When Hannah Gadsby tells the audience of their new Netflix special Something Special it was going to be a feel-good experience, you can tell the audience is skeptical. And for good reason: Anyone who has watched a Hannah Gadsby stand-up special knows that “feel-goodwp_postsand Hannah Gadsby don’t really mix. But this time, they truly do make good on their promise.
The basis for Something Special is Gadsby’s 2021 marriage to their producer Jenney Shamash, who they affectionately call Jenno throughout the show. (There’s a great bit about how Jenney thought it was a unique term of endearment, but Gadsby explains that Australians just like shortening words and adding the letter o to the end.) Though everything is essentially filtered through the lens of their relationship, we get a lot of peeks into Gadsby’s life, including their relationship with their parents, how their autism informs their world, and reflections of previous girlfriends. The set evokes a field, presumably in the Australian bush that they consistently refer to, with a series of ceramic and plastic white rabbits. The rabbits play a big part of multiple stories, and I’m not going to spoil them. I couldn’t do them justice.
They open with talking about the comedy of planning a lesbian wedding. As they explain, straight people have a lot of feelings about how weddings are supposed to go, and if you’re queer and want to eschew tradition, it really seems to make them upset. My favorite part of the bit is how they describe their wedding cake: a great white shark eating a pair of otters holding hands. “We wanted to trick a Christian baker into making a gay wedding cake,wp_poststhey laugh. “It worked,wp_poststhey smile coyly into the camera.
“I like to brag that I married a bisexual woman,wp_postsGadsby explains. “Because it upsets a very particular kind of man…that I enjoy upsetting.”
Gadsby’s relationship with Shamash reminds me a lot of my relationship with my own partner Beth. Before she became Gadsby’s wife, Jenno was her producer (she even produced Something Special!). After I started dating Beth, she asked me to become a producer on the documentary she’s working on. Those dynamics always cross over into your relationship, and it’s rarely a bad thing. It’s clear that their working relationship has a positive effect on their romantic relationship. Unlike Jenno, I don’t carry a handy producer backpack, but I’m the one who’s prepared.
At one point, Gadsby compares their relationship to a game of curling. They’re the puck, and Jenno is the one who brushes them down the ice. Beth and I immediately looked at each other and laughed. That felt like such an apt description of our relationship too! I am usually the one who is keeping her in bounds as she sails down the ice without being able to stop. Gadsby bemoans the fact that as much as they wish they could be there for their wife more, they admit, “I’m a mess.wp_postsI don’t know Jenno personally, so I’m only assuming, but if she feels anything like I do, it doesn’t matter if Hannah is a mess. That’s how partnership works; sometimes one of you has to be the puck, and the other the brush. I like knowing that Beth knows she can lean on me and trust that I’ll keep shit on track. Both in real life and in work.
This dynamic between the couple is never more clear than during the story Gadsby tells about the first time they met iconic celesbian Jodie Foster. It was after one of their performances, and Jodie wrote down her number to keep in touch. Gadsby has sensitive palms because of their autism, and the card with Jodie’s number felt weird in their hand. Instead of putting the card in their pocket, they kept crumpling the card in their hand in full view of Jodie Foster! Just before they could toss the card across the room, Jenno grabbed it from behind, placing it in the aforementioned backpack.
A moment like this intersects between Gadsby’s autism and sudden fame. They warn their audience to prepare for fame, because they never did and it bit them in the ass. Other examples of this include when they laughed in Ruby Rose’s face and a hilarious story about Jodie Foster (again) and a birthday gift gone awry! My favorite is when they told director Richard Curtis how much they didn’t like romantic comedies. I’m not going to tell you what they’re reasoning is, but rest assured I laughed so hard I startled the cat.
Their autism isn’t the main focus of Something Special, but because it’s a part of who they are, of course it’s always a part of the bits. The first time the couple played the children’s game Guess Who, Gadsby described the person as slappable because their face was off-putting. As we find out, it’s because they find smiles off-putting. We learn this through a conversation with her wife, who realizes they have different views on what makes a face slappable. Even as they’re revealing ways their brain works differently, it’s still largely through the lens of their relationship and the dynamic between them and their wife. I found myself laughing because of how relatable the relationship dynamics felt.
This special gets more into the less traumatic parts of their past. They tell a story about a borderline abusive ex-girlfriend who refused to accept their breakup. I swear, it’s not a typical Hannah Gadsby reveal. They actually make a joke about it. This same ex was part of a story Gadsby tells about a rabbit on the road, and I won’t tell you much more, but this ex could give Shauna from Yellowjackets a run for her money when it comes to rabbits. Gadsby makes a quip about a mostly lesbian audience being more concerned with the rabbit’s well-being than the abusive relationship. That, of course, got a hearty laugh from the audience (and me). They also have a recurring joke — “and that’s why I can’t sleep with menwp_posts— that had me cracking up every time.
While Gadsby is overall, a lot more theatrical and animated in this special, it’s the most apparent as they tell stories about their parents. They describe their mother as a woman who is more than capable of flying a storytelling “plane,wp_postsbut she will also hijack someone else’s story plane and “land it on their face.wp_postsGadsby reveals she told them she didn’t like their girlfriend, in front of said girlfriend, acting as their mother taking a drag of an imaginary cigarette. They explain that their mother and Jenno get along great, because if they didn’t, Gadsby wouldn’t be able to choose between the two.
As much as I love their mother, their father is also a total laugh riot. Unlike their mother, their father cannot tell a story, instead just listing a bunch of facts. It’s adorable honestly, as is the revelation they make that one of the things they love about their wife is she tells a story like their dad does.
When it was over, I turned to Beth and said, “I’ve never laughed that much at a Hannah Gadsby special.wp_postsI love their more serious work, but I hope this new mix of levity is here to stay as well.