Her comedy will make you want to look up art appreciation courses online, and you want to travel right back to Florence and examine the Renaissance masters because Hannah Gadsby showed you how to look at them with fresh eyes.
June is Pride Month. But this pandemic has put a stop to any kind of parade or party to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Their tough fight for rights is well documented and they fly the rainbow flag proudly. “It’s a little busy,” Hannah Gadsby says and I laugh out loud. My fastidious gay friend who teaches art in San Francisco had once thought it too, but has never said it as casually as Hannah did. Hannah Gadsby is now two Netflix specials old: Nanette and Douglas. I rarely write about stand-up comedy even though I watch everything because everyone has a different sense of humour. But I’m going to tell you about this comedic storyteller who talks softly, and carries a big stick.
I will tell you how her first Netflix special compelled me to trawl the net and watch her perform comedy (from Sydney to Ediburgh) to her interviews and more… I will tell you how her comedy will not yell at you or is peppered with four-letter words connected to mothers. I will tell you how her comedy will make you want to look up art appreciation courses online (since we are still under a lockdown), and you want to travel right back to Florence and examine the Renaissance masters because Hannah Gadsby showed you how to look at them with fresh eyes.
This is one of the three videos of her art ‘appreciation’ available for your enjoyment. But I digress. In 2018, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special Nanette dropped and I caught it on a day when I was just fed up of male comics cursing and female comics complaining. And I watched. And laughed and cried. And decided I was going to go back to Musee Picasso in Paris or the Museu Picasso in Barcelona and giggle, pretending Hannah was lecturing me about the artist.
Australians have been lucky to have experienced a walk through with her comedy in the art museum. On Netflix, we get an upfront and close-up view of home truths told in stories that will touch the parts of you that you thought were dead. Most of us take refuge in self-deprecating humour in order to get through awkward social situations. Nanette showed me that it’s not humility that drives us, it’s humiliation. Humiliation that in the end hurts only you.
Yes, Hannah Gadsby is a storyteller. It’s not just standard jokes that stick to a format you have seen in all stand-up shows: the set-up and then the punch line. She reaches out from her memories, her observations and lays them bare for you in a sucker punch that leaves you laughing nervously and nodding your head in agreement. She doesn’t let you recover from the sharp insights. She takes you to that secret place where you have hidden all the tensions and she asks you to face that tension because the ‘not normals carry it with us all the time.’
She does not let go. You sit there stunned as she tells you that it would have been better to have taken her down to the paddock and put a bullet through her head. Then she articulates what you have been dying to say to this world, ‘My story has value.’
Intense. That’s the word that comes to mind when you watch Hannah Gadsby. Of course like all converted, I look for her stand-up routines on the net. And I watched her interviews. The one that stands out is the interview by a Scandanavian host, Skavlan. It’s not a one-on-one, there is the French Spiderman and two other people on that show, but what stands out is how intelligent the questions are and how the other celebrities on the show are listening in and participating. You’ll find it on YouTube easily enough. In another interview with the Australian Broadcasting Service, she said something that made me feel a little sad. The interviewer was asking her how she felt about Netflix taking her show to more than 190 countries, and would say people in India get her? She wasn’t sure but said she wouldn’t come to India because it would overwhelm her, as she liked her everyday routine more.
I sipped my tea and clucked as if she were hearing my response. Perhaps I will tweet to her and tell her we drink tea in India as well…
Douglas is a show after my own heart. It’s funnier because she shows us and articulates with so much style about being an outsider in America. She talks about her freshly diagnosed Autism. There’s such a reward in hearing her speak about anti-vaxxers, ‘culturally confident Americans’, and more. I felt very much at home with the difference in vocabulary, everything from ‘Aluminum’ to ‘Y’all’.
This show offers us a glimpse of how intelligent she is and how she can use her art history skills to make us laugh in the second half of the show. It will make even those who stubbornly stay away from museums to go visit.
The show made me trawl through art museums’ websites to look for women in threes. It’s a guarantee that you will spend lots of time looking at art through Hannah’s eyes. I have had to close like a hundred tabs before I could write this for y’all.
Please Like Me is a show on Netflix co-written by Hannah Gadsby. It’s about this young man who discovers that he’s gay and moves back home. She even appears as Hannah in the second season. It’s available on Netflix even today, but it hasn’t aged well for me. There are other smarter shows that could help you understand the importance of this month. Pride Month. The idea took birth in Greenwich Village in New York. At the pub called The Stonewall Inn, and by a bisexual activist Brenda Howard who is also known as ‘Mother Of Pride’.
Hannah says that she’s a lesbian but she identifies herself as ‘Tired’. How I laughed when I heard that. Describes all of us leading a double life - balancing the domestic as well as professional - all through this lockdown, eh?
Then there’s what her grandma told her: Aah well, it's all part of the soup, too late to take out the onions right now. We too have many onions in our life soup. I’m learning to keep a chocolate bar handy. As Hannah reminds us about Van Gogh’s deep connection with his brother, we should cherish the connections we have made in our lives… And find sunflowers.Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.