Douglas review: Hannah Gadsby's Nanette follow-up poses acrid social commentary without compromising on the laughs
Not a one to mince her words, Hannah Gadsby even provides a conclusive insight into what Douglas stands for — an unabashed portrayal of her inner weathering
After Hannah Gadsby’s jagged, and almost heady, mix of social commentary and lacerating wit in the 2018 Netflix special Nanette, Douglas comes in as a worthy sequel. Like all good comedy, the one-hour special delves deep into the comedienne’s brain, finely dissecting each thought, while still nudging the audience into a certain direction.
Gadsby conducts her comedic orchestra very smoothly, carefully laying out a blueprint for her audience to follow, right at the beginning of her set. The 15-minute roadmap includes “a lecture,” “the joke section," “a gentle and very good-natured needling of the patriarchy,” finally to end with a “very funny joke on Louis CK.”
Whether the magician’s trick works is a question for later, but Gadsby is well aware of the performance pressure in Douglas. Throughout the set, she references to Nanette, openly confessing that it garnered her both admirers and cynics in flocks. The self-reflective piece, which dealt with very personal experiences, deconstructed the format of ‘comedy’ (a conscious effort), where Gadsby purposefully kept the laughs on hold to launch (justifiable) impassioned tirades against societal wrongs.
Self-aware to the hilt, Gadsby admits her “difficult second album” will always get eclipsed by the landslide victory of Nanette. “If you’re here because of Nanette… why?” she asks a bewildered Los Angeles audience. “What the f**k are you expecting from this show? Because, I’m sorry, if it’s more trauma, I am fresh out. Had I known how wildly popular trauma was going to be in the context of comedy, I might have budgeted my sh*t a bit better.”
Douglas sees a Gadsby more celebratory of her oddities, more comfortable in her mind that takes her to “places that nobody else lives in," more acknowledging of her “puffer-fish moments” (a reference to helpless instances of impotent rage that leave her sullen), and definitely happier about her decision to punch up to privilege and misogyny.
So with a skip in her step and sparkle in her eye, Gadsby sets in motion a joke-dense set that packs a sucker-punch, covering a wide range of the spectrum, from unsettling conversations at dog parks about the Pouch of Douglas (a sack located between the rectum and the uterus in the female reproductive system, that she jokingly says is also the inspiration behind the title of the Special), high Renaissance art to the inappropriately named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
What follows is a section of fast-paced, staccato landing of one joke after the other, while she still manages to narrate a deeply personal story about her recently-diagnosed autism, but never letting the sense of sympathy seep in through the walls of her entertainment — “I’m not here to collect your pity,” Gadsby says. “I’m here to disrupt your confidence.”
Gadsby is far more unapologetic this time around, especially with regards to what she chooses to take an axe to, with her eviscerating humour. She admits her rant against the anti-vaxx movement may seem peculiar to the viewers — “Well, I’ve toured the show around the world, and I can report that no audience anywhere has known how to collectively respond to just the mention of the movement.” She revels in making her audience uncomfortable but never to the point of condescension.
Gadsby dedicates considerable time on her number-one detractor — male, white supremacists who flourish within the lap of entitlement. Toxic masculinity provides momentum to the well-oiled machinery of Douglas. Whether it is men naming most things in the world (“could you ever imagine saying 'balls' if there'd be a woman on the panel?”) or women getting accused of having the “resting b*tch face” (“only women have it. Men simply have very important thoughts you’d best not interrupt them having”), Gadsby’s keen wisecracks earn instant merit. However, if anyone could complain of being tired of hearing about the glaring inequality between the genders, you can almost hear Gadsby retorting that she is tired of having to face it every day.
As expected, there is much to take away from the Netflix special. Gadsby spins a narrative that encourages critical minds but not at the cost of self-harm. She champions her own kind — the marginalised — but never demands social subsidies to make their life easier.
Not a one to mince her words, Gadsby even provides a conclusive insight into what Douglas stands for — an unabashed portrayal of her inner weathering — that soars to a happy place despite the angry bouts, surrounding negativity and virtual trolls, essentially because “if the world is right, and I’m right in it, I can find my funny zip, and my thinking expands. Because there is beauty in the way that I think.”
Douglas is streaming on Netflix.
(All images from Netflix)
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