Almost an hour into her performance of Nanette at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City, Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby pauses before she pivots.
“You’re culturally unprepared for someone to be angry….and funny…in the same breath,” Gadsby informs us.
Truth is, though, she can no longer tell her story without anger. And she’s uncertain whether she can even continue with stand-up comedy at all, sharing her inner monologue about telling funny monologues with us during the performance.
Perhaps Americans shrewd enough to seek out Gadsby during her five-week run of Nanette here are at least better prepared than the audiences before them in Britain and Australia over the past year, and critics at festivals from Adelaide to Melbourne to Edinburgh all awarded her their top comedy prize for this, perhaps her final comedy show. She didn’t even have Harvey Weinstein or Louis CK to talk about back when she started performing Nanette in early 2017. But this show isn’t about them, as much as it’s about the toxicity of gender identity politics, and really, it’s about Gadsby’s epiphany about her place and her role amid it all.
“I’m male at a glance,” she quips. “But my masculinity doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.”
The 40-year-old who grew up in a small town on the Tasmanian island south of Melbourne remains whip-smart. She’s equally capable of allowing a distraction to take her into witty asides as she is of crafting reliable punchlines. But some 11 years after debuting her first comedy show at Adelaide, Gadsby has come to realize some harder truths about herself.
“If I could choose how I identify, I would identify as tired,” she says.
She wonders why she chose self-deprecation and the relative lowbrow nature of humor after pursuing an education in high art, and whether it’s even worth it to keep putting herself down when society already has marginalized her for her entire life. A funny bit she tells mid-show comes back to bite her and us upon the realization that lying to herself is a far worse artistic crime than exaggerating the truth for a laugh.
By its very nature, comedians create tension within a premise so they can break it with the punchline.
Gadsby is as technically skilled as she claims in stand-up, but by the time she gives in to her anger, she also knows just how to let that tension linger in the air, forcing us — especially us white male blokes — to soak in the reality of her daily situation and our continued accountability in keeping some of our brothers and sisters in the margins. She wants to share her innermost truth with us. Now more than ever, she needs to. With humor and with rage.
Nanette bathes the stage in blue light, and Gadsby remarks on how the color holds so many conflicting meanings all at once, depending upon the context; both extremes of hot and cold; the top prize ribbon as well as the deepest depression; the sky and the sea.
Why should baby boys get blue all to themselves?
If blue also symbolizes steadfast loyalty, unwavering calm, and serenity, too, that’s certainly something we all should strive for more of in all of us.
Good on Gadsby on claiming it for herself, too.
Nanette runs through April 15, 2018 at the SoHo Playhouse, presented by WestBeth Entertainment, Barrow Street Productions and Token Events. Shows on Sunday afternoons, and evenings Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.