Hannah Gadsby has broken the comedy industry in a desperately needed and thunderously applauded way.
By making cruel cultural truths consumable without compromising an ounce of integrity.
In a culture that demands to be “entertained” and which consumes in a frenzied fashion, this is a huge win. Most especially because the content consumed is SOUL FOOD.
I was thrilled and mesmerized as I watched (and continue to re-watch) Hannah Gadsby’s riveting comedy special called Nanette, released on Netflix on June 19th.
A snippet of the Twitterverse response to the show:
Hannah delivers deep insights into gender, homophobia, being an “incorrect” female, and art history (of the european variety, which needs to be noted because the term “art history” assumes and implies the idea that the ONLY art that matters/that is the best, is european art (and by men – which Hannah hilariously and incisively explains)).
Aja Romano summarizes the show in this Vox article:
Gadsby’s performance in Nanette is basically a three-part act of radical speech built around her physical presence: She confronts us with the reality of her physical identity; she asserts her own humanity; and she challenges the audience to interrogate its discomfort with that assertion.
Gadsby understands all too well that the point at which comedy breaks down is the point at which its abstract ideas have to contend with physical reality — with the identities and lived experiences of real people.
It is precisely in this understanding of comedy’s break down that Gadsby’s power shines through – she uses the very ‘rules’ of comedy to shed light on its radical hypocrisies when it comes to males and females – in the arts, in comedy, and in life in general. It’s funny because it’s true. Including a bit about lesbian humor (or lack thereof). 😉
Hannah Gadsby’s content and delivery is a HUGE act of courage and strength given how difficult and DANGEROUS it is for people who are on the margins of society to ‘put themselves out there’ due to being mis/judged and grossly misunderstood and mis-perceived.
Navigating the world as “different” is a breeding ground for inner anguish and self-contempt, especially when one is “sensitive” – which really means that one’s environment is INsensitive/not sensitive ENOUGH. It is only natural for “sensitive” people to internalize all that outer judgment/fear/hatred – how else does one take other peoples’ non-acceptance/judgment/fear and tension of them? To “just ignore it” is to go against human nature. The effects of internalizing hate are devastating. As Hannah shares in her show:
The only thing I knew how to do was to be invisible and hate myself.
It took me another 10 years to understand I was allowed to take up space in the world.
It is therefore amazing and inspiring to me that Hannah puts herself ‘out there’ and shares herself and her views with the world so honestly, because it makes her VULNERABLE. Especially because she shares some very traumatic personal stories. This is not to be mistaken for weakness or victimhood. As Hannah says:
Gosh does it ever. As does YOUR story. And all of OUR stories. It’s what binds us in collective humanity. It’s where our deepest learning and connection is. IF we pause long enough to receive eachothers’ stories.
Human beings are as similar as we are different. It is our DIFFERENCES that make us unique individuals of value and worth. And it is through our stories that we can convey these differences and add to the richness of life and RESPECT for our infinite diversity.
One of my favorite quotes is by transgender woman Lola Cola from the 2001 film Southern Comfort, who says:
Hannah similarly says:
Most striking to me about Hannah – besides the critical content she so eloquently explores – is HOW she so exquisitely embodies the difficult and beautiful balance of fierce power/strength AND fragility/vulnerability that makes us human.
This balance of being is THE essence of the human experience.
HOW to balance these two seemingly paradoxical ways of being is all of our individual journeys towards being fully human. I don’t know who it’s more difficult for, men or women, since both sexes are having a very difficult time being this way. And that’s not even getting into the sub-sub-categories (i.e. race/age/ability/sexuality/etc.)
But it’s not a competition of “who has it worse”. Quite simply, those with more privilege/luck have it easier in the hierarchy-climbing of life. But NOT in being human, because over and over, it is proven to me that the most marginalized people among us tend to be the most human and humane. This doesn’t have to be so. It only is because the privileged/lucky/self-appointed rule-makers (i.e. euro-colonist men and those who assimilate to their rules and values) have made it so. They can also undo it.
The point is for all of us to get to a state of balance between strength and vulnerability such that Hannah embodies in her show, if we want to create a better, safer, more enjoyable world for all.
We NEED to be fragile and vulnerable in order to individually and collectively sustain human LIFE. And we NEED to be strong and powerful and say NO to those who think that vulnerable = powerLESS. Because the opposite it true – it takes MUCH bravery and strength TO be VULNERABLE.
Hannah strikes this very difficult balance of strength and vulnerability, and probably not every day of her life, because those on the margins of the dominant culture deal with a lot of daily shit from those who fear difference. This fear is deeply embedded in the allegedly “civilized” dominant colonist culture which teaches us to be every which way BUT strong and vulnerable.
Hannah Gadsby is a deeply inspiring force of refreshing wind beneath my matriarchal wings. If you’re reading this Hannah, and any of this resonates with you, I would love to do some deep-diving chat with you some time via podcast (which I will get around to creating in between my own naps I need after navigating the exhausting euro-colonist culture).
Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your stories. Judging from the articles, reviews and Twitter comments I have seen, the world definitely wants to hear more from you. I can’t wait to read the book you’re working on.
Please take one hour and nine minutes of your life to experience the Hannah Gadsby Netflix show for yourself. Mere words can never fully capture the experience of human beings sharing themselves with us.
This Hannah quote speaks to what I believe The People are in most desperate need of – stories – because our stories are a most crucial part of being human, of sharing of ourselves and learning from one another and the world around us:
We ESPECIALLY need to hear from diverse voices of the ELDER women among us. I love and am thirsty for traditional indigenous matriarchy which was/is made up of post-menopausal women.
This is because this group of women – of ALL NATIONS – are incredibly strong, wise and insightful, making them perfect for the massive responsibility that leadership entails.