Review: Hannah Gadsby, “Douglas” on Netflix

If you want to know why Hannah Gadsby’s 2020 Netflix special is called Douglas, there’s reasons more than the basic one she gives about her dog.

As she explains:

If you want to know why she’s following up Nanette at all, after declaring she was done with comedy?

Gadsby said she found her purpose while writing Nanette, realizing she could heal her own trauma through the framework of a comedy show. “I did not want to make them laugh. I wanted to take their breath away to shock them so they could listen to my story. And hold my pain, as individuals. Not as a mindless, laughing mob.”

A deconstruction of comedy can still nevertheless provoke laughs. “I did not fail to do comedy. I took everything I knew about comedy. All the tricks, the tools, the know-how. I took all that, and with it, I broke comedy!” Gadsby said in her TED Talk. “The point was to break comedy so I could rebuild it and reshape it, reform it into something that could better hold everything I needed to share. And that it is what I meant when I said I quit comedy.”

So what now? In Douglas…

She seems to want to remain a walking, talking contradiction, undefined as a performer despite telling audiences in advance exactly what kind of performance she’ll deliver. Which results in a potluck collection of artistic expressions. A dish about how foreigners get easily amused by Americanized English arrives without sizzle. A rant about the “Where’s Waldo?” (or “Where’s Wally?” for the British Commonwealth readers) screeches to its conclusion.

About 48 minutes into Douglas, however, there’s a delightful turn in which Gadsby gives her haters what they want: A lecture. But it’s about art, which as anyone who watched Nanette knows, was her major when studying in Australia. So she launches into a deep-dive of Renaissance paintings, humorously critiquing them as they’re displayed on a giant screen above the stage. Before Nanette made her famous, Gadsby actually presented comedy art tours with the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, as well as presenting two art-related specials for Australian television and a radio series for the BBC.

I would’ve enjoyed a full hour of Gadsby roasting the Renaissance. Since it seems Gadsby isn’t going anywhere, maybe next time?


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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