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Hannah Gadsby and her revolutionary Nanette is re-writing the very history of comedy, says Anushree. Go ahead and get your hands on it. Somehow.
You see her smiling warmly, opening the door of her heart to us all, to her two little babies, Douglas and Jasper trying to grab her attention while she makes her (like she says and I quote) THE most favourite sound in the world – a teacup finding its place on the saucer.
She then heads out to face an audience that has the Sydney Opera House packed to the hilt. She is supposed to do an hour of laughs. What she does instead is change the world of comedy, probably forever! Hannah Gadsby chokes us and makes us laugh all at the same time, not once losing her tremendous power of articulation as she churns out punch after punch while her audience helplessly grapples with the emotions she is releasing inside them.
The first fifteen minutes into the show, and it is clear already that this will not be an ordinary comedy stand-up. This is going to be revolutionary. The history of comedy is being re-written.
Through the hour, Hannah Gadsby dissects comedy to its bare minimum. She speaks about stories and jokes. She speaks about self-deprecating humour and how it helped her shut everything else about her up but also how, because of it, she still doesn’t find herself comfortable in her own skin. She tells us about her coming out story, about the years that went by, about the shame she still experiences about her own life, about internalised homophobia that homosexuals experience because the world hasn’t given them an alternative. She speaks about the double poison of being a gay AND an introvert.
Through what she says, we experience the pressure we gender-normals put on our queer community. And believe me, it is suffocating. It should not come as a shock that many queer little ones find it easier to kill themselves than face the world that throttles them with its expectations of the mythical ‘normal’. They exist in the margins, oppressed and beaten, and yet we burden them with educating us and making us aware. The burden is ours, of the oppressors, of opening our minds and hearts and educating ourselves.
And while Hannah says all this, sometimes her voice quivers, sometimes she tends to laugh by herself, allowing the audience to get their share of laughs. By the end, however, she almost screams, her rage palpable, beating in the hearts of the people in the audience, for Hannah Gadsby rips apart everything about human beings and their ‘fear’ of what they perceive as ‘others’.
As Hannah goes on to dissect the laughter and its preceding tension, she also deals, blow by blow, with other very serious topics like the horrible notion that in order to create high art, an artist must suffer (“Suffering is the burden of creativity”) by throwing references to Van Gogh and his Sunflowers, about the misogyny of men in powerful positions by talking about the Picassos and the Weinsteins and the Trumps of the world, about classifying little babies into binaries from day dot, about sensitivity and about stories that need to be told in order for the world to see all the perspectives.
“Comedy is more used to throwaway joke about priests being pedophiles and Trump grabbing pussy. I don’t have time for that shit. Do you know who used to be an easy punchline? Monica Lewinsky. Maybe, 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.”
“Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference and you learn nothing”
Hannah focusses on acceptance. She makes us aware with a jolt about the fences and the barbed wires that we have created simply because of our own biases. Instead of working together as a species, we squint and find out differences and by constantly emphasizing on them, we create a norm, a stereotype. And anyone who doesn’t abide by it, is marginalized.
Hannah holds accountable the topmost species in the human sexist oppression ladder – the straight white men, the cisgender, heterosexual white men, and she asks some very difficult questions to them. She speaks about her abuse, her trauma, her angst and anxiety as a different child and despite the blood boiling inside her, she manages to extract a comic punch here and there and release the tension. Hannah brings to the fore intelligent humour and trashes “easy punchlines”.
But she doesn’t do it till the end. After a point, she declares that she won’t help the audience release its tension anymore. Because this is her story. Because this is how we will hold ourselves accountable for the world that we have built, where we have shamelessly excluded an entire community of our people, and laughed and jeered and made jokes out of them just because laughing at what we perceive as ‘abnormal’ is so easy, and we do not want to take the effort to create better humour, and what is difficult to understand is that ‘abnormal’ is a load of bullshit.
If you haven’t watched these 70 powerful minutes, do yourself a favour, get on to Netflix and watch it. If you don’t have Netflix, ask around and get someone to help you with their access just for this one show. If you are going to watch just one show in your entire life, let this be the one and no, I am not exaggerating. Thank me later.
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