Tasmanian born Australian comic Hannah Gadsby has much to be angry about. She's been a major star in her home country for years, and she's dealt with a number of issues that might have broken a weaker person.
In "Nanette," her new, envelope pushing Netflix special that's grabbing a great deal of attention, Gadsby shares stories from her life that, on the surface, might seem anything but funny, yet Gadsby mines clever humor from topics such as homophobia and misogyny.
Tasmania--Gadsby describes the island as being in "Australia's arse"--is a place where homosexuality was a crime until 1997. It was in this environment that Gadsby came to terms with her lesbianism. "I don't need to know that" she recalls her mom having said. She also recalls not coming out to her grandmother, admitting that she felt a little shame in who she was.
"I'm a little bit lesbian," she says, as she admits to being overwhelmed by the spectacle and partying that is Sydney Australia's Mardi Gras. Gadsby refers to herself as a "quiet gay," saying that she prefers the sound of a teacup being placed on its saucer to the sounds of Mardi Gras.
Gadsby also quips about being taken for a man due to her butch appearance. She recalls an incident where she was talking to a woman at a bus stop. Along comes the woman's boyfriend who calls Gadsby a "faggot," thinking that she's a straight man hitting on his lady.
While watching "Nanette"--the special is named after a woman who was in Gadsby's life briefly--viewers are left with the impression that Gadsby has lived a hard life. She's a graduate of the school of hard knocks, yet through it all she retains her dignity and her sense of humor. Throughout "Nanette" Gadsby exudes a quiet strength, even as she keeps her live audience at the Sydney Opera House bowled over in laughter.
There are portions of "Nanette" that aren't funny, nor are they meant to be. Gadsby holds a degree in art history. "Nanette" includes a fairly lengthy section where she discusses the inherent sexism and misogyny of Pablo Picasso, who seduced a 17-year-old girl when he was 42. Picasso was married at the time.
"You're painting flesh vases for your dick flowers," she angrily says of Picasso, as the live audience applauds. "Separate the man from the art, that's what I keep hearing."
She points out that art history is hardly a staple of comedy shows, noting that most stand-up is about "priests being pedophiles and Trump grabbing the pussy. You know who used to be an easy punchline? Monica Lewinsky. Maybe, if comedians had done their jobs properly and made fun of the man who abused his power then perhaps we might have had a middle-aged woman with an appropriate amount of experience in the White House, instead, as we do, a man who openly admitted to sexually assaulting vulnerable young women because he could!"
The audience cheered.
Is Gadsby angry? Yes. Does she have good reason to be? Yes. But don't we all have reason to be angry during these troubled times?
Yet through it all, Gadsby keeps her audience laughing, even as she gives them much to think about.
"Nanette" is no ordinary stand-up show, it's comedy for the Trump era. It's rough, daring, brilliant and insightful. There's never been a stand-up show quite like it.
"Nanette" is now streaming on Netflix.