Melbourne comedian Hannah Gadsby takes on Taylor Swift in her latest show
Dogmatic may be as much about Hannah Gadsby as previous Hannah Gadsby shows (her stand-up shtick is personal excavation), but it is equally – improbably – about Taylor Swift and her 1989 album and tour. Improbably, because there’s really not much Hannah and Taylor have in common, beyond being white women who identify as feminists. As Gadsby reminds us repeatedly: one is a stick-thin blonde with Grammys and millions, the other a large-thighed lesbian comedian from Tasmania.
But Gadsby’s focus on Swift is not just a gimmick or a punch line (although it is frequently both – Gadsby even restructures her typical show format into pop-song-short segments). It’s political, and even personal: Swift has been successfully peddling a kind of feminist-lite positivism to millions of young girls for more than half a decade now, and Gadbsy takes exception to this. She takes exception to Swift’s trite lyrics, uninspired metaphors, and canned sentiment; she takes particular exception to Taylor’s self-generated mythology of ‘bullied underdog made good’, her opportunistic embrace of feminism, and her empty statements on body positivity. And then there’s those homophobic lyrics.
Gadsby talks about growing up in small town Tasmania where being queer was excruciatingly isolating; she talks about coming out to her mother at 21 (“Don’t say that – what if I told you I was a murderer?” is her mum’s response), and being gay-bashed at 24. And it’s not just about her: Gadsby has written eloquently about the structural violence experienced by queer people in Australia.
She’s asking – and she’s making us ask – what does Taylor Swift offer to anyone experiencing actual suffering? How is she using her profile and influence to meaningfully contribute to the feminist or even humanist cause? No matter what you think of the pop star’s music, her brand seems to be fair game. All Gadsby is doing is skewering the idea that she should be the major role model for young women that she has clearly become.
Gadsby claims to have landed on the idea for this show after a review of her previous show ran alongside the numbers for Lifeline and Beyond Blue. Ostensibly, she offers us, at the outset, a new-improved version of the Hannah Gadsby show, with “no woe”. That she fails – gleefully – is the point. It might get lost in the laughs, but there’s bigger game afoot for Gadsby: a whole industry devoted to selling you happiness.
Does all this make for a funny show? Painfully – in both senses. Woven through the personal and the political, there’s her lurch from deadpan self-deprecation to soap box-ready rants; anecdotes (and photos) of her dog Doug; a no-holds-barred impression of a manic-depressive Chihuahua and a bit of non-committal dancing, to raise the physical comedy stakes; and a perfectly executed poo/vomit joke.
Someone give this woman a Barry Award already.