The Transformative Comedy of Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette”: An Autostraddle Roundtable

Feature image courtesy of Netflix. 

As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to talk to some folks about Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s new Netflix special, Nanette. And I knew pretty quickly I wanted those people to be “my people” because there’s some processing to be done here. So. I emailed a few folks and put together a panel. Representing those of us who come to comedy as spectators, we’ve got me and Autostraddle Staff Writer Lex. And representing folks who come to comedy as professionals, we’ve got: Brittani Nichols, TV writer, actor and comedian. You might know her from her role on Transparent or for feature film Suicide Kale. El Sanchez, standup comedian and podcast host. You might know them from their show Bi-Geekly Report, or at least I sure do, because we are both huge nerds. And we’ve also got Gaby Dunn, author, YouTuber TV writer and podcaster. You might know her from — well, a lot, but if you like thinking about queer economics as much I do, you might especially know her from her hit podcast Bad With Money.

This might go without saying, but here be spoilers. All of them, all the spoilers. And this is a comedy special that, I feel, is best experienced without a lot of foreknowledge. So if you haven’t watched it yet, I strongly recommend you bookmark this roundtable and come back to it once you’ve watched it. And y’all, please, comment your feelings regarding this amazing special below. I’m super stoked to talk to even more queer people about Nanette.


How did you find out about Nanette? Were you familiar with Hannah Gadsby’s work before?

Lex: I’d heard about it about a month ago when I was up in the middle of the night going through Netflix and that feature banner showing what’s coming to Netflix is where I saw remember in the preview she said, “I don’t want to humiliate myself for comedy anymore.” And I wanted to see it because I was like, well what else can you do to stay in comedy? I’ve never seen anything with Hannah Gadsby before, so this was my introduction to her work.

El: I saw the automatic trailer that played when I was flipping through Netflix, actually. I stopped on it because just visually I thought, oh, this appears to be a stand up special by a gender non-conforming queer person, I wonder what they’re going to say. I wasn’t familiar with her or her work at all, to be honest. I figured she must be a big deal filling out the Sydney Opera House for a stand up special though.

A.E.: I first found out about it because our beloved DJ Carlytron was tweeting about it, and in the back of my mind I put it on my list. But then two of my friends, a straight couple in my gaming group, were like YOU MUST MOVE IT TO THE FRONT OF YOUR LIST RIGHT NOW. And so I did. I actually did not come to it through the trailer, so I had nearly NO knowledge before I pressed play. I hadn’t interfaced with Gadsby’s work before, and now I want to go back and experience everything I can get my hands on.

Brittani: I watched all of Please Like Me this past winter and that was my introduction to her. When the special popped up on Netflix the first day I was like, “Oh! She does stand-up? That makes sense!” And since I figured she was queer IRL (in addition to on the show), I figured I should watch.

Gaby: I heard about it in an email from Jill Soloway who was hosting an event for Hannah, promoting the special. I’d never heard of her before the last few months.

When did you realize you weren’t watching a normal Netflix standup special? What constitutes a normal standup special anyhow?

El: The trailer gave that away quite a bit. In fact, I was surprised the beginning started as a standard stand up special. Not only that, but the straight jokes portion lasted for so long, I started to wonder where the genuine content was the trailer promised. She even came off as kind of nervous and I was honestly thinking, these jokes aren’t that great. When it started to take a turn and she broke that fourth wall, she suddenly had so much confidence and passion I feel like her stage presence at the beginning was a calculated move to sort of make the audience comfortable (and maybe herself) even before she made herself (and maybe them) completely vulnerable. A “normal” stand up special has sort of a pretense to it, I suppose. One where the comedian can veer off into sensitive topics or self-deprecating humor, but the audience never feels like they lose control. The control is the pretense. The false agreement that we make as comedians and performers and the audience makes with us that even if we get real, all of this is fake and everything is going to be okay. It’s a weird sort of pact between a bunch of strangers who trust you to toy with their emotions, but ultimately with good intentions and for the greater good which is providing them with relief. Most of the game is essentially being really good at hiding the fact that you’re the one as the comedian seeking relief from the audience. They’re there to make YOU feel better rather than the other way around and we’ve all agreed to pretend that’s not what’s happening.

A.E.: So I knew there had to be a reason that everyone was raving about it, that my friends were actively seeking me out to make me watch it (and I’m glad they did). So I settled in to enjoy it the same way I settle into most comedy specials: with my breath half held. Standup is a space where I am PREPARED to be personally offended by someone’s isms, and I’ve always just considered it the price of admission for finding most of an hour funny. The only times that’s not true are when I’ve seen my friends on stage performing live; people like and including El, Gaby and Brittani. I know they — tread lightly isn’t the word, there’s no mincing about any of their sets. But they walk into the world with humor that’s, at its core, kind and in solidarity with those on the margins. Understanding of a multiplicity of perspectives. Punching up, and with a purpose, rather than punching down with wild swings. Something to decrease isms instead of magnifying them.

I realized pretty quickly that, if I had to hold my breath during this comedy special, it wouldn’t be because Gadsby was magnifying her audience’s isms for a few laughs. If I had to hold my breath, it would be because she knocked the wind out of me so good.

Lex: I tweeted while I was watching so it took about twenty minutes before I realized this wasn’t a normal Netflix special. Literally, all I can think of when I think Netflix special is how Kevin Hart’s ending joke in one of his specials is about someone r**ing his kid and me not coming back to myself until two days after. I guess with standup specials, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, with Kevin Hart. Yayyy a black man! Oh, but look how he talks about black women. And LGBTQ people. So not for me, but some parts were funny. Like, with Netflix in general, when I heard they were paying under a million dollars for Mo’Nique and Wanda Sykes but paid Amy Schumer 11 million. What I’m expecting, I suppose, is that every comedy special is going to leave me out (if we even make it to the stage) and if it doesn’t, is going to use my identity as a punchline (cause people like me definitely don’t get punched down enough). When I came away from this special crying, it was because there was a little weight adjusting in my chest. It didn’t disappear but it didn’t hurt like it usually does. I was seen and it wasn’t demonized and it wasn’t played like it’s not that bad. I was seen by a comedian and for the first time ever, I was glad they saw me.   

Gaby: About 30 minutes in, I’d say. When the camera became a tight close up rather than the far away shots and audience reactions that usually constitute a stand-up special. I think a “normal” stand-up special isn’t really tonally appropriate for the times we’re in and frankly, I’ve always found them a little predictable and boring. I really only like comedy from marginalized people anyway because they tend to be better joke writers, their stories are more relatable to me, and there’s more to punch up and comment on. I think if you’re putting out a stand up special that isn’t really saying something nowadays, you’re wasting the beauty of the medium. (That’s not to say classic jokes aren’t good or needed for relief, but it feels like a strange time to be neutral with your art.)

Brittani: I think Netflix actually houses some other abnormal specials. Whereas a lot of the others play with form more than content (thinking of specials from Maria Bamford, Chelsea Peretti, and Tig Notaro specifically), Netflix has been a great platform for women to do weird shit.

What’s different about Nanette, I think, is how meta it is. Any good special has a narrative that’s weaved throughout and a central thesis that the material is hopefully pointing to. But usually when these specials have serious moments, they lead to a joke; there is very little laying it bare for the sake of laying it bare. And for me, her ultimate thesis is that the state of the world is such that there can’t be a button at the end of the painful story to “relieve the tension” because we need to stop hurting people in these predictable traumatic ways.
A lot of lesbian stand-ups talk about coming out in their early sets because so much of comedy is making trauma useful. There’s this little voice saying, “If I can make this pain productive, then maybe one day I can be ok that it happened.” And that same voice is what leads to, mostly straight cis dudes, saying, “Why do you all tell the same story? We are tired of this story.” I think Hannah is also tired of that being an integral part of the lesbian comedian journey but unlike those dudes, she’s not placing blame on queer women. She’s placing it on the people that enact the hatred that forces it to be one of our most important stories. Before queer women can tell other stories, people have to stop leaving so many with the same scars.

What, if anything, resonated with you? Were you grateful for anything about the experience of watching it? Is there something that set your teeth on edge?

Lex: Oh my God what didn’t resonate with me? We have a butch lesbian calling out straight cis white men for being the worst and also demanding that they show the fuck up and also shut the fuck up for marginalized people. I am a butch lesbian who would love to do the above things publicly (but I also want to be alive afterwards…so) and am also tired of people laughing at me when I’m talking about traumatic shit! I’ve grown up talking about shit that really hurts me and people have laughed at me (they keep doing this!)! Told me to be a stand-up comedian about my trauma! And here Hannah Gadsby is like No! No more! We’re not laughing at this shit we’re gonna heal even if other people don’t believe us! And that is what I needed now and forever amen.   

El: So much. So many things struck a serious chord. When Hannah talked about growing up surrounded by homophobia and by the time she realized she was gay she was already homophobic and you can’t just switch that off. It struck me because even as a somewhat small-time public figure that tries to promote awareness and self-love, I still struggle with so much internalized homophobic shame and feel shameful that I feel that shame still. When she talked about her mother saying, “I wanted you to change because I knew the world wasn’t going to,” I felt that so incredibly hard. I thought about how I’ve fought with my parents so much in the past two years to get my pronouns right and how much every time they call me ‘she’ and ‘her’ how invisible it makes me feel with the two people who I’ve been the closest to throughout a very hard childhood growing up as a mixed-race Mexican queer in small towns where I’ve been berated and bullied incessantly.

My parents always loved me no matter what but coming out as trans non-binary has been very hard for them to accept. They’ve treated it as “one more thing” they have to support and that has been so hurtful, but that line really resonated because I thought, they haven’t stopped loving me, they’re just more scared for me than they were yesterday and that has been hard for them to take after 35 years of fearing how the world will hurt me for the identities I already have. When she shared the end of her “coming out” story about the man who yelled at her actually beating her up and how she left that out of the joke, I thought, holy shit, I have so many stories like that in my stand up where I make a punchline about traumatic events, but leave out the part that was too unpleasant for me so I don’t make the audience uncomfortable because there’s nothing funny about it. When she talked about self-deprecation in comedy and how it’s not humility, it’s humiliation I thought about how that is so much of what I do and about how the relationship with the audience is toxic, creating tension to provide relief I really started to question whether this art form of stand up that I thought had been healing me has perhaps been hurting me more than I realized.

Brittani: I love when people talk about the anatomy of a joke. When she spoke about how a joke freezes all that pain and doesn’t let you move past it, I was shook. I think this special will make people more aware of who they empathize with and furthermore, continues to show the importance of representation because it will teach some people to empathize with someone they previously may not have.

A.E.: In terms of humor, give me art history jokes forever. My taste includes anything that could be described as “definitely appealing to weird gay librarians.” Jokes that display a hard-earned understanding of Impressionism and a Post-Impressionist world are my gosh darn jam.

But of course, the jokes are only part of the reason we’re talking about Nanette. I have long been a champion of the idea that suffering is not required for art; suffering is waste product. Something that comes out of a learned desire to destroy. It produces nothing. Art, however, responds to culture. And we have created a culture of suffering, that says “this is just the way it is” and places some on top, and some below. Art will reflect that because it is the job of an artist to make mirrors. Artists are also humans, and romanticizing this culture has long been a way to rationalize what has happened to the artist. I resist this; I think it’s wrong. Gadsby does too, and given my background with the sad young literary men of New York City (I got my MFA in fiction, lordie lou), it’s not a position I hear often. I am grateful for hearing it.

Gaby: A lot of the lesbian content (lol) and the stuff about gender was incredibly relatable to me and to my life with my partner, who is often misgendered (and I’m always more angry about it than she is). I was grateful for the parts about great artists and men and sexual assault. I think her monologue about the narratives around genius men (Van Gogh, Picasso, namechecks like Roman Polanski, etc) and the way they control how we see everything was PERFECT. The linear translation from Monica Lewinsky’s treatment to Hillary Clinton’s loss was PERFECT. The way we laud Van Gogh without realizing his brother bore the burden of keeping him stable and keeping his work going. I mean, she’s right. We have to drop all of these twisted, incorrect mythical narratives around men, because they’re just not true. The romanticizing of Van Gogh’s mental illness/genius leads to people believing they have to work themselves to death and sacrifice their physical and mental health to be good at their art, or that psychopathy is necessary and the sacrifice of female bodies is necessary to make “great art.” It’s the perfect time for that shit to be SHUT DOWN, and she did it.

Do you think this special changes stand-up comedy as an art form at all? Why or why not?

Brittani: I don’t think so. I think it’s still pretty traditional in its execution. If anything, I think it showcases what good comics know is achievable through the art and will inspire people to achieve what she has with this special themselves.

Gaby: I hope it at least changes what women and other marginalized people feel they can talk about in their stand up. I hope no one thinks their story is too much of a bummer or too feminist or too black or too gay or too whatever for stand up comedy. Like she said, we need perspectives.

El: I really hope it will, but unfortunately I don’t think it will change the standard right away. I think many general comedy fans might ignore it entirely and never watch it since the content of it and how unusual it is has been revealed in its promotion. I know it will resonate with an audience that relates to her and that is meaningful always because it truly feels like representation in a way we haven’t really seen before. Not just from a similar perspective and relatable identity, but as genuine human beings who are angry and afraid and fucking tired. I know it will change how I view stand up from now on, especially my own. I do what I do not just to share my stories, but to tell the few people sitting in the audience at a comedy show who maybe didn’t want to be there in the first place because they struggle to even leave the fucking house that you are not alone. I build tension by reminding everyone how shitty the world is and then provide relief by making that fear of the unknown or the oppressive experience seem amusing or okay, not just to feel better for a moment because that’s fleeting, but to help a handful of people feel like someone out there sees the world the way you do and you’re not wrong or silly or too sensitive. I agree with you and I see you because after a lifetime of invisibility I feel like you finally see me.

Lex:  It definitely does. It’s like, what is it called, a Trojan Horse? Like all these people came to see Hannah Gadsby and she has gotten an arena full of people to sit down and listen about shit (I’m assuming) they don’t give two good kitties about. This is the art form I’ve been waiting for! Trick people with privilege into letting their guards down so they can learn some shit! Let them be uncomfortable for once! Call them out on their bullshit!

So, when the white guy comedian I can’t remember made those horrible jokes a few years ago, the only thing in comedy that ever felt okay to me when talking about that was Wanda Sykes’ bit in Sick and Tired. It definitely doesn’t hold up regarding gender/sexuality/etc. but it was a black (closeted) gay woman who was talking about how fucked up r**e was and putting the blame on the rapists, not the victim and it helped me a lot. Now, there are at least two specials where lesbian women are talking about assault, explicitly and not as a joke and I feel like it’s showing that comedy can definitely be a learning experience as well as a demand that people find some fucking empathy and maybe mAYBE take a second to think before they do shit.

When Gadsby said that the whole point of a joke is the tension, the giving of the beginning and middle and leaving out the ending, that shit fucked me up. It definitely makes me think that going into this kind of comedy is an art form because there’s a lot of bravery in telling the ending, in being honest about there maybe not even being an ending. This seems like more of an art form because it’s not just one person making you laugh for two hours straight, it feels like a conversation with someone you really care about, trying to think of ways to walk away from this as a better person so that one you just talked to doesn’t have to throw on a smile and blender their trauma, giving out only the digestible parts, so that they can make it to the next day in one piece.

A.E.: My initial response was yes, but I don’t think that’s fair to a lot of other comedians who are doing amazing, crazy, creative things with the form. Cameron Esposito comes to mind immediately, for instance, with her hour of Rape Jokes, available for free on her website. All of the comedians I asked to participate in this roundtable also come to mind. I actually, and this may be too hopeful of me given the week we’ve had in the U.S., think that there’s something even bigger to be said for this hour of standup. Artists don’t create zeitgeists; they respond to them. If Gadsby is responding to a greater shift in the culture of what humor means, that’s even better than her changing the space. If she’s responding a moment in our collective consciousness that helps us define what it means to be a human around other humans? Well. I hope this is the barometer I think it might be.


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Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 534 articles for us.

57 Comments

  1. THANK YOU for making space to talk about this. I found the special on a bus ride from NY to MA this weekend and watched immediately after seeing someone’s instastory about it. Was it because I was bored? Any excuse to watch a queer comic? Because both her presentation and body type so wildly resembles my own and I love seeing myself in any reflection??? Who knows, but as an alt-comedy fan, I couldn’t believe Hannah Gadsby hadn’t crossed my radar before, and was heartbroken to see throughout that she’s planning on quitting comedy, whatever that means for her exactly.

    I’m so excited to see (or not see, if she keeps it private) where she goes from here. We all deserve to take the space we need to heal and grow, and I’m SO #inspired to see someone so far along in her career make the changes she needs.

  2. I cannot yet find the proper words to express how much this special affected me but SO GOOD BUTCH WOMAN WHOSE BODY LOOKS LIKE MY BODY ON MY TEEVEE BEING CLEVER AND SAYING TRUE STUFF

  3. I’ve been refreshing for days now waiting to see a post about this! Thank you!

    Idk the first thing about comedy, honestly, but god it felt so good to see her get up and speak openly and passionately about the trauma that is life for people “in the margins”. I’ve watched it three times in a week and every time some new bit has caught my attention. I think my own relationship to my experiences around trauma is going to be deeply changed from here on out. I should probably warn my therapist lol.

  4. Nanette was amazing. I had never heard of Hannah Gadsby before but wow, I am going to be looking for her other material. The funny bits were really funny – an extended series of art jokes, how awesome was that, also “Murderer…you’d _hope_ that would be a phase” worked on several levels – but it was the not-funny bits that turned this into something I definitely intend to watch again. Her honesty, integrity and insistence on respect were so powerful. “I. Am in. My prime!!” made me shiver and I’ve heard it in my head so often since then. (I hope she’s actually wrong, because I’d rather think she will become even more powerful in her art instead of “ah well, it’s all downhill for her from here.” But it was an amazing line.)

    I hope she finds a direction for her career that really satisfies her. I want her to have a side business as an art-museum tour guide, I’d pay for that. I imagine she could do some powerful funny/not-funny with Artemisia Gentileschi. “Judith looks like she’s really into her work with Holofernes, wouldn’t you say? I feel that way when people give me their _opinions_ right after a show. And how come we never know the maidservant’s name?”

    Now back to my fangirl fantasies of a joint Hannah Gadsby/Cameron Esposito show…

  5. Nanette was amazing, and it was great for my soul. I loved when she talked about all the hysteria about gender, i could relate to it, struggling with the pressure sometimes to ‘identify’with a particular label.

  6. I randomly happened to watch this earlier today and the moment I saw it I hoped that it would be covered here. I’d never heard of Hannah Gadsby before and was totally blown away. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and can’t find the right words to articulate what I’m feeling.
    So many things resonated with me that I could hardly believe what I was seeing/hearing and I found her honesty and anger incredibly powerful and moving. Absolutely outstanding.

  7. just chiming in here to say that I saw Nanette live in a small venue and I was in the front row, and I’m pretty sure Hannah made Lesbian Eye Contact with me multiple times.

    That was six months ago, I’m still recovering.

  8. But yes, Nanette is great and I am so happy AS has covered it so lovingly and in so much depth!! 🍓

    I would recommend to anyone wanting to see more of Hannah to watch Please Like Me (which someone on this roundtable mentioned) – she’s a supporting character, but she’s excellent in it, and the show generally is p great too.

    As a side note: it’s so funny to hear that queers in the states aren’t super familiar with her! She’s had so many Nanette performances here and each one of them has been completely sold out, almost everyone I know either went to see her or wanted to. (even the straights)

  9. I’m so glad this round table just went up. I just finished watching Nanette and I’ve been completely dismantled in the best way. The way she strung her set together was so beautiful. It was artistic and powerful in a way I’ve never seen before. I think comedy inherently carrys with it a tremendous burden to bear on the part of the comedian, and viewers are normally able to consume the material without effort or responsibility. As a viewer, I’m allowed and expected to sit back and laugh at someone else’s pain, and trauma. I think what this special made me realize is how comfortable comedy can make us feel when it comes to marginalized peoples suffering. You’re able to feel a sense of comrodery with a comedian who may be on the margins of society in ways that you are not. Hannah Gadsby breaks down that comfort in her audience by saying, you are a part of my story. As white straight men, you have a responsibility to do better. You dont get to feel comforted by my breaking the tension, not this time.

    I hope that this special becomes just the beginning of comedians and artists changing the normal narrative. El Sanchez is my all time favorite comedian (hi El!) and before I even saw this round table, I thought of them during this special. They are so incredibly talented and hilarious, but what they said about the parts that resonated with them made me realize that I myself have been more comfortable when I am able to laugh at someones trauma than to actually face what lead to this joke. I think as a viewer of community, I might start checking myself when I find this happening.

    I hope everyone watches this special.

  10. YAY I’m so glad you guys did this, I’ve been waiting for some sort of response on AS. Hannah is a really, really, REALLY good comedian – I’ve been a fan of hers since my university days in NZ and was so stoked to find out she had new stuff out. But WOW I was not expected Nanette to take the turn it did. It was so incredibly uncomfortable to watch, unbearable even, especially thinking back to her earlier stuff where she DID stop at the middle bit of the joke and left out the ending, the violence that came after the punchline. When she said she had to stop comedy because it’s making her sick, my heart broke for her. I hope she can work towards some sort of peace and healing now.

    • I hoped that her mother or someone else she loved was waiting in the wings to give her, just, ALL the hugs, and be like “I am so proud of you I can’t even talk right now so here is this hug to be all my words.”

      • Yes! She did that show on tour so like, she had to go through that a whole bunch of times! I’m absolutely sure Mum was there or called her straight after. So glad they have such a good relationship now. And her two sweet wee pups. <3

  11. I saw the show live at the Opera House last year with a posse of queer women. I was the only Butch in the group, and it was an entirely different experience. The way that people from the audience looked at me when we exited the venue. The way I felt cleaved in two by someone telling what was also my story.

    I spent more than half my childhood in rural Queensland, in a farming community where corrective rape is a real thing, and where mothers gather to cast out the gay in their children. Spoiler, we disguise ourselves, and then leave as soon as we can, if we even get out alive. I hope that this is changing, but it’s a slow game.

    I cried almost the entire way through. Just silently weeping for the little girl who slept in paddocks and who couldn’t even begin to imagine what it could mean to experience the validating friendship of other queers, and the freedom of being out. To know what it is to be seen. To feel safe in herself.

    The posse of queers that I went with are adorable humans, and they too were very shaken. I am in no way trying to speak for them, but I know from our conversations that a lot of them feel strongly about their femme identities and visibility. In the past we have had numerous chats about how in the past butchness has framed and contextualized femme presentation, and how confused some people still are by butch/butch or femme/femme pairings. (Remember this is an Australian perspective, I don’t know what it’s like in scenes in other countries.) But we have also talked about how visibility is something that draw bullets (not literal, I live in Australia, but there are other forms of violence and aggression) and how the mere presence of someone more visible enables some queers to feel safer. I personally believe that it is worth the cost to me if it means keeping other rainbows safe, and why I feel strongly about being visible as an out academic. This is where I see, and admire, Hannah’s contribution to my safety.

    It was a strange kind of voyeuristic experience watching people from the audience being challenged by the content, and heartening to see various other butches also lending their spare hankies to the folk around them. Chivalry re-imagined as a holding of space.

    • (I can’t speak for everyone but definitely in the black community the femme/femme or especially butch/butch relationships aren’t just a mystery and framed by butch/femme relationships in my community, in some ways they’re not just confused they’re downright disgusted.)

      Jesus I teared up at your comment, thank you so much for sharing.

    • +1 re the comment about this piece making butch-presenting women be seen differently, not just as wannabe men.

      The people I’ve always valued most in my life are the ones who have seen that there is often a vulnerable core beneath the surface. Not that we are victims, as Gadsby says, but we are people who have dealt with shit as well – we might look (and be) all butch and tough, but for most of us, there has been a significant cost.

      And so true about our visibility being the lighting rod of hatred and disrespect at times. I do think that femme men get it worse, but then again, I also remember being described as “fish” by definitely-not-masc gay men in the past. There are many (most?) in our community who are not immune to internalised homophobia and fucked up messages about gender. At least most of us queers get the opportunity to learn better (whether someone actually does or does not is something else).

      As for straights, I’m happy to provide passive (and sometimes active) education sessions during normal social interactions (omg, the diesel dyke can talk about art history??!?)

  12. Thank you for this roundtable!

    Hannah made me want to scream all my truths angrily into a microphone in front of people. Like, if there was just an angry version of The Moth. I need it. Zeitgeist of the age, but also ageless.

    it was really powerful and I think it will help me level up in my life, so it was important to me.

    Super impressed with her, and grateful.

  13. What was the quote, ‘I dare you to try and take me on at my most powerful’?

    And also, No one is stronger than a woman who was broken down and has rebuilt herself back up again.

    This is a role mod

  14. This round table (and comment thread) did not disappoint ❤️ What thoughtful, loving, and poignant responses! Coincidentally, I watched Cameron Esposito’s “Rape Jokes” and “Nanette” both this week and I feel so hopeful for the shifts that may be (are?) afoot in comedy and in the collective consciousness of the audience.

  15. I watched this tonight and loved it so much. Hannah just built up to incandescence at the end and I was crying and it was perfect. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and for this thoughtful roundtable! <3

    (Also unrelated to her wonderful show but she is *so* handsome. Swoon.)

  16. I’ve never followed Hannah closely, but always loved whatever I saw. Somehow though, I managed to completely avoid all info about Nanette before watching and… oh boy.

    I spent the rest of the day feeling like I’d been kicked in the chest. Entirely too real, too close to home, in a very literal sense, as a big fat queer in small town Australia who quite possibly stays femme because anything other than looking like a normal woman feel a like painting a target on my back.

    It was amazing, but I was a Lot.

  17. As a butch (brunette, glasses-wearing, pear-shaped…) Tasmanian, I’ve loved Hannah for years, and seeing this show was an amazing experience. Seeing her on Australian TV as a closeted teenager, I was just so excited to see someone who looked like me and talked about my experiences. Ten years later and halfway across the country, I saw Nanette in a theatre full of my LGBT community with my wife sitting next to me. It was incredibly heart-wrenching and cathartic. I’m so glad other people get to experience her show.

  18. Thank you so much for covering this – and for the round table discussion because I found it fascinating to hear how people in comedy thought about it.

    Thank you also for giving us a place to discuss this. I have very few queers in my life and no one who I can talk to about the impact this has had on me. Just coming here and seeing that others had a similar response is uplifting.

    Also, having seen Nanette in person, I have to say that if you have the opportunity, it’s something I would recommend. It gave me chills, and the silence in the audience at certain points was amazing to experience in person.

  19. A pot of soup was on the stove. I put Nanette on as nightly therapy; one more nearly random something to keep the gun out of my mouth another night. I had to turn the stove off as Gadsby started to slip from her performance into her serious confrontations. I had to rewind over and over again, anxious not to fragment her art, yet unavoidably compelled to hear what she had *just* said… yet again.

    Nanette might deserve a big CW, but without further explanation, befitting the necessity of disarming work it does on the viewer. It is the sort of art which is beyond mere performance. She opens up with performance, sure enough, yet then grabs the fourth wall by the posts and kicks it down.

    Plenty of comedians speak politically, or from the heart, aiming toward productive catharsis. I remember Margaret Cho on the steps of SF city hall, thousands with her for a marriage equality which seemed still forever out of reach. Tig Notaro did indeed come to mind, with her recent show to live her personal suffering on stage. Great stuff.

    But Gadsby did something… unique, to my experience at least. She took command in a way that was vital, unignorable – suffused with her absolutely impeccable timing and stage skill, yet relentlessly moving into the reality with unbounded rawness. She literally shakes on stage with an indictment of… everything. All the bad things. When she roars that there is nothing stronger than a woman who has rebuilt herself, she says more than those words can ever say when written. She proves it.

    Some manifestos can only be written with a living presence.

    I’ll never forget her distillation of humour as prolonged tension. The round table discusses this, but not quite with the heartbreaking ancillary point Gadsby offered: that *her own* self deprecating humour perpetuates and reinforces her trauma. That recapitulation of trauma works whether the humour is initiated as a cathartic process for self healing by the wounded or the exploitation of a comedic voice of “punching down” by the blithely privileged. The insight is incisive and damning: The suspicion that humour itself may ultimately be pathological. Such irreconcilable tension is how the demon of trauma feeds, stealing the future with its stealthy revistitations. Anyone who has lived trauma, who lives with it echoing, can grok this danger, and Gadsby’s desperate scream to shatter that chain.

    Comedy was her art and she was casting it in the fire. It seemed like Gadsby was losing her faith in front of us. It’s impossible to watch without being taken up with her in deep sympathy as she struggles to forge something new from the pieces. To my mind, she succeeded.

    I don’t know if comedy will change because of this. But by damn, I was. It seems I’m not alone. If you’ve not yet seen Nanette, anticipate this effect.

  20. Fun story; a Camp friend told me about this, CWs included but not spoiled, but I started it too late and paused it in the first half to go to bed! I spent a whole day thinking Gadsby was just an awesomely Butch Australian comedian, nothing heartbreaking here!

    (I’m not gonna bother with my opinion, y’all got it covered, really)

  21. When I saw Nanette live some guy heckled Hannah right at the end. She was just getting into the part about being beaten and raped and this guy at the back yells out, “but where’s the comedy??” And Hannah yelled back, “Up your arse!” And then some version of get fucked and then had security remove him from the theatre. 👌👌👌

    Also I cried the whole time, obvi. She only played one night in our little city and all the queers I knew were there which felt extra special. Go and see the show in person if you get a chance!

  22. I just finished watching Hanna Gadsby’s Nanette, and I am overcome. The self loathing she discusses, the power of her words, her ideas all reached something deep. I am a transwoman who didn’t come out until it was “safe” my mother and father both dead, so I couldn’t cause them shame. The shame I buried and hid for so long left me a poisoned man, unable to form real relationships.
    I still carry that forward, finding truth in TERF hatred for me, avoiding the people that I could care for because I am not a “real” person.

    Nanette exposed the raw wires that carry me through this rabbit hole. I thank Hanna Gadsby for her gift of truth.

  23. I felt after watching Nanette the same way I felt after I first heard Jagged Little Pill–like I had just gone through a heart-wrenching therapy session.

  24. As an Aussie Queer, I’ve been aware of Hannah Gadsby, absolutely loved her in Please Like Me which is one of the best things I’ve seen on tv. However as a poor and disabled queer, I’ve never had the fortune of seeing her live, so I’m extremely glad I got to see this show from the comfort of my house. I would like to recommend that you look up Queerstories, which is a monthly story telling night that is available on podcasts, which Hannah and many other amazing Aussie comedians and beautiful queers have spoken at. If you live in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane , you might be able to attend a show! Look it up! It’s amazing!

  25. I just watched this last night and thought it was amazing. I was so excited to read this round up sharing so many interesting perspectives on it, particularly Brittani & El’s.

    I greatly appreciated the nuanced art history humour which was definitely unexpected.

    I felt like some of her show was so laser targeted. I remember my mom saying nearly the exact same thing with me when I came out as trans about being worried about my safety in the world. It’s such a complex thing to work through.

    I’ve been recommending this show to everyone and now I additionally link them to this round up for follow up reading.

  26. I’m super glad to read this roundtable and am proud and heartened that Hannah Gadsby’s making such an impact. Her work is incredible. This article does remind me, however, how US-centric the US is. Hannah Gadsby has been a massive name in comedy for years now, and yet nobody bar Brittani had heard of her prior to watching Nanette (on a queer pop culture site, no less). It makes me wish the US would take more notice of what’s happening in the rest of the world.

    P.S. You could almost cut the tension with a knife at the live show.

    P.P.S. One time I saw one of her earlier shows with my still-getting-used-to-having-a-gay-kid dad. He was the only guy in the audience (of, like, 30). It was very funny. I peed my pants the tiniest bit.

    • Yeah the headline of the New York Times review was “Introducing a major new voice in comedy: Hannah Gadsby” and… come on, surely just from watching the show alone you’d pick up the fact that she was long-term pro

  27. I love this post and I’m so glad you convened this discussion, AE. Like Alice above, i saw it live and it was masterful. One thing I had had to comment on was Gaby’s use of the term ‘burden’ in relation to Van Gough and his brother’s experience of caring for him, because that’s not the way I understood what Hannah was saying and it kinda shocked me. I saw Hannah’s depiction as showing how love and treatment and support can, however imperfectly and incompletely, keep people attached to the world. I really value that part of her show, in among all the other fantastic stuff.

    As part of the disability rights movement I think it’s really important that we recognise that so much of the ‘burden’ on carers comes from not having adequate supports for people with disability or mental illness, and frame it in that way. Disability is a normal part of life and those people are not inherently burdensome. I don’t want to play oppression olympics but I think it’s so important we recognise that as wonderful as care relationships can be there is a power imbalance between the carer and person being cared for, and prioritise the rights of the latter.

    I hope this makes some sense, not as a slight on Gaby because I love her work (especially on BufferingCast OMG!) but as something worth thinking about from the perspective of the rights of people with mental illness and disability. For me that’s part of what is so fantastic about Hannah, that she includes that viewpoint.

  28. I’m sure you guys saw this back when it was published, but I was reading a July 13 roundup of writings on Nanette in the NY Times today and they mentioned Autostraddle, linked to this roundtable, and quoted A.E.

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