What’s more painful: sitting through Hannah Gadsby’s stand up comedy special Nanette or reading another think piece about Hannah Gadsby’s stand up comedy special Nanette? There’s been so many. All falling over themselves to praise her because she’s gender non-conforming, feminist and angry and in the age of Trump that’s everything.
Well I hated it. She’s boring and unfunny.
This wasn’t stand up comedy. It was closer to a TED talk. It could be many other things too: Gender study lecture. Sales pitch of a self-help conman. Welcome speech to a group therapy session of rape survivors. But it’s not comedy. I knew that the comedy powers that be had declared we were in a post-joke world since the election of Trump, but I had no idea they had disappeared so far up their own arses that a laughless hour lecture about trauma and the pain of comedy would be declared the comedy of the year. Hannah Gadsby has been winning awards at comedy festivals all over the world for this show. They say she has ‘reinvented’ and ‘redefined’ comedy. Well, I can win the Olympics 100 metre freestyle if I decide halfway through to ‘reinvent’ it and get out of the pool and run.
It starts off a standard stand up special and then she has a nervous breakdown half way through and reveals the painful realities behind the stories she told at the start. She spends a long time talking about how she’s not going to make self-depreciating jokes any more because they harm queer people (and as a comedian why would you use your own life for material?) and something about packaging queer trauma for straight audiences and UGHH I don’t know it was so painful and preachy that I started browsing ASOS for deals on business socks. By the time the show got to the big reveal that has had audiences in tears – that the man from her first story had actually beaten her up – I felt nothing. Frankly I wanted to give her a bit of a slap myself.
Feminist comedy can be hilarious. The comedy of Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and even Amy Schumer (I like her, sue me) is fiercely feminist, and takes on dark subject matter while using humour to highlight why its insane that the issues they talk about, including racial profiling and sexism, are still going on in 2018. One of the funniest – and most moving – sketches from Inside Amy Schumer is when she plays Call of Duty as a female soldier character. The character gets raped by her commanding officer and has to go through the paperwork and trials that real female soldiers have to go through to get justice, which is denied. This is trauma comedy done right. Just standing on stage and describing your past traumas is not comedy. It may be cathartic for you, but to the audience this naked soul baring is less group counseling and more watching a homeless person masturbate on the train.
It’s female comedians I feel sorry for after all this gushing over Hannah Gadsby. Not only are we going to see 100 Nanette clones at the next comedy festival (god help us), but also for all Hannah’s talk about breaking stereotypes and reinventing comedy, she sets women back. Women have been making huge strides in breaking out of their limited roles in comedy and now once again the face representing them is the bitter lesbian scold too angry and self important to be funny.