May 27

“Douglas” by Hannah Gadsby: Funny Trauma?

Douglas, a new Netflix special, actually exceeds the expectations Hannah Gadsby immediately introduces to her live audience.

Recently I’ve second-viewed Gadsby’s previous Nanette, a different breed from Douglas in that it’s funny for sure, but it’s also downright serious. (See my previous post.) In Douglas Gadsby notes right off the bat that she now realizes she foolishly used up all her real-life trauma in that one show: Had I known just how wildly popular trauma was going to be in the context of comedy, I might have budgeted my shit a bit better.

So, what happens in Douglas? Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture: “It’s crafted from recognizable building blocks and a list of topics that coalesce into something like a Gadsby signature: art history, misogyny, the patriarchy, self-knowledge and self-blindness, wordplay, her childhood, and an effective dot-dot-dash rhythm of long, winding anecdotes punctuated by short sequences of clean, tight punch lines.”

What’s a population that doesn’t fare so well? Anti-vaxxers, be warned.

One, on the other hand, likely to be delighted? Those who identify on the autism spectrum. Gadsby was diagnosed relatively recently, in 2016.

Although Douglas is the name of her dog, by the way, Gadsby points out (at length) that it’s also the name of an interesting anatomical part. Ali Goldstein, Indiewire: “The special takes its title from a hilarious story about Gadsby unloading a host of information about the female reproductive anatomy on an unsuspecting — but not undeserving — overly friendly man at the dog park. She pivots from gently ribbing herself for failing to properly read this social interaction to proudly claiming her way of seeing the world as the beautiful and unique gift that it is.”

As Hannah Gadsby tells Terry Gross, NPR, she’s always known she doesn’t “process [things] in the same way as a neurotypical person”: “My entire life I’ve made people laugh, and I’ve not always meant to. Often I don’t. Yesterday, I was walking my dogs and a couple stopped me from a safe distance and asked me, ‘Oh! What kind of dogs are they?’ And I said, ‘They’re Lagottos.’ And they said, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of that.’ And I said, ‘Neither have they.’ And it was the truth, and I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

Writing in Psychology Today Erin Bulluss, PhD, and Abby Sesterka express their high regard for Gadsby’s openness in relating “both the challenges and strengths that come with being autistic”:

She describes the difficulties of her pre-diagnosis experience of cognitive dissonance and lacking an understanding of herself. In the way that women across the world found validation in Nanette, we embraced Douglas because it offered an authentic narrative about the autistic experience like nothing we had seen before. It was empowering, validating, affirming. Finally, there was someone in the global spotlight talking from lived experience about being an autistic woman…

To see an autistic woman on the world stage, speaking honestly and openly about the autistic experience, is unprecedented. Gadsby is the authentic, articulate autistic voice that we have yearned for, and that the world needs to hear. We hope that autistic women can draw strength from Gadsby’s courage; to raise our collective voice from a whisper to a roar.

Jul 05

Hannah Gadsby: “Nanette”(Serious Comedy)

Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who is already in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. Hannah Gadsby, “Nanette” (Netflix special)

I and many others have only recently become familiar with Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby via her new Netflix special Nanette,” an atypical show featuring the expected stand-up humor mixed with some unexpected not-so-funny messaging—with a purpose.

I rarely watch comedians’ specials. I just don’t find them “special” enough. This one is.

Hannah Gadsby is a lesbian, a gender-bender, a self-admitted larger type of person, an experienced laugh-getter—and she’s also had some terrible stuff happen to her. In “Nanette” she risks putting this hard stuff out there and winds up finding that audiences can relate.

I agree with Linda Holmes, NPR, who concluded, “Suffice it to say there is a reason why people are so urgently telling the people they know to watch it.” Start with the trailer:

More from Holmes:

Gadsby begins with a riff on what it was like, as a kid growing up in Tasmania, when she ‘found out [she] was a little bit lesbian.’ The general attitude, she says, was that gay people were not welcome: ‘You should just get yourself a one-way ticket to the mainland, and don’t come back,’ she summarizes…

…What, exactly, is funny about feeling unwelcome in your own country because of who you are? What, as she continues in another anecdote, is funny about being angrily confronted by a man who believed she was another man hitting on his girlfriend? The humor is in the way she tells it; the humor is her choice. She is making the decision to make it comedy. She could make another choice instead.

And so she does. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic: “Nanette is the kind of work that leaves you shaken. Not because it’s really funny (it really is), or because it’s equally heartbreaking, but because it finds a fusion of those two modes that’s incandescent. It feels not coincidental that some of the most beautiful, innovative works of art of late have similarly balanced light and dark. In this moment, where news feeds oscillate back and forth between dog memes and human-rights atrocities, we’re used to shifting moods in a heartbeat. In Nanette, Gadsby shows how full of power and potential the space in between can be.”

What’s it been like for Gadsby to have continually addressed stories “about homophobia, assault, and other traumatic experiences” on her extensive tour, Jackson McHenry, Vulture, asked the comedian.

I am basically reliving trauma, quite significant trauma, every night. I’ve had psychiatrists and psychologists reach out to me over the course of the 18 months I’ve been touring, saying ‘Nobody’s done this, we don’t know what you’re possibly doing to yourself.’ It’s like an extreme form of CBT, or neurobiological rewiring, or something like that. It’s never easy to perform. It has not gotten easier on the stage. I’ve really upset audiences, and I can feel that. That affects me in turn…

But it has, over the course, gotten easier for me to leave it there. In the first 12 months, I was going home and, you know, rocking myself to sleep. I felt very vulnerable, I felt very unsafe. It felt like a risk every time I stood onstage. That part has gotten easier, and that comes from, just basically, audiences caring. I have had a less and less hostile audience.

Connecting with others, she adds, has been helpful. “I will not allow my story to be destroyed,” she tells her “Nanette” audience. “What I would have done to have heard a story like mine … to have felt less alone.”