“Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda” Brings Brilliant Trans Comics to the Famously Transphobic Netflix

A few months ago, a handful of my comic friends and peers teased that they were out of town on some kind of trip, but the dates didn’t align with any known showcases. I thought there may be a new queer and trans festival that I had not been aware of, which, if true, would have been smart to pilot with the group who were mysteriously out of town. “Exciting!” I thought to myself, delighted by the prospect of a new opportunity of discovery for the numerous queer and trans comics that I admire. To my surprise, the industry was not gaining a new festival, but rather Hannah Gadsby was filming their fourth Netflix special, Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda.

Gadsby is an Australian comedian, writer and actor, best known for their 2018 comedy special “Nanette,” which told a story about violence and the role our traumas play in our comedy. If not that, then perhaps their controversial exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 2023 called “It’s Pablo-Matic: Pablo Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby.” That same year, they released another hour on Netflix called Something Special. That’s also when Dave Chappelle’s The Dreamer released on the streaming platform.

If you thought the rant at the end of his 2021 special, The Closer, was bad, you’d be absolutely correct. But you could also imagine how much worse the follow-up would be after being platformed, celebrated, and paid handsomely by Netflix as a reward for that exact rant. I’m always saying “Wow, this guy seems super unhinged about a group of people who are disproportionately harmed, targetted, and legislated against. Let’s give him $20 million and an hour to have a tantrum on stage.” I’m always saying that.

So, Gadsby took to Instagram to express their anger and disappointment with Netflix and specifically, co-CEO Ted Sarandos, for dragging their name into internal conversations about Chappelle’s transphobia and for failing to protect them from it. In their open letter to Sarandos, they told him “I did shits with more backbone than you.” Funny for so many reasons.

The open letter, while scathing and incredibly risky, was wildly effective. Maybe not in getting certain content taken down or contracts ended, but certainly in getting more trans comedians on Netflix. Gadsby not only secured another contract with the streamer, but they brought seven queer and gender-nonconforming comics with them. This might sound like an obvious thing for someone to do when given a platform, but you’d be surprised how infrequently that happens.

Gadsby returning to Netflix to ultimately make a special about how awful Netflix treated them is a real Barbie/Mattel situation. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. It’s just that a person is making content about the evils behind the people bankrolling the project. In the middle of watching Barbie, I turned to my friend and said, “Mattel let them say that?!” I did the same thing while watching Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda.

It’s less of a shock once you remember that Netflix is making a lot of money from queer viewers.

Listen, I don’t have the financial or business acumen to critique nor applaud the decision Gadsby made. The way I see it, someone’s using a really shitty, traumatic experience and turning it into an opportunity to make money, advance their career, and bring up some of their peers with them. That sounds pretty sick to me. Plus, I know some of those comics! And they’re really fucking funny! It was a joy to see them each do seven minutes to a well-behaved crowd in London’s Alexandra Theatre, so let’s get into it.


Jes Tom

I spoke to Jes Tom about their solo show Less Lonely in November and got to learn more about their career, including their dream to one day have a big studio comedy special. It’s nice to see that this could get them one step closer to reaching that goal. They’re a brilliant comic who uses humor to poke holes in many of the things we believe to be true, including our own opinions on gender and sex and culture — no matter how expert we previously thought ourselves to be on the topics.

Jes is up first and begins their set with observations about the effects of testosterone, the difference between gay guy hot and lesbian hot, and sexting. Jes isn’t afraid to lean into binaries when writing a joke, and it’s part of what makes them such a pro. They get away with closing their set with “men are like this and women are like that” jokes because they spend the first five minutes proving to us they exist outside of those binaries.

Chloe Petts

I embarrassingly didn’t know of Chloe Petts before watching this, and I feel damn ashamed about it. She is charming in the way that only a dyke can be. You know what I mean? I love her Canadian Tuxedo, I love the way she interacts with the audience, I love the stage presence, I love that I can’t tell when one bit ends and the other starts — if they do at all.

Her set runs so smoothly and maintains the same level of energy for seven minutes straight, which is really not an easy thing to do. She has a really great bit where she picks an unassuming guy out of the audience to be the butt of her jokes about being toxic as a result of her male privilege as a masc dyke. I love an audience fist bump.

Asha Ward

In 2022, Asha Ward became the youngest writer to join the Saturday Night Live staff, and has since co-written some of your favorite sketches. Last year, she was named a Comedian You Should Know in 2023 by Vulture, a New Face in Comedy by Just for Laughs, and secured a coveted Comedy Central taping. The first time I saw Asha, it was at a show in a basement in Brooklyn, and I remember being impressed by the amount of humor she conveys through their monotoned delivery and slight facial expressions.

This is exactly the energy she brought to the show, which followed Petts’ very animated set. It goes to show how two different styles can work so well for different people, even back to back. Ward is admittedly too high to be on the London stage, but couldn’t be any cooler. She gives off a vibe to the audience, and even to me at home on my couch, that we should be the ones trying to impress her, not the other way around. I love how everything that comes out of her mouth sounds shocking, but there’s no real rhyme or reason as to why.

DeAnne Smith

DeAnne Smith is one of the first comics I saw live after moving back to New York in 2021. I hadn’t started doing stand up yet, but they were on a friend’s show and absolutely crushed. Like, such a killer. After the show, I introduced myself and they did one of the coolest things a person has ever done, which is to write the name of their monthly show and their Instagram handle on a cocktail napkin and hand it to me. Not in a flirtatious way, but in a really smooth, networking, “If you liked that set you, and all your friends should buy tickets to my next show” way. Fast forward three years, and Smith and I were finally on a lineup together. And apparently I’m not the only one who has a history with Smith, because they’ve performed at previous A+ Camps!

Smith is the anxious peoples’ comedian. They acknowledge the pressure that comes with being on stage and how silly being a comedian feels in the grand scheme of things. A lot of the material in their set paints the picture that they’re a little dorky and a little nervous, but their natural confidence on stage and the quality of their writing makes them so sexy. Again, not in a flirtatious way, but in a “I want to be you when I grow up” way.

Mx. Dahlia Belle

I’ve been a fan of Mx. Dahlia Belle for years now and was so delighted to see she would be on the show. She’s on the west coast, so I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing her outside of Instagram Reels until now. Belle uses pre-conceived notions of transgender folks, and specifically trans women, to accomplish a few things: to show that cis people are the ones obsessed with talking about transness, to prove them all wrong, and to bluntly speak about the realities of her life as a trans woman. She uses a repetitive bit to ground herself between stating facts and delivering a punchline, every second of it being deliciously funny.

Krishna Istha

Introduced to the stage as a new comic, Krishna Istha begins with anything but freshman vibes. That’s probably because they’re not new to comedy, having written an episode for the fourth and final season of Sex Education. What they are new to is stand-up, which is a pursuit they blame on testosterone. If all goes wrong, it’ll be okay because they have a humiliation kink.

Or at least that’s what they say. Luckily, we won’t have to find out. Istha’s set was light-hearted, relatable without being overplayed, self-deprecating, used the rule of three, and played with the dynamic between their partner and their mother. That’s pretty textbook comedy, and it works for a reason. If they hadn’t been introduced as new and if they didn’t acknowledge it up top, I wouldn’t have known.

ALOK

I’ve known ALOK as an activist, author, fashion icon and speaker for quite some time now, but this is my introduction to them as a standup comedian. I don’t know if I just completely missed that part of their career or if they’re another example of someone who gets famous doing one thing and then starts doing standup after. We watched JVN make that move over the past few years and I heard recently that Dylan Mulvaney is getting time at the Laugh Factory.

As to be expected, ALOK covers the topics of pronoun discourse and banned books in their set. But they also speak to some of the not-so-scary threats to the queer community like executive dysfunction, tardiness, and over-packing for a trip, all of which are a part of the gay agenda according to ALOK. You can tell that ALOK is a household name for a lot of the audience members, seeing that they got a roaring applause before they even spoke a word into the microphone. The audience ate them up for the rest of their set and it made for a strong end to the lineup.


I thought that Gadsby would do more time either up top or to headline the show, but they don’t. They of course opened the show and hosted throughout, which, by the way, proves that hosting is awkward for anyone, even the stars. Them not doing a thirty or even a twenty makes it that much cooler that they brought these other comics up with them. I wish some Brooklyn comics would take note. Just kidding!

What I really want to say about Brooklyn comedy and how it relates to Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda is that this type of show happens every week here. I’m not even exaggerating. There are ample all-queer and even all-trans comedy shows happening on a weekly and monthly basis here. Some of which include T4T, Not a Boy Not a Girl, Forbidden Froots, The Trans Agenda, Queer & Now, Fruit Basket, and Gay Shame. And those are just the ones in Brooklyn that I can rattle off the top of my head! My point is, these kinds of lineups are happening all of the time, all over the place. It’s about time it happens on a platform as huge as Netflix.

Last year, I wrote a list of 6 Queer Comedy Specials That Will Restore Your Faith in the Craft after feeling disappointed by the nominees for the first ever stand-up category at the Golden Globes. Of those six, half of them are on Youtube and the other half are on large streaming platforms. The reason there are only six on that list to begin with is because much of the time given to queer and trans comics is limited to five to ten minute sets and so rarely one hour specials. When a queer or trans comic does have an hour special on a large streamer, they’re typically cis or white and more often than not, a combination of both.

I think it’s really cool that Netflix hosted eight queer and gender non-conforming comics but I think it would be way cooler if they did so without practically being threatened into it. Unfortunately, that’s just how a lot of queer and trans art gets funded and platformed. And those are the opportunities that we have to take, even if it feels a little icky or if your own community gives you shit for it. We’re paving our own way, making our own shows, booking eachother, but at the end of the day, opportunities to be on Netflix are few and far between. I’d like to make the case to Netflix and to Max and to Prime Video and to whoever else is writing stand-up special contracts, to give jobs to trans comics not because it’ll end the protests at your executive offices but because they’re really fucking funny and good at what they do.

With booking and hiring trans comics comes a responsibility to protect them. So, while my main point is to give them time, give them specials, and pay them equitably, my second point is to have systems in place to keep them safe. Since the release of “Gender Agenda,” some of the comics have already used social media to show the kind of treatment they receive from Netflix viewers and followers. In fact, Smith posted a series of Instagram stories showing a conversation between them and the Netflix is a Joke social media manager after being asked to collaborate on a clip of their set that would go out to both of their audiences. You see, as trans comics, we can do our best to control the content on our own pages, set up hidden words, privacy settings, and even small things like having our pronouns in our bio. But once our content goes outside of our own controlled, albeit limited, environments, there needs to be similar systems in place.

Smith posed a fantastic question to this social media manager, which was, and I’m paraphrasing here: What are you going to do to mitigate the hateful comments on this post if I do decide to collaborate with you? The social media manager admitted that while they don’t typically respond to or otherwise interact with comments, they can stay on top of instances of transphobia taking place on the post. After taking a scroll through the post’s comment section, I see a whole lot of comments from Smith responding to hateful messages and a clear absence of the Netflix is a Joke account saying anything. Awareness needs to be accompanied by protection.

And so, it’s fitting that the set design is quite literally large hoops that the comics have to go through in order to get to the microphone.

My last thought on Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda is that I don’t care much for the name. It’s a little juvenile and also slightly misleading. The name led me to believe this would be an all-trans lineup, and while cis is indeed a gender, it confused me to see anyone but trans folks on stage. I’m not mad about it, and dykes are nonbinary in their own right, but it did make for a head scratch. After now watching the special multiple times, I present to you, alternate names for Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda:

Hannah Gadsby’s Gaggle of Gays
Hannah Gadsby and the Haircuts
Hannah Gadsby and Their Little T*******, F******, and D****
Hannah Gadsby Tops Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos
Hannah Gadsby Presents: Bushwick


Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda is now streaming on Netflix.

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Motti

Motti (they/he) is a New York born and raised sorority girl turned writer, comedian, and content creator (whatever that means these days). Motti has been featured on We're Having Gay Sex Live, The Lesbian Agenda Show, Reductress Haha Wow! Live, the GayJoy Digest, and even played the role of "Real Life Lesbian" on Billy on the Street. In 2022, they wrote about how clit sucker toys are a scam, sweet gay revenge, chasing their dreams, and getting run over by a pick up truck in their now-abandoned newsletter Motti is An Attention Whore. Motti has a Masters in Public Administration and Local Government Management, you'd never know it from the shit they post online (see previous sentence), but occasionally he'll surprise you with his knowledge of civic engagement and electoral processes. They live in Brooklyn with their tuxedo cat, Bo, and their 20 houseplants.

Motti has written 20 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. I liked this special overall but was really disappointed in Chloe Petts’ transphobic comment about penises. Why are people in our own community still saying that lesbians won’t sleep with someone with a penis? It felt deeply insensitive for a comic at a trans comedy special to make this kind of joke.

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