The most prolific comedians feel stale and scared to talk about the world we’re in. Hannah Gadsby is bringing the comedy we need.
Comedy is one of the mediums I utterly loathe the most. I’m not talking about throwaway lines in a show, but comedy sets. Maybe it’s because I’m British. I couldn’t imagine anything more boring than listening to Peter Kay or Jimmy Carr make ‘jokes’ for an hour. In front of an audience, they deliver comedy you can hear down the local pub from some happy go lucky dude who has had one too many beers and thinks because he’s a canny and sharp guy that means he’s funny.
British comedians are mostly men and rarely ever say anything relevant. When comedians are women, they’re supposed to hate that about themselves and make jokes about other women who burn bras as though this is still the 1990s and being a Blairite woman is actually cutting edge. When a comedian does try and break the mould in the UK – like Sue Perkins – the misogynistic comments come thick and fast.
It’s difficult to know who really is to blame for that. Yes, our comedic men are bland, boring and ignoring the moment of history they’re occupying but the audience itself encourages their banal ramblings. Take Amanda Holden repeatedly telling comics on British’s Got Talent that she likes them because she feels everything is “too PC” these days. A vapid audience, and a mediocre selection of British comedians isn’t something that combines to create great entertainment. We were given some positivity with Lost Voice Guy winning the talent show this year, and his jokes took aim at ableism and able-bodied people. He was an absolute stand out talent – but he felt like an anomaly. One which was great at self-deprecation and was offering something new but also one which wasn’t necessarily allowed to challenge the audience. Yet, Netflix offers further hope.
Tasmanian comedian, Hannah Gadsby, offers a searing new set on Netflix. Nanette is exactly the kind of comedy we need right now, and one that we can’t get close to in the UK.
“Nanette is exactly the kind of comedy we need right now”
Gadbsury is searing at times, and gentle at others. Her jokes can raise a chuckle or a cracked rib. The quality is there, but what is different is that a major platform has been given to the comedy we should be watching and listening to. And the most fascinating part? It’s barely comedy.
Yes, there are jokes and good punchlines but Gadsbury discusses the pitfalls of comedy and even the prospect of quitting because she wants to tell the whole story and not just give punchlines. In one moment, we can be getting a hilarious takedown of reverse sexism and in the next, Gadsbury is talking about how comedy was her way of surviving coming out but not dealing with it. The defence mechanism of making jokes about such a painful period sustained her but ultimately did not allow her to progress beyond that formative period and how familiar that is to so many queer people who end up feeling trapped almost by their ‘second adolescence’.
Gadsbury has enough of her own comedy – offering potent introspection. She will no longer tell self-deprecating jokes because she is already marginalised and she will not disempower herself so that other people will listen.
This is the smart comedy we need, which has absolutely nothing to do with the considerable time Gadsbury gives to her Art History degree, because she is unafraid to tell stories. It’s not just about letting people laugh. It’s about connections, as she says. It is about connections to other people, to society and to the world around us which is why in this comedy set we can be crying laughing and ten minutes later in the middle of holding our breath as Gadsbury talks about the violent queermisia she experienced.
Comedy and stories should connect with us. That’s not happening right now. The people with the largest audiences are so often talking at them, and not connecting with either the people before them or the society around them. Gadsbury is different and that’s why her show feels so new right now, and yet she’s had to declare that she will quit comedy for the medium to even feel remotely relevant. Global platforms aren’t often given to such voices. The arenas, the venues, the broadcasters should follow Netflix. Give platforms to those willing to speak of our society. It might just be what helps change the times we live in.
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