It’s two years since our Hannah Gadsby thought she was leaving comedy with her show Nanette. That didn’t work. She’s now living in LA, has a stylist, and has been seen by millions on Netflix. She’s come home to Melbourne to premiere her new show, Douglas. It’s sold out. In a venue with 2,466 seats.
Douglas is the epilogue to Nanette, written in its aftermath. It’s an easier show to experience but it’s still as blistering. She explains how a decade of doing comedy “by the rules” gave her success but became so restricting that Nanette was inevitable. She’s still getting told that what she does isn’t comedy. Belittle away little men (if you've read the comments, you know one gender dominates); no one else cares.
Douglas is about how words and names are used to belittle and dismiss. Douglas is also one of Hannah’s gorgeous and loved dogs. He was named because of a paperwork mistake and he’s a far better soul than the small-hearted country-town barista, Nanette, who was immortalised in a show that wasn’t about her.
The walk with Douglas draws a remarkable pattern and map though a suburban dog park, being fitted for custom-made suit for the Emmys (don’t go on a diet, get a tailor!), a laser-pointer look at Renaissance art, a doctor’s office and a moment when a word was unforgivable.
Words and names have so much intentional and unintentional power. “It’s not comedy” is trying to kick Nanette in the back of the knee. Doctors dismiss women as “hormonal” or “depressed” instead of actually finding out what’s wrong. And too many parts of human bodies have been named by men – we’re all going to be calling something a “Karen’s handful” now.
Hannah continues the discussion started in Nanette about using negative words to describe ourselves and the ugly ideas hidden in expectations of beauty. There’s the self-esteem plummet of a casual fat comment or looking at an old photo grieving a beauty you didn’t see.
I won’t write the unforgivable word that was used against Hannah, but it was connected to another word that helped lead to Nanette and explain to her how she experienced the world: autism. There’s a misunderstood word with too much negative power. And it’s time to continue the push to understand that neurodiversity is just that; perceiving and processing the world in different ways.
Nannette’s given Hannah the platform, support and love, from millions of strangers, to be vulnerable and “take one for the team”. Or take another one for the team; she’s taken a lot of them over the years. And every one she takes makes differences that she may never know about.
Douglas will create change and help people, especially undiagnosed women, to see that they may not have the right words to describe how they experience life; it’s describing that experience to those who still say or think the words that belittle and damage.
So, Hannah doesn’t care what you call her work and asks us to stop looking for a name and ask how it feels.
I still remember feeling broken after Nanette. But I’ve heard about and had so many conversations about it since that the broken is now a memory. It also made me change the words I used about myself and others.
So, I’m cool sticking with using “comedy”. After all, she still makes me laugh in ways that hurt and there’s the old saying that “comedy is just telling the truth”. Use whatever word works for you, but let’s all “Hannah-up” our language and use more words that empower and uplift.
This is a review of Hannah Gadsby's Melbourne International Comedy Festival season. She's returning with two encore shows at the Palais Theatre on December 7.