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Hannah Gadsby’s comedy show Nanette can be healing for Indian women who have always faced sexism, and scarred by it. A must watch.
Who doesn’t love a good laugh? And nowadays with comedy shows being the rage – live or online, one has easy access to these mood elevators!
And just like anyone who loves these, I too have seen such shows more than I can recall – right from the time when stand-up comedy was emerging in the country with young adults, and now millennials. And as the rage picked up, those like me didn’t stick only to the Indian comics but also learnt of many such artists around the world.
Around last month I heard of Hannah Gadsby. A comic who has been doing this for the last decade now got major viewership with her one show – Nanette.
Spoilers ahead – however totally worth it!
Her show released 3 months back on June 19th, and has been making waves since (currently airing on Netflix). I read the reviews and figured that it would be a laugh riot for sure.
I was somewhat wrong. Because what played out in the 1 hour and 9 minute set was beyond anything I had expected from this set. I was right about it being funny. That’s for sure. But what this women did was display her authentic self in a way that me cry not once, but twice through the video. A reaction you do not expect to have during a comedy show.
Within 10 minutes I was captivated by this woman’s face! Her expressions when she narrated anecdotes and incidents made her face light up. But it was more than that. Her WORDS. The words she spoke during the 70 minutes made this stand up literally stand out!
She opens her set by talking about growing up in Tasmania, and how homosexuality was a crime there till 1997. She further highlighted the struggle of coming to terms with her sexual orientation, and how the Mardi Gras was the first introduction to “her people”.
She goes on to speak on various issues based on her life experiences and opinions thus formed –
She talks of why it is that the colour pink is considered feminine and blue masculine. “If anything blue is a feminine colour as it is full of contradictions. A blue print is a plan but if something happens which is not on the plan where did it come from – out of the blue!”
“If you’re sad or upset, you’re feeling blue. But then when we talk of optimism – ‘look at the blue skies ahead!”
“So why is it that we make so much of a hype around gender with all this pink / blue nonsense? Why not give them a few years to decide for themselves which gender they want to be or feel they are?”
“I don’t identify as transgender. But I’m clearly gender not-normal. I don’t think even lesbian is the right identity for me. I really don’t. I might as well come out now. I identify as tired. I’m just tired.”
She then went on to speak about how she gets mistaken for a man many times, owing to her way of dressing and presenting herself to the world. She goes on to smartly mention that she wouldn’t want to be a straight white man. “Not if you paid me”, she says.
And then goes on to say that of course “the pay would be substantially better as a man!” Addressing an issue that so many of us as women face on a global level and need more voices for.
And of course her attire brings with it nasty comments like, “If you hate men so much then why the hell do you dress like one?”
“Cause you need a good role model right now”, she retorts!
She describes an incident with a man who chose to give his unsolicited opinion, and who at the end of the ‘conversation’ tells her, “No need to be so sensitive”.
How many of us have heard this? Pretty much all women. Because the moment we choose to express how we feel it’s uncomfortable for others aka men.
Isn’t telling someone to not be sensitive, actually really insensitive? Hannah makes a major point here – “When someone says stop being so sensitive, I don’t get it. Why is insensitivity something to strive for? I happen to know that sensitivity is my strength. It’s helped me to navigate a difficult path in life.”
Hannah went on to share what her mother once told her, which highlights the struggle faced by parents of those who identify as queer. Her mother’s insight when she came out to her, “The thing I regret is that I raised you as if you were straight. I didn’t know any different.”
And that’s when Hannah says she realised that her mother had evolved, however she herself hadn’t. How she had turned her trauma into telling a joke, rather than sharing her story. But that didn’t help her heal.
Because the truth of the matter is “Punch lines need trauma because punch lines need tension – and tension feeds drama.”
Gadsby shared that she hadn’t come out to her grandmother last year because “I’m still ashamed of who I am”.
70% percent of the people who had raised her while in Tasmania believed that homosexuality was a sin, a criminal act. By the time she identified herself as gay she says, “It was too late – I already identified as homophobic, and you do not just get to switch a flick on that”.
Probably one of my best learnings from this show – as I wondered: in a country like India where we are always so concerned about society, about how people think, and trying not to rock the boat when it comes to the opinion of the masses (majority) – how many people might have struggled with who they are? Their authentic self?
We perhaps make it so difficult on people, because we not only raise them in a ‘straight’ world with concepts that are ‘straight’ and emphasise so much on anything else being ‘different’ or ‘wrong’, that SELF LOVE is difficult to internalise. Strangely self-loathing is easier taught than loving oneself.
She highlighted how the USA was obsessed with ‘reputation’. “Reputation is more important than anything else including humanity.” She highlighted how celebrities are put on a pedestal with regards to reputation – case in point Donald Trump, Pablo Picasso, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby etc.
So much of this relates to Indian society! How we disregard women and children to save the so called dignity and reputation of men, even in the face of atrocities and blatant sexism or misogyny! We don’t care about their humanity or the lack of it. It is more important to help “uphold their reputation / honour and image”.
As the set went from humorous to serious, and as it was evident that Hannah was clearly angry, it wasn’t something she was unaware of. In fact she addressed her reaction while speaking of these issues and pointed out a harsh truth – “I’m meant to be doing self-deprecating humour. People feel safer when men do the angry comedy. When I do it, I’m a miserable lesbian, ruining all the fun and the banter.”
What she said next was bone chilling. She had narrated a story at the beginning of the set about how a young man had almost beaten her up because he thought she was hitting on his girlfriend (while using homophobic slurs). He thought she was a guy, and when his girlfriend stepped in and said “Stop it! She’s a girl”, he backed off apologising, and said “I don’t hit women”.
She routed back to the story to tell us how it ended. She said that she would usually narrate that part of the story as she knew it would evoke a laugh from the audience. She couldn’t tell it as it actually happened. That the man realised his mistake and came back and said – “Oh no, I get it. You’re a lady faggot. I’m allowed to beat the shit out of you – AND HE DID!”
She said he never stopped him, never reported this to the police or took herself to the hospital – “But I should have. But I thought that was all I was worth. And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate. And that was not homophobia – it was gendered. I am not feminine and that is a punishable offence.”
There couldn’t be a better time to shed light on these issues while we as a country celebrate the Section 377 verdict – and how as Hannah said – humanity must matter more than mere reputation. High time we let people be who they are and not soak them in shame or guilt for being not different – but just THEMSELVES.
“I’m not a man-hater – but I am afraid of men. If I’m the only woman in a room full of men, I am afraid. And if you think that’s unusual, you’re not speaking to the women in your life. I wonder how a man would feel if they’d lived my life.” Hannah talks of how it was a man who abused her as a child, a man who beat her up at 17, two men who raped her when she was barely in her twenties – and she asks “Why was it okay to pick me off the pack like that and do that to me?”
She leaves you thinking and feeling so many emotions all at once as she signs off with this –
“What I would have done to have heard a story like mine. Not for blame, reputation, money or power. But to feel less alone.”
“Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure.”
“There is no way anyone would dare test their strength out on me, because you all know there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”
Image source: stills from Parched & Nanette
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