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Why we need to talk about ‘Nanette’

02 Jul 2018 | BY Shelley Lee - @ShelleyLee_

Nanette
(Source: Still from 'Nanette' on Netflix)


Nanette is this year’s Netflix big winner. It’s just 69 minutes, but given the raw force of  Hannah Gadsby’s delivery I doubt either the comedian, or audience could endure any longer.

 

 

 

 

 

Gadsby herself has been so overwhelmed by the social media response to Nanette since it started streaming on June 19, that – at a loss for words – she’s taken to posting adorable photos of her dogs on twitter in response to the digital outpouring of love.

Known in Australia , but only just being discovered in the US, where The New Times has declared her  ‘a major new voice in comedy’.  Gadsby is a woman, a lesbian, and a brilliant live comic – and all of these pieces of her being she dissects throughout the Nanette.

 

 

 

 

The laughs are set up well as a one-two punch, but it’s the body blow that follows that has been winding audiences around the world. The anger unleashed when revisiting these stories about her life. Her childhood in regional Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal until an astounding 1997, coming out and surviving horrendous abuse more than once just for being who she is.

“Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore.”

This isn’t comedy, it starts that way, before becoming a scathing commentary on homophobia, sexual assault, male impunity, and mental health, and it’s brutal.

Nanette is Gadsby’s swansong from stand-up. It was recorded at a live, sold-out show at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year. The performance claimed, ‘Best Comedy Show’ at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, won Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s highest honour ‘The Barry Award’ and a Helpmann Award for Best Comedy Performer.

In Nanette, Gadsby explains she’s retiring from stand-up because of how it has ravaged her mental health .

“Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins?” She asks. ”It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore.”

Nanette offers nowhere to hide, for either Gadsby or the audience. Dual-screening with mobile phone in hand won’t work without missing a pivotal piece of a story, an expression or smile used artfully. A solid hour of well-crafted narrative with no props, no big screen montage, no musical interlude or intermission.

“I am not a victim, I tell you this because my story has value.”

There is plenty of art history though, with a degree on the subject Gadsby is praised in The New Yorker for her parallels between painting and comedy – highlighting art doesn’t liberate all people equally, often replicating the same privileges and exclusions as the culture in which it was made.

Elsewhere, international praise has also poured in from outlets including The Hollywood Reporter , saying we “won’t see anything better on TV this month”.

Time spoke to Gadbsy about her focus on Monica Lewinsky, in Nanette the comic points a finger at comedians in the 90’s, saying if they focused on Bill Clinton instead of dragging Lewinsky through the mud “”we might have changed the way we treat powerful men now”. 

When Gadsby unleashes in Nanette, revealing the full extent of abuse she has survived, it’s hard as a viewer not to break into goose bumps. Nanette triggers a diverse range of emotional and physical reactions; tears of anger and empathy for the traumas she has suffered, a smile for her power and bravery, and applause for confusing and manipulating our feelings in such a way.

“I am not a victim, I tell you this because my story has value.” Gadbsy tells us, and that value extends beyond audience entertainment, no matter how uncomfortable or empowering Nanette is for different people.

“There’s nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself”

Something that sparks such a deep response, and has buzz about it spreading like wildfire, that tackles topics both at the fore and yet still taboo if properly mined needs to be discussed. Conversations not just in the media, but with family and friends and others, because Gadsby is right, there is a message here.

“There’s nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself” she says. Hannah Gadsby is the ultimate proof.

Nanette is now streaming on Netflix.

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