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Why Hannah Gadsby is quitting stand-up: ‘Nanette’ review

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After ten successful years, Hannah Gadsby is retiring from stand-up comedy. She might be just 39, and at the peak of her career, but Gadsby has had enough of trying to draw together rooms full of people in simultaneous laughter, and has decided to make Nanette her swansong.

It’s an incredible high note to go out on: a fast-evolving hour of stand-up, constantly switching between hysterically funny and heart-wrenching. Gadsby takes on everything from the way the male gaze has shaped the history of art (and why Picasso was a bit of a dick — she should know, she’s got an art history degree to back up her claims), to both small and large acts of gendered violence.

Like Zoe Coombs Marr’s Trigger Warning before it, the show won Melbourne Comedy Festival’s Barry Award for the way it challenges the rules of stand-up in an effort to expose and tackle a patriarchal mindset. They’re wildly different shows, but both come from women who want to do much more than make you laugh.


Gadsby knows the world is a very dark place for certain people who are not in positions of social power, and it seems to be getting even darker, day by day. The world might need laughter to get through, but we more urgently need somebody like Gadsby to jump-start our compassion.

I occasionally wished Gadsby would bring a few of her arguments completely full-circle and make them totally watertight. I don’t want any audience to be able to poke any holes in the truths she serves up. But this isn’t an essay — it’s a stand-up show, driven by a great depth of emotion.

Gadsby grew up in Tasmania during a decade-long debate on whether homosexuality should be decriminalised. The law was eventually changed in 1997. Just 20 years ago.

To say that the vigorous and ugly public discourse of the time took a toll on a young Gadsby’s sense of self-worth would be putting it mildly.

Over the last few years, Gadsby has been observing the same-sex marriage debate and has noticed a familiar argument: “Think of the children”. Well, Gadsby can’t stop thinking of the children and the young people whose lives are made significantly more difficult by ugly and divisive debates over their legal rights.

Early on in Nanette, Gadsby returns to a story that she told in her first ever stand-up show: when she came out to her mother as a lesbian, she was met with the response, “I wish you hadn’t told me … How would you feel if I told you I was a murderer?”

That story is both funny and horrible, and Gadsby has told it over and over again. But this time, she doesn’t just want to laugh it off.

It’s always said that laughter is the best medicine, but after a decade of using her wit and experience to make people laugh, Gadsby isn’t so sure. She says that she developed her quick wit and self-deprecating style as a kind of coping mechanism. Her presence, as a woman who doesn’t fit too neatly into the “woman” box, has long caused tension in certain social situations. She’s learnt to break that tension by bringing levity to a situation.

And then somewhere along the way, she started opening up and using her own trauma in similar ways.

People who have never had to reveal their sexuality or gender identity to a parent might not understand just how traumatic a difficult coming out process can be. And they might not understand that millions of people around the world have had a story similar to Gadsby’s, if not much worse.

In that moment, a person is in an extraordinarily vulnerable place, hoping that they’ll retain the love and approval of a person to whom they’re revealing a part of themselves. Anything less than an entirely positive response could be hugely upsetting. To have that part of yourself equated with murder? That’s traumatic.

Gadsby is done with brushing that kind of avoidable trauma aside.

Most queer people, women, people of ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, have at some point attempted to laugh off the times they’ve been denigrated, rejected, abused, or treated as “less than”. Gadsby is saying enough is enough.

We can laugh, but we must also let the full weight of those horrific experiences land, and we must be allowed to speak on them and deal with these issues without timidity.

Gadsby’s voice will be sorely missed from the world of stand-up. But whatever world she chooses to tackle next will be all the richer for her intelligence, compassion and uniqueness.

[box]Ben Neutze saw Nanette on April 28 at the Spiegeltent, Wollongong.


Nanette has no further Australian dates scheduled at this point. Keep an eye out for future dates at[/box]

9 responses to “Why Hannah Gadsby is quitting stand-up: ‘Nanette’ review

    1. Agree with Ross. Hannah’s story and experiences are tragic and heartbreaking. But expecting a comedy and instead being confronted with a tragedy is not what I would consider a good evening.

  1. “Her presence, as a woman who doesn’t fit too neatly into the “woman” box, has long caused tension in certain social situations.”

    Her version of ‘woman’ is as woman as anyone else’s.

  2. Love your work Hannah. You ALWAYS make me laugh. I am certain that your creativity energy and intelligence will continue to shine a light on dark corners.

  3. hannah i hope you will continue to write and explore other art forms. ‘Oz’ was so insightful and witty. you are just beginning your career!
    chris c

  4. As we reshuffle our emotions, being left jolted by Hannah’s articulate show.
    My partner and i were spoilt by your passion, fire, and energy.
    This show should be bound for every major city globally. What a profound difference a small town girl could make on the international stage.
    Thank you Hannah not for the laughs as good as they are yet your brave honesty in making this round vll a better place.
    Let this be known you are a beautiful girl inside and out. Never think other wise.
    You some of flourishing tonight at the Playhouse you shone so bright. All that know you would be so proud.
    Brave to share your vulnerable self.
    Wishing you love and happiness in all you do.
    Many Thanks
    John & Mark

  5. I saw Hannah perform Nanette tonight and got a bit bored at times. I prefer American comedians like Chris D’Elia and Natasha Leggero. This felt more like a one woman show rather than a traditional stand up act. And at times, like a lecture or public service announcement. I don’t know why I disliked it… Everyone else seemed to love it!! I think if the show had been a movie it would’ve been more evocative for me. She has experienced terrible abuse, and I am an empathic person, but for some reason her show didn’t make me feel anything about what she was talking about. I am going to ask my therapist about this in case it means I am a sociopath or something lol.

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