Hannah Gadsby's Nanette is one of the most important comedy specials you'll ever watch
While it’s easy to get lost in the sea of Netflix’s has-been dude comics’ specials, (cough, Ricky Gervais, cough), Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette feels like a breath of fresh air. What begins as a series of jokes about not having enough “lesbian content” (despite being a lesbian herself) becomes a tour de force that transcends the very genre of comedy. Gadsby delivers a sobering portrait of being a gay woman today and the consequences of not conforming to your assigned gender role. In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Nanette is one of the most important comedy specials you’ll ever watch.
Similar to Cameron Esposito’s Rape Jokes (which I recently reviewed), Gadsby calls out the knee jerk reaction to protect problematic men because they have been labelled “artistic geniuses.” There’s a brilliant bit where she claps back at an argument that Vincent Van Gogh’s art wouldn’t have been as good had he not suffered from mental illness. Like Esposito, Gadsby can walk that tightrope between comical and sensitive because it’s one she’s been walking her whole life.
What separates Nanette from other specials is Gadsby’s deconstruction of joke making. Several times throughout the show she threatens to quit comedy because it’s always been predicated on self deprecation. Rather than humility, she says, it is humiliation. Gadsby peels back the curtain, confessing that as a minority, comedy became a defense mechanism. She learned to make people laugh so, as Esposito puts it, they won’t kill you.
Make no mistake. Nanette is uncomfortably funny. But unlike her (mostly straight male) peers’ comedy specials, Gadsby gives us a special that is about comedy. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking. In the wake of #MeToo, Nanette is essential viewing, especially for the straight white men Gadsby’s so desperately trying to get through to.
Header image credit: Netflix