In 2018, Nanette burst onto the international comedy scene blowing a gaping hole in what is considered traditional comedy and in that instant Hannah Gadsby was thrust into the global spotlight. It wasn’t your typical stand up show and I still remember the first time I watched it and how I felt like I had just ridden the most educational rollercoaster of emotions. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched it since then (thank you Netflix). Within that hour one can learn a lot about what it is to hate yourself, what discrimination feels like to the oppressed, and how a woman takes her life back in the midst of so much pain.
Gadsby talks quite a lot in Nanette about her experience as a lesbian growing up where homosexuals were not only unwelcome but illegal, saying “I subscribed to the idea that homosexuals are subhuman.” There was much public debate in the 90’s in Tasmania about whether or not to legalize homosexuality. Much of that debate shaped a young girl’s view of herself and fueled the fire of self loathing. Dressing in ways that are gender non-conforming made Gadsby a target for violence and vitriol over the years, ultimately culminating in a physical attack as a young adult. Before making her way into comedy in 2006, she’d attended college at the University of Hobart in Tasmania and then moved to finish up at Australian National University in mainland Australia. She graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art History and Curatorship but not before a nervous breakdown. She suffered with mental illness and struggled with self loathing in a world that didn’t want to accept her as she was. After several short term jobs she found herself homeless and hospitalized with pancreatitis. Returning to her family and time recuperating gave her the opportunity to think about what she wanted to do with her life.
In 2006 she won Triple J’s Raw Comedy and placed second in Edinburgh Festival Fringe, So You Think You’re Funny and that’s where it all began. Over the next several years she’d make her presence known in several comedy shows and acting roles on Australian Television. Most notably for Please Like Me where she wrote and starred in 22 episodes over three seasons as “Hannah”, a fictional version of herself. The show focuses on a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and the resulting exploits as he deals with love, family, and friends in hilarious ways. (Please Like Me is available for streaming on Hulu.)
In 2017 Gadsby was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD, this revelation giving reason to the struggles she had experienced for most of her life. It’s this intersectionality that gives her a unique perspective. All of her struggle has culminated in one of the most important works of comedy in years and thrust her firmly into the spotlight, a responsibility she takes very seriously according to an interview with Variety this month.
“I think when you’re in a position where you’re visible, you have to be [louder] for the little guys.” Gadsby allows. “I deal with the responsibility of being out and proud and even loud as much as I possibly can, because there are people who need to see me. I don’t need to see me” she adds, wryly, “I see me every day, but I understand the importance of being a public person who can be representative of a minority.”
Gadsby is now in the middle of a worldwide tour named Douglas after one of her beloved pups. The success of Nanette convinced her to keep going and I for one am grateful for her candor, transparency, and humor. I’m heading to Nashville next week to see Douglas live and I’ve never gone anywhere to see a comedian before in my life. This is different. This woman is different and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Look for your tickets to see Hannah Gadsby in her new show Douglas here.