit


Even before I sat down to watch Hannah Gadsby’s June 2018 Netflix comedy special, “Nanette”, I knew it would make me feel uncomfortable. Self-deprecating humor hits a little to close to home. In fact, I had it in the queue for a week before I worked up the nerve to watch it. After a few of my queer friends implored me to give it a go, I finally decided to check out this hyped-up comedy special. I’m so glad I did.

Marginalization Isn’t Funny

Now, I’m not a gay, white woman; so I don’t know the struggles of that specific community. I’m bi, but not butch. I’ve been married to a man for going on twenty years — meaning, I present as straight and femme. Regardless, as a fat, biracial, bisexual woman; I experience marginalization on a regular basis. In a world where tensions are high between various communities, Hannah Gadsby has decided she isn’t here to absolve her audiences of the things that make them uncomfortable anymore. Instead, the comic is working on her own well-being and telling the whole story–not just the funny parts.

Keep Your Tension

In her 2018 Netflix special, Gadsby starts off by making fun of herself: a lesbian marginalized by society inside and outside of the LGBT community. Her stories of growing up in a small, very homophobic Tasmanian town are told with flair, funny punchlines and great timing. It isn’t until about 20 minutes in that the tone shifts. These stories, incidents of bigotry, assault and self-hate feel familiar to those of us who live life on the margins of society or in our own communities. They aren’t funny — not really — but for some of us, laughter means survival. We laugh at ourselves to save others from feeling uncomfortable, from feeling anything close to what we are feeling, in order to have a seat at the table. Their table. In “Nanette”, Gadsby reminds us there isn’t really anything funny about hatred and abuse. Resolving that tension for those who perpetuate the oppression is literally making Gadsby and others like her, sick.

“I’ve been learning the art of tension diffusion since I was a child. Back then it wasn’t a job; it wasn’t even a hobby. It was a survival tactic. Back then, I didn’t have to invent the tension. I was the tension. Tension is making me sick.”

The Whole Story

What I enjoyed so much about this special is the raw honesty that Gadsby uses to approach difficult topics. Gadsby refuses to alleviate the guilt of problematic white dudes, and I’m here for it. While Gadsby recounts the hilarity of this shitty world, she promises audiences and herself that from here forward, she’s going to tell the entire story. Instead of humiliating herself for laughs, Gadsby promises to call out those who do harm to the marginalized. “Nanette” is a damn good start.


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