October 4, 2018

Nanette (2018)

Hannah Gadsby

I've watched and reviewed a lot of things over my past 6+ years as a blogger. Hundreds of movies, documentaries, TV movies, and even the occasional book. But this is the first stand-up comedy routine I've written and I'm doing it because it really is as good as everyone says it is.

Comedy is a tricky thing, most obviously because not everyone has the same sense of humor. But even within people who like more cerebral jokes (which this absolutely is), there is a question of format. Nanette sits at the generally unpopular intersection of being super smart, super gay, and told in story format. Here's what I mean by that:

1. Gadsby's jokes rely on a certain amount of knowledge from the audience. For one thing, a not-insignificant portion of her set is devoted to jokes around art history and Impressionist painters. Another long joke centers on the multi-layered perspectives of Picasso. This isn't "forget your problems and laugh" comedy. It's comedy that makes you think and I am here for it.

2. If you didn't already know Gadsby is gay, well, she tells you. Repeatedly. In fact, it's the crux of the entire show. And if that turns you off right there, well, this isn't your brand of comedy. But that's too bad because anyone who doesn't want to watch it because she talks about being gay is exactly the kind of person who should be watching it in the first place.

3. Hannah Gadsby is not a comedian. I mean, of course she is, but not in the way you'd expect. The "traditional" way. She doesn't stand up there and tell jokes. Instead, she weaves personal a personal narrative that's both uncomfortable and sprinkled with jokes, much like Hassan Minaj in his brilliant stand-up special, Homecoming King. But here, Gadsby takes it a step even further by breaking down the process by which she tells jokes, making that a story (and a joke) in and of itself.

I'm trying, in vain, to convey the depth and brilliance of Nanatte without much success. When my husband and I finished watching it, we both sat in silence for a few moments, in awe at the way she crafted the set to come full circle. Every single moment of it serves a purpose and there is not one wasted joke or line in it. It is a mastery of comedy, storytelling, and tension. It's so good, in fact, I'm not entirely certain it is a stand-up comedy special. It seems more like a documentary on how marginalized people in our community cope with society. It is both important and entertaining, funny and sad. It is every contradiction you can think of and if this special isn't referenced as one of the most important cultural moments of 2018 I'm going to throw a fucking chair at something.

This comedy special/stand-up routine/whatever you call it captures the indelible sadness and rage of both women and the LGBT+ community around the world right now. Gadsby pinpoints the exact moments of discomfort that exist and somehow turns them into laughs, but not cheap laughs--laughter that comes through tears; laughter that knows we are only laughing because what the fuck else are we supposed to do. So please, please, please, I am begging you. Watch this. And laugh. And cry. And even if you do neither of those things, please just watch it until the very end.


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