Taking A Wrecking Ball To Comedy

When going into a comedy performance, audiences expect to receive a particular personal experience from the show.  Whether it be happy tears streaming down their faces, roars of infectious laughter or multiple fits of giggles from seeing their everyday life through a humorous lens; audiences move into that space ready for light-hearted entertainment.  This was not the case for the audiences of Australian Comedian Hannah Gadsby’s stand up show ‘Nanette’.  

Hannah’s stand up show Nanette became a comedy special on Netflix and gained international recognition and praise from comedians and audiences alike.. Comedians such as Kathy Griffin heralded ‘Nanette’ as a game changer,  tweeting, ‘I’ve been a professional comic for 30 years, I’ve been studying comedy for even longer. I thought I’d seen everything…’

Gadsby analysed the art form and realised that comedy works by creating tension and releasing it. She decided to ‘break the contract’ with her audience by winding up the tension to vocalise her views and said ‘I betrayed people’s trust, and I did that really and seriously, not just for effect’. The show was created during the Australian Plebiscite, when schools were bringing in ‘Safe Schools’ project for LGBTQI students. Gadsby felt that homophobia was coming back into society and she needed to make a change. 

It has not been all laughs and banter for Hannah Gadsby. She was a victim of sexual assault and rape, and as a lesbian experienced homophobia and prejudice for the most part of her life.  As a comedian, she turned these stories into humorous anecdotes for audiences and felt that she was being self-deprecating and manipulating her personal experiences, only showing her audiences the funny side by not sharing the harder times, so people would not feel uncomfortable.  In ‘Nanette’ she says ‘The tension is yours, I am not helping you with it anymore. You need to learn what it feels like’.

Not only was it a daunting challenge, putting her personal experiences of homophobia, abuse and rape so vulnerably to audiences, Hannah was also diagnosed with autism and ADHD and admits that ‘… the comedy lifestyle is difficult for me. It’s a lot of noise and moving around’. However, it was her autism that helped her create such a successful show. She goes on to explain ‘… I know that, and I understand things a lot deeper than a lot of other people.’

Gadsby shifted the boundaries of comedy, using it as a tool to speak out against misogyny, sexual abuse and homophobia. Using her talent to create an impact, proved to not be such funny business after all.

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