How do you define Hannah Gadsby’s comedy? It’s a question that has reared its head again and again since she hit international fame with Nanette, her 18-month tour and Netflix special, that deconstructed the building blocks of comedy to tackle the roots of trauma underneath. Is it theatre? Is it a monologue? Is it a glorified TED-talk? After watching Gadsby’s second Netflix comedy special, Douglas, you marvel that it may be all or none of these things – but it is definitely a magic trick.
Gadsby tackles her sudden fame head on, asking the audience who was here because they saw Nanette, and responding with “What on Earth are you expecting?! Sorry, fresh out of trauma!”
Slowly the plan for the evening takes shape. Like the best magic tricks, Gadsby tells you exactly what she is going to spend the next hour doing (in a spoiler laden intro) before seemingly pulling it off against your expectations. She even deconstructs the layers of laughter you’ll be having later on like a form of comedic prophecy.
The show (Douglas, named after her dog/best friend – and coincidentally synonymous with the label of a certain area of the female anatomy) takes aim at a wide field of topics, all weaving through each other. From some “gentle, good-natured needling of the patriarchy”, her autism, anti-vaxxers, golf, paleo diets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and classic art (her degree in Art History really pays off), Gadsby takes the audience down the rabbit hole of her brain. There’s a blend of easy laughs and the sharper moments that take the air out of the room, which is exactly what the post-Nanette audience wants.
Gadsby’s comedy seems perfectly at home in a post-Woke world. You spend an hour or so laughing, yes, but it’s not inconsequential laughter. This isn’t mindless distraction. It’s humour with a serving of commentary. You get to feel good, and feel good about yourself at the same time.
But “is it comedy”? Fuck it. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck. And Gadsby had the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, where this special was filmed, in tears of laughter even as she gave them a few slaps along with the tickles.
“I no longer believe that I am falling short of expectations,” she says. “I believe it is those expectations that are falling short of my humanity.”
By Chad Armstrong
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas is now on Netflix.