Hannah Gatsby – Nannette
I’ve been struggling with how to approach a review of this piece currently streaming on Netflix. It’s sold as a “stand-up” special, but harkens more to a one-woman piece in the vein of Julia Sweeney’s “God Said HAH!”. It’s certainly different from a lot of things currently out there and as a straight cis-gendered male, I’m actually kind of running a risk of being taken out of context for sharing my thoughts. It’s a problem I’ve been facing the past year on a number of films, plays, and other materials that I’ve experienced. The sense of nervousness and even a little fear in being attacked for one reason or another. Someone might misinterpret something I’ve said and use it against me. So keep that in mind when you read these thoughts, because I’m actively trying to not be offensive in any way.
But I’ll probably trigger someone or another.
“Nannette” is a mis-titled piece of stand-up performance by Tasmanian comedian Hannah Gatsby. She is an out and proud lesbian who performs mostly in Australia, she identifies as a woman despite many presuming that she’s is a trans male (Her look is rather “butch” by the LGBTQ definition), and she has a lot of opinions and thoughts on her profession, on society, and on the very topic of humor itself.
She’s built a career on telling her stories in life- growing up in a highly religious and intolerant small Tasmanian town, coming out to her mother, coming out in general, discovering herself and who she is in life, coping with the stereotypes and lifestyles of a gender-queer community, and so on so forth. Her humor is outstanding with a set up and a knock down delivery, some thoughts on people sharing their “criticism” and “opinions” of her work. “Men Criticize… Women share their Opinions.” Her work stands out and she tackles mental health, medication, and utilizes her art history degree to deliver some truly scathing social commentary on the world as it is.
But Hannah Gatsby digs deep into her profession and the laughter stops. Because she’s tired of making people laugh, she’s tired of the way jokes are constructed, of the maliciousness and self-deprecation involved in making people laugh. She’s tired of the stories not going far enough, not giving enough detail on what transpires after the punchline is delivered. Because more does happen. She’s raped, assaulted, and she experiences terror, suicidal thoughts, depression, and she is not safe in the world. People are laughing at her stories and she just doesn’t want to be that person anymore. The material becomes deeply personal- it always has been but it was always played for laughs, but Gatsby just can’t find the energy to laugh anymore.
She is tired.
It’s an emotional piece and it takes you places and it entertains and informs. My heart goes out to Miss Gatsby, my heart goes out to all of those who have suffered and experienced the kind of pain and heartache she has experienced. She’s a natural introvert performing in an extroverts career, a constant contradiction to herself. She’s happier with a quiet cup of tea than going out to watch parades and dance in clubs. She turns to the male members of her audience and commends them for taking some of the abuse she’s dished out, and she acknowledges that she isn’t being kind to them. She also acknowledges that she doesn’t necessarily have to be, but she knows they’re there and they’re supporting her.
Well, as a man or a viewer or a fan or a customer, the truth is that I don’t have a criticism. I don’t have advice or suggestions or any of that. I do have an opinion, but it has nothing to do with changing the piece or wanting some sort of alteration to what she’s done on that stage. The piece is what she wants it to be and it’s what the material needs to be- for her. It’s an artistic achievement.
I do have a bit of a rebuttal, though. Because as tired as Miss Gatsby is, as frustrated as she’s become, and has worn thin as the frayed lines might be, the humor with which she has faced all the terrible times in her life has given her a strength and a courage that should be admired, respected, and applauded. Her recognition of what a joke is does not diminish the importance of the joke or the need we have of coping with life. I have experienced my own terrors and fears and it’s the ability to laugh that allows me to face my life and avoid eating a bullet. Her words and experiences are powerful, but there is a deep fear in me that some of it would be used to justify restrictions on free speech. I certainly understand why people would- it’s not as though I were deaf to their experiences. I don’t lack for compassion. And I wish that Miss Gatsby did not need to have the strength she once got from comedy.
I am not Miss Gatsby’s target audience. I am afraid she would not like me very much. I am crude, obnoxious, sarcastic, and I am a free speech absolutist. She would likely roll her eyes at my review and never bother reading it should it come across her eyes on a google search one random evening as she is sipping tea. She would read my rebuttal and probably think me a wanker or whatever term the Aussies might use to describe a jerk with an opinion.
10 out of 10 and a high recommend.