Nanette review: Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special is a norm-breaking, eye-opening experience

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Jun,26 2018 16:25:01 IST

Let’s get a couple of things straight, right at the outset. In Australian stand-up comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s hour long Netflix comedy special titled Nanette, there are very few laughs. And yet, I strongly recommend that you watch it for what is essentially a norm-breaking, life-altering, eye-opening experience.

What is the job of a comic, after all? They make you laugh. But Hannah Gadsby is too tired of trying to make you laugh. She, in her own words, is done with comedy, and announces that she is quitting it. Instead, she uses the platform to raise some serious questions about issues, which have been used as vehicles for comedy over the years. Gadsby admits that she has also made a career out of self-deprecating humour. But now, she asserts, she's had enough of it. She's putting a stop to it all by pulling the plug on her own brand of humour.

Hannah Gadsby in a still from her Netflix special 'Nanette'

During the course of her show, she talked about topics such as homophobia, sexual abuse, bad parenting, rape, the dominance of male perspective in art and how easy it is to get away with crimes against women – especially if one is a celebrity. Ripping through the pin-drop silence at the Sydney Opera House, Gadsby lashed out – again and yet again – at male privilege, systematically presenting facts that cannot be denied by anyone, male or female.

Through her unflinchingly dry and sarcastic humour, Gadsby tears apart our core understanding of several incidents – the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, for instance. "Maybe" – as Gadsby comments on the incident – "if comedians had done their job properly and made fun of the man who abused his power, then perhaps we might have had a middle-aged woman with an appropriate amount of experience in the White House, instead of, as we do, a man who openly admitted to sexually assaulting vulnerable young women because he could."

Calling the ‘tension’ in the room as uncomfortable and yet necessary, Gadsby announced unapologetically that she would do nothing to ease it, and instead lay her soul bare on a very public stage, much to the appreciation of hundreds of supporters who had come in expecting an evening of laughter but who went home with deeply affecting thoughts instead.

Talking about some of her most personal and gut-wrenchingly traumatic experiences with seething anger, Gadsby asks why is it that society is so hell bent on compartmentalising humans as early as the moment they are born. Why – she asks – would we want a child to be ‘soaked in shame’ simply because they don’t fit in, and give the right to hate and abuse to another, who could have been taught love and kindness with a little bit of effort?

Now, let’s admit it; these are questions we seldom stop to think about or ask ourselves. Gadsby’s stand-up special is filled with these profound questions. That she sprinkles occasional doses of humour over them is only a matter of choice, because, as she herself admits – ‘I am angry, but I have no right to spread my anger’.

One of the most beautiful sets of her show is the part where she slices through the male gaze in modern art, savagely rubbishing an artist like Pablo Picasso’s claim to fame. Without any hesitation at all, she calls out Picasso’s misogyny, and the irony of the man’s use of multiple perspectives in his art, when his own perspective was so narrow, one-note and chauvinistic.

But perhaps the most tragic and shocking part of Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up comedy special is the title of her show. As one wonders why her show is called ‘Nanette’, Gadsby jokes about it right at the beginning, but when she connects it back with a full explanation by the end of the show, it is difficult not to feel her grief and her fury.

Great things often come in the shape and form of challenges. Gadsby’s Nanette takes the very notion of comedy and turns it around on its head. It's an important, relevant and remarkable show, and an absolute must-watch. This is not stand-up comedy. This is 'standing up'.

Nanette is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 16:25 PM