How Hannah Gadsby Broke Comedy
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In 2018, after over a decade of successful stand-up shows in Australia, the comedian Hannah Gadsby said on stage: “I think I have to quit comedy. I know it’s probably not the forum to make such an announcement, is it? In the middle of a comedy show. But I have been questioning this whole comedy thing. I don’t feel very comfortable in it anymore.” She explained that, like many other comedians, she had built her career out of self-deprecating humour, but she no longer wanted to put herself down to make people laugh.
Thus, in her Netflix special Nanette, Gadsby deconstructed standard comedy and told her true story. The dark story about her childhood and adolescence in conservative Tasmania, her struggles, the abuse she has experienced, and even rape. While there were still some jokes and witty remarks scattered over, the overall idea was to share, heal, and finally make herself heard. Gadsby wasn’t joking when she said that she wanted to quit comedy. That was her raw farewell to the comedy scene… Or so she thought.
To the surprise of its author, Nanette caught global attention. However, opinions were split. Some said that this stand-up special is anything but comedy. The comedian Dave Chappelle went as far as saying that he is willing to meet his critics only if they “admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.” Contrary to this, others believe that Nanette is the future of comedy, in which people release tension by sharing trauma and exercising empathy, rather than making fun of someone.
The unexpected fame and critical acclaim made Gadsby reevaluate comedy and continue her unique path in the industry. In 2020, she made another Netflix special, Douglas, named after her dog. In the show, Gadsby yet again mixed comedy with tragedy, as she talked about patriarchy, visiting doctors and being diagnosed with autism. In March 2022, she released her memoirs titled “Ten Steps to Nanette”. The book became an instant bestseller.