Hannah Gadsby reflects on what it means to speak her truth through stand-up.
What’s remarkable about Hannah Gadsby’s work is how it engages every faction of a vast and varied audience. Following her 2018 Netflix solo debut, Nanette, Gadsby found fans and critics alike saying a version of the same thing: The show, in walking the line between performance art and traditional stand-up, threw a wrench into mainstream comedy. This prospect antagonized some, enraptured others.That special’s jarring and sincere observations of straight white male dominance in art, comedy, and other structures, are also at the heart of Gadsby’s sophomore special, Douglas — but with a spin. Douglas tackles issues of neurodiversity, including Gadsby’s personal experience with autism, with which she was diagnosed only a few years ago. It has, of course, riled haters. But the women, queer people, and autistic creatives that have cited Gadsby as inspiration for new work are testament enough to her power. What’s clear is that once you’ve encountered Gadsby, you can’t stop talking about her. That, to me, is a signifier of the influence she’s had. I recently spoke to the comedian to discuss that impact.
Fran Tirado: We’re going to talk today about representation and the impact of your work on marginalized audiences.
Hannah Gadsby: Do you know what the impact was? I’m kind of on the other side.
Even now that I have a voice, I have to be careful not to talk over other people who have different voices.”
Thinking about censorship and gatekeepers, stand-up and artistry are usually within the grasp or framing of straight white men. Has it been exciting to watch a generation of women and queer comedians emerging after so long?
HG: We have to continue to be vigilant. Even now that I have a voice, I have to be careful not to talk over other people who have different voices. It’s a very charged time, and I think the discussion about political correctness in comedy at the moment is really wrong-minded. I don’t think the good fight is being fought, necessarily. People are going, “Oh, I should be able to make jokes about trans people. That is my right.” Obviously, no one is stopping people from making trans jokes — that is the issue. Yet they are behaving like people are censoring them, and that victim mentality, I think, is really dangerous. I think people with different voices need to really step up. But we still see this incredible diversity happening. That is special.
I feel like artists are often deemed “activists” when they are queer or marginalized. What are your thoughts on that phenomenon?
HG: It just speaks to straight white men being human-neutral. I try to engage in the Venn diagram: It’s like, yes, I am all things outside of the straight line. But there is a crossover. I try to mine those areas in order to demand that people don’t see me as Other. And that is really tricky, particularly with something like stand-up comedy, because to make people laugh you have to share a common point of view. You either have to speak to a stereotype or wrangle people’s perception of you. And so Douglas and Nanette’s work [was partially] to change audiences’ ideas of what they think this package represents . . . I just called myself a package.
Bringing my autism in there, that requires a great deal of trust . . .”
We will allow it. Something I really loved about Douglas was the conversation it started about neurodiversity and autism. Can you tell me why it was important for you to bring that into the show?
HG: Nanette was very much a show about autism. I just didn’t say it out loud. Everything about that show — to those people who are on the spectrum, Nanette resonated with them. I really wasn’t expecting Nanette to be the success it was — one thing I have got in common with my haters. Before my show went out, I was like, No one should like it since it’s not written to be liked. It’s just my God’s honest truth. The fact that it was so well received, I was like, Oh, I’ve underestimated my audience. And so what I’ve done with Douglas is I’m not going to underestimate my audience. Bringing my autism in there, that requires a great deal of trust because this is such a difficult topic to traverse, and people don’t understand what it is.
Watch Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
on Netflix now.