Hannah Gadsby Rejects the Premise

Hannah Gadsby’s 'Nanette' is a towering achievement of stand-up comedy, and now we have to reckon with its results.

Hannah Gadsby in Nanette. Netflix
  1. The Audience

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is a towering achievement of stand-up comedy. Discussing why is difficult for many reasons, but the primary reason is simple: it is not “for” me. Gadsby is originally from Tasmania, she is a lesbian, and she has experienced so much hardship. Thus, she chronicles a life that is so far removed from my own experience. So in many ways, the special is meant “for” the legions of women who have shared her experiences. Women who rarely get to see their humor, their fury and their capacity love get reflected this way in the world of stand-up. Which is why Nanette has meant so much to so many. It has let them know they are reached and heard. And for me to try and speak “for” this power, even with a simple notion of “right on!” would be to usurp her voice and personhood. And that I desperately do not what to do. This is my “win” because my job is simply to listen and reflect on my role in this. But that’s added genius of Nanette…because I am also exactly who this special is for. For Gadsby’s fury is directed at people like me with laser-like acumen, humor and sobering grace.

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And now we have to reckon with the results.

  1. A Comedy of Terrors

There are many miracles of Nanette, but the most cerebral one is how she ends up rejecting the premise of comedy itself. There is no sudden declaration of this, even if she touches on the idea several times. Gadsby ends up rejecting the premise of comedy both through demonstration and through analysis, doing so in a way that organically brings you to the same conclusion as her. So what feels like a loose comedy set turned emotional is actually something that is impeccably structured.

Gadsby begins the special with a little meta-talk about naming the show after an interesting woman she met, along with some reflection about wanting to quit comedy. But in the moment, we don’t think think too much of it (even though this turns out to be a miraculous set-up for where she’s going with everything). Gadsby then begins showcasing her traditional comedic voice and approach. She talks a lot about her identity. She makes a few self-depreciating jokes, she amps up her endlessly goofy diction, frequently over-emphasizing the word “po-tay-toh” to comic effect. She laughs with us. She makes pointed barbs. In short, she does stand-up.

But then comes the special’s first turn. While reflecting on a lifetime of self-deprecation, she issues her first moment of defiance. The jokes fade away and she talks about how, in the end, self-depreciation is just that: self-depreciation. She’s spent so many years using humor as armor for her vulnerability, making the joke before someone else could. She tells us that the whole problem is that her very identity (being a lesbian with short-hair and all) creates tension for other people. So she learned to use humor to cut that tension. But in the end, the only person she was really depreciating was herself.

“Do you understand what self-depreciation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins?” She asks, “it’s not humility, it’s humiliation.” And Gadsby was done having her very identity being a source of tension. She was done cutting herself down. She was done humiliating herself.

It’s one of those genuine “right on!” moments that causes the audience to applaud, but it also lays the groundwork for a remarkable follow-up discussion. Because she soon uses this moment to start explaining how stand-up works. You’re probably familiar with the basic idea that a joke is all about a set-up and a punch line. So many comedians will talk about the mechanics of this: the zigging and zagging nature of playing with expectation and then using your punch line to say something out of left-field (or double down on the expectation with crassness). But this isn’t some lesson about mechanics. Gadsby instead concentrates on the emotional reality that plays underneath this act, which of course is far more important. Because what’s really happening with a joke is that the comedian is different. It is the creating of tension and then the alleviating of tension.

There are two personal examples from earlier in the show that highlight this perfectly. This first is from the moment when she came out to her mother. She sets up the story and lets the tension of her coming out set in, then practically coos as she recites her mother’s answer, “Ohhhh Hannah. Why did have you to tell me that? That’s not something I need to know. I mean what would you do if I told you I was a murderer?” The audience is already laughing with incredulity, but luckily Gadsby gives it such over the top performance to let us know an alleviating punch line is coming. She then drops it: “It’s still funny! Murderer. You would hope that’s a phase.” She literally tells us this is funny! It’s all about giving us permission to laugh.

Another example comes from a more tense moment from earlier in the show. Gadsby tells us about the time she was talking to a woman at bus stop (“you could could say flirting”) and a guy suddenly comes up to her, “Fuck off you fucking faggot! Keep away from my girlfriend!” And she was terrified obviously, but then the other woman responded, “whoah stop it, it’s a girl!” and he takes one closer look and responds, “Oh, sorry! I don’t hit women.”

It’s again another moment of terrifying tension, but Gadsby makes us laugh when she instantly chimes in about him not hitting women, “What a guy!”  She then tells us how the man apologized with another stunningly ignorant statement of, “Sorry, I thought you were a fucking faggot trying to crack onto my girlfriend.” The irony that Gadsby is 1) gay and 2) somewhat cracking on his girlfriend is just too delicious. But rather than challenge him with her social duty to educate, she gets a laugh out of her decision to just leave him be.

These are tense moments of her life, told and relieved with jokes. Gadsby tells us how jokes are incredibly soothing. Holding tension is so damn hard, and laughter is infectious. So there is something so necessary and disarming about relieving the tension. But within stand-up comedy, Gadsby also acknowledges that it is artificial. When you tell the set-up of a joke, you are the one purposefully creating the tension. She frames it as such: “I made you tense. This is an abusive relationship!” This is yet another joke that hangs the hat on the on the whole issue: the answer to a real problem isn’t in the punch line. Because the punch line is just a joke about the tension itself. Which means that when you’re telling a joke you’re really just stopping things in the middle of the story.

Gadsby lets us sit with this idea, knowing she could go further at this point, she instead changes gears. We don’t realize she’s still carefully crafting her argument, but she makes another joke about quitting comedy before revealing that she was an art history major and thus doesn’t “have a back-up plan!” But this actually becomes a wonderful tangent where she takes us into the history of artists like Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. She takes what we already know about them and makes a few jokes, but then illustrates how they had whole lives and stories and ugly truths that went beyond whatever jokes she could make. Because stories don’t have punch lines. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. These parables are incredibly demonstrative to us, upending our ideas about figures we thought we knew. But then Gadsby drops the hammer by doing this for herself. Meaning she starts telling the real, sobering story behind all the jokes she’s already told within the special.

One offers a note of surprising hope. Gadsby even begins it by saying, “What she said is at the core of why I’m questioning comedy.” And that is the reveal, that she has gone on to have a real, meaningful relationship with her mother. One time when recently talking about the hilarity of time she came out, her mother grew tearful and told her, “The thing I regret is that I raised you as if you were straight. I didn’t know any different. I’m so sorry. I knew well before you did, that your life was going to be so hard. I knew that, and I wanted, more than anything in the world, for that not to be the case. And now I know that I made it worse. I made it worse because I wanted you to change, because I knew that the world wouldn’t.”

Gadsby tears up in turn. As do we. There is no humor here, only catharsis. And in hearing the words Gadsby most need to hear from her mother, she then says, “I looked at my mom in that moment and thought, how did that happen? How did my mom get to be the hero of my story?” A simple joke to helps us along with the relief, but Gadsby instead digs deeper, “She evolved. I didn’t. I think part of my problem is that comedy has suspended me in a perpetual state of adolescence.”

Because the punch line has to always stop in the middle of the story. Gadsby goes onto explain, “what I did with that comedy show about coming out was I froze an incredibly formative experience at its trauma point and I sealed it off into jokes not nearly sophisticated enough to help me undo the damage done to me in reality. Punch lines need trauma, because punch lines need tension and tension feeds trauma. I didn’t come out to my grandmother last year because I’m still ashamed of who I am. Not intellectually, but right here [points to heart], I still have shame. You learn from the part of the story you focus on. I need to tell my story properly.”

Then she goes on. Gadsby flies into a what seems like, but definitely isn’t, a steam of conscious rant that’s as achingly gorgeous as it is sobering. She breaks down of the ugliness of the society of men and control and the fragility of people, flying into a laser-focused fury. All before finally letting off the gas pedal and taking a moment to joke from the audience’s perspective, “she seems to have lost control of the tension.” But that’s the whole demonstrative point. Men get to be angry comedians. Women don’t. She’s just “a miserable lesbian, ruining all the fun and the banter.” And why does she need to be so angry? Well that’s when the final hammer comes.

Gadsby begins, “Remember that story I told about the man who almost beat me up? It was a funny story. But in order to balance the tension of that story, I couldn’t tell that story as it actually happened. Because I couldn’t tell the part of the story where that man realized his mistake. And he came back. And he said ‘Aw no, I get it. You’re a lady faggot! I’m allowed to beat the shit out of you!’ And he did! He beat the shit out of me and nobody stopped him.”

The theater sits deadly quiet. There is nothing funny about this truth. And Gadsby presses on with more, “I didn’t report him to the police. And I didn’t take myself to hospital. And I should have. But I didn’t, because that’s all I thought I was worth. That’s what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.”

This is reality. This is her reality. And it is so crushing and real and unjust and cuts to the bone. To tell jokes about it is to misunderstand the real nature of trauma itself. And it is certainly not her job to make us feel better about the terrible things that have been done to her. She is rejecting the premise of comedy because it is absolutely useless to this reality. As Gadsby tells us, “This tension is yours. I am not helping you anymore. You need to learn what this feels like, because this tension is what not-normals carry inside of them all of the time. It is dangerous to be different.” And as men, we need to stop mitigating the simple reality of this incredible truth.

Gadsby presses even further on our inherent culpability, “Because it was a man who sexually abused me as a child. It was a man who beat the shit out of me when I was 17, my prime. It was two men who raped me when I was barely in my twenties. Tell me why that was O.K. Why was it O.K. to pick me off the pack like that and do that to me?”

This is the part of the special that is for us.

Hannah Gadsby in Nanette.
Hannah Gadsby in Nanette. Netflix
  1. Ballad of the Broken Boys

I spend a lot of time talking about toxic masculinity for the simple reason that it is important. Sadly, it’s also a term that a lot of men have come to have knee-jerk reactions to without really understanding the term at all.

The core misunderstanding seems center around the idea that implies everything masculine is inherently toxic, as are men themselves. To squash that notion immediately: no, that’s not what it’s saying. It is simply about identifying the toxic parts of a masculine system. Things like the pressure to subvert our feelings and emotions. Or viewing the act of commiseration and friendship solely through acts of hazing and putting others down. Or the valuing of strength as being defined by crushing another. Or the devaluing of women in pursuit of sexual conquest. Or seeing outrageous defensiveness as a form of protectiveness. Or the pressure to be strong. To be faultless. To never be wrong.

We have been taught to view all these qualities as strength, but they are most definitely not strength. They are weak adaptations that we use to try and prove our lack of weakness, for weak is the worst thing a man can be. But all humans need to be weak. Which means these are corrupting values that do not lead to happiness, especially not for others we end up hurting. And since we are taught that we are without value if we do not have these “strengths,” we end up making a series of horrible internal bargains to make it seem like we are achieving that impossible reality.

And so, there should be nothing wrong with identifying the immense, ugly pressures of toxic masculinity and trying to undo them, but it always comes up against that first layer of defensiveness. I see men argue fervently against the term simply because they see themselves as good and thus do not like being labeled as toxic, which is just more of the same toxicity. The inability to admit the slightest fault because if you do, your flawless identity becomes corrupted. Let in the tiniest bit of wrong, and you’re ALL wrong. And men are so bad at it. This is true even for the people who out there are generally kind, but can’t see the irony when they evoke a whole “not all men!” rhetoric when it comes to this issue. Because toxic masculinity isn’t something anyone gets to opt out of it. It’s in the air. It’s in culture. It’s in the world’s behavior. It just is. We’re all products of it. And in that reality, we have to be immensely conscious of how it affects us. Because I do not say of all of this as if I’m looking down on it from on high…

I am a definitely product of it.

My own mental health issues came to a head a few years ago. I never thought of myself as toxic because I worshipped at the altar of kindness. Heck, I don’t think I’ve ever had an ounce of malice in my life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still damage people. Because the pressure to be strong, unflappable, and whatever people needed was something I let get completely out of whack. I could even see how much I was manipulating everything, running from myself and what was really happening within me. I couldn’t see how much I wasn’t connecting to my own weaknesses, fears and needs. How much I cared about how people saw me versus how I saw myself. How much I was in denial and lying to myself and others about everything going on, which of course ended up having a radical effect on both me and others. Then it hit the tipping point and I had to truly reckon with everything I thought was “good,” and realize that it was toxic. There could be no more defensiveness, no more moving the goal posts, no more bargaining. Just dealing with it all head on.

Literally nothing about it is easy. Instead, it is gutting. It is ugly. It is haunting. And it is so very exhausting. It takes endless examination of our behavior. It takes knocking down the walls of our past selves. It takes building up a new way of seeing and coming at the world that exists outside of our old hardwiring. And most of all, it takes seeing how the world has affected you and why you’re not really different from everyone else. If our toxic culture can affect us, it means we have a collective culpability for our culture in turn. Because as Gadsby so clearly tells us, “I am not a man hater, but I am afraid of men.” And it’s not just because of the horrific experiences that those specific men put her through.

It’s because of the culture that made them possible.

Sixty-two percent of white men openly voted for Trump (7 percent didn’t answer or went third-party). I cannot sit here and pat myself on the back because I was part of the 31 percent that didn’t. Because I view this figure as nothing short of a crisis. Trump is the embodiment of everything toxic. Literally, every aspect of it. The idea that 62 percent of white men are behind that toxicity and support it is pure horror—as is seeing the sheer magnitude of the abusive behavior of men throughout the last few years. But we are all culpable in so many dang ways. So there is no choice but to confront the way we men consciously and subconsciously value these behaviors, too. Meaning we have to take responsibility for the actions themselves and the community has to take responsibility for all the ways we cater to the mindset.

Fighting it means not just hating Trump or yelling about politics. It means self-examination. It means tackling the core of conscious and subconscious misogyny, for as Gadsby says “if you hate what you desire, do you know what that is? Fucking tense.” And so our job is not to criticize women for being afraid of us, the individual, because surely I am good so how could they think that about ME! No, that’s just more defensiveness. Our job is to simply accept this and understand the why. Which gets into the whole social dynamic of how we interact with the world.

Do you realize that women and marginalized groups have been conditioned to constantly defer and not put themselves first in every aspect of their lives? But we aren’t. Toxic masculinity means we are so conditioned to think about ourselves and what we are facing first. Even in smallest ways we interact, Gadsby nails it: “women give feedback, but men? Opinions!” Believe me, I’m at a nexus on Twitter and I can’t tell you how much straight white men are disproportionately the ones who just jump into a conversation with no real interest in constructively conversing and then get defensive when you point this out by saying, “I was just giving my opinion.” Because they’re taught to see that their opinions are inherent gifts. But the opinions are often just for one’s self—a method of communication not about receiving from others, nor even conversing. It is talking “at” people. And it’s fucking gross.

But again, this isn’t me looking down at the issue from on high. I realize how much I did that, especially back in my twenties. We’ve been conditioned to do it since we were young, reinforced by the models of manhood around us. So every time, it’s like I have to stop myself and remember what the heart of communication is about. I have to remember that it’s not really about us at all. As Gadsby says, men “do not have a monopoly on the human condition.” Heck, we don’t even see ourselves as a group or community. We’ve always been taught to think of ourselves as “human neutral.” But no, we’re in this reality of being a community now, just as we always should have been. As Gadsby points out with irony, we’re not being good sports about this idea. She then says, “if they’re having a tough time, the rest of us are goners.” We have to face all this because there is nothing more important than the damage we cause.

As a community, we have done damage. Intent does not matter. And so I have come to think constantly about all the damage I have done. The times I’ve put myself first in all the wrong ways and even the times I DIDN’T put myself first when it would have been important to do so. We must sit with the tension. We must spend a lifetime with that tension because we are the ones who created it. And if the idea of being uncomfortable with your identity for even one second seems like an affront to you, then it proves the very point. Gadsby’s plea is beyond clear, “Pull your fucking socks up! How humiliating! Fashion advice from a lesbian.” Which means we have to reckon with ourselves. And we have to recognize that we, the broken boys, have written this corrupted narrative that has brought us to the current juncture. Gadsby relents, “these men control of our stories and yet they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity.” Pulling our socks up means we have to connect to our humanity.

And that means seeing others’ humanity within ourselves.

  1. The Compartmentalizing Kids

“I don’t hate men, but I wonder how a man would feel if they would have lived my life.”

It’s always hard to imagine the hypothetical. I have not lived Hannah Gadsby’s life. Not even close. But I have had the smallest peek into a part of the psychology she speaks of. For I am not gay. I am bisexual. This is something that’s been true since I was five years old. And while it’s always been true, it is something that I’m just now coming to really understand how to talk about publicly. More importantly, it is something that I’m just now coming to understand in terms of how it radically affected me. As Gadsby states while talking about growing up in Tasmania, Australia, “Seventy percent of the people who raised me, who loved me, who I trusted, believed that homosexuality was a sin, that homosexuals were heinous, subhuman, pedophiles. 70 percent! And by the time I identified as being gay, it was too late, I was already homophobic. And you do not get to just flip a switch on that…the only thing I knew how to do was be invisible and hate myself.”

I grew up in Boston during the ‘80s, specifically around the catholic church. And let me tell you, that was not exactly a conducive environment. It was violent. Homophobia was rampant. The word fag was omnipresent. Being gay was considered the grossest thing anyone could think of. Kids who even accidentally said something considered “gay” were mercilessly made fun of. As for actual effeminate young boys? Well, you can imagine the torture of that experience. And at five years old I knew I was attracted to both men and women. I knew the second I saw Alain Delon. I just knew. The feeling was exactly there, but I had no idea how to process it, especially in that environment. But this is part of the privilege of bisexuality, where gayness wasn’t my whole sexuality. Unlike Gadsby, I didn’t mean that I hated myself. But growing up in that homophobic environment…it sure as shit meant that I feared a part of myself.

I was so insanely terrified that I was gay. I was terrified about what it would mean for my life. I was terrified people would somehow see it in me or find out. I was terrified that people would turn on me. I was terrified that my liking girls was some conditioned cultural thing that wasn’t really my sexuality and I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to. I was terrified literally all of the time…But I could hide it. Boy howdy could I hide it. Because that’s part of the privilege of being bisexual: you’re much more able to “pass.” And it was so easy for me to pass. I was good at sports. I liked school. I was learning (badly) to be social, but slowly getting there with time. Because I secretly knew deep-down, I never had that “ew, gross!” phase of hating girls. Instead, I had playground girlfriends to demonstrate my normalcy. Then I actually started dating early in middle school. Lordy, I could pass.

But the truth always starts cracking outward, especially as I became more aware of sexuality itself. I started having full-on inclinations and sexual attractions to men, but still somehow I wondered what it meant. Maybe I’m just curious! I knew bisexuality existed but I couldn’t BE that. I can’t explain the reasoning of this. It might have been something that existed, but it still wasn’t something I could allow for myself. So it came out in absurd ways. In high school, I started “joking” about being gay with friends because I was sort of the arty one of the group, “Yeah, guys. I’m going to move to New York and smoke cigarettes and be gay!” I did this to the point that people literally made jokes about it in my yearbook. It’s also why I ended up gravitating toward theater kids and gay teens and socially progressive people. I was testing waters, but I was still hiding that deep part because, as Gadsby says, you can’t take the shame out of your heart. I just couldn’t face it.

I still wouldn’t be able to. Even when it finally became physical and actualized it was in quiet, intimate situations in college. And I didn’t tell people. I hid it. I got so dang good at compartmentalizing. I would even end up keeping this secret from relationships. The first time I tried even mentioning the idea of being attracted to men (let alone having acted on it) I got a surprisingly worried reaction that just made me want to keep it quiet forever. Because it turns out being bisexual means, practically speaking, that a lot of people just fear you’re actually just gay or straight and going to waste their time.

So I got even better at compartmentalizing. There were small pockets of people who knew and people who didn’t (because they didn’t have to, after all). Even with the people who were cool, I still had toxic elements of how I explained it. I would still represent experiences like they were these “no big deal” things that I was super confident about with my fluid sexuality! Yeah, I wasn’t. I was terrified and confused throughout all the decades of this. I still am. But that’s the part of toxic masculinity that had grabbed me by the throat. I wasn’t allowed to be confused and terrified. I had to be strong and confident. So I kept compartmentalizing with my own damn brain.

And it nearly ate me alive.

You can’t be lying to yourself without inadvertently hurting others. You just can’t. And that’s the thing about the way toxic masculinity permeates a culture. As men, there is so much we have learned to compartmentalize. There is so much we have learned to project outward with a sense of strength instead of merely voicing vulnerability. I may have always had empathy for others, but I never had empathy for my own vulnerability. I never understood that sometimes others didn’t need my strength, and instead connect to my vulnerability in turn. And as I look at out and see entire swarms of people going down these harmful paths that will eat them alive too, I can’t help but want men to learn that empathy for their weakness too. Because in discovering our vulnerability…

We discover the thing that connects us to the most marginalized among us.

When we stop compartmentalizing our humanity, we can suddenly empathize with the humanity of the other. When I see men brag about never crying, or even just plain-face explain that they don’t cry, I want to share the incredible healing power that act can have. Because even when I understood that idea intellectually, there were so many years that I just…didn’t. And it’s because I wasn’t connected to my emotions and pain and loss. I was surfing over them. I thought everything in my life was something I had transcended. But in truth I was still a victim of it and making others victims of it in turn. And I didn’t have the ability to face that simple reality. Which brings us all to the entire point of this section: when I think about the pain and confusion I’ve experienced as a result of living with this kind of reality, along with understanding of the terrible ways it affected me, I come to a simple realization…If my experience did THAT to me…

Then I realize how much infinitely harder it was for Gadsby.

We have to understand the sheer magnitude of what other human beings actually experience. We have to stop denying that those experiences exist. We have to connect to them when they talk about it. Because while we cannot “understand” what it’s like to be a young black male pulled over by the police, if we allow ourselves to truly connect to emotions, then we can understand the feelings and fears that come with the horrors of that experience. We can think about the fear we might have and then extrapolate that, for them, it is actually a life or death experience that exists for NO REASON other than the ugly realities of racism. We have to stop compartmentalizing because it is precisely what cuts off our humanity from others. And understanding and embracing our own pain is how we find the connection to the pain of others.

But we also have to stop directly equating the magnitude of our pain with that of marginalized groups because it’s just another way we put ourselves the center of the story. And the pain of being bullied is simply not equal to the pains that come with systematic racism or homophobia. We have to listen. And then we have to connect to the core feelings of vulnerability, then amplify the intensity of those emotional realities by 1,000. What Gadsby has had to deal with goes infinitely beyond our comprehension. And yet, as she directly tells us…

She is not a victim.

  1. Storytelling

The thing about Nanette is that is the very opposite of a tirade. Yes, some of the most affecting aspects are the moments of furious, irrefutable anger. But as she tells us by the end, “I have a right to be angry, but not to spread it.” Because anger is “toxic, infections tension,” and it needs the release perhaps more than anything.

So instead, Gadsby’s finale offers the singular notions of inspiration about how to come out of all of this. Her final ten minutes of the show are not just part of a loving gesture, they are the pointed conclusions of the argument made across the entire special. For nearly 70 minutes she constructs something that is at once a laser-focused essay, a petition to our humanity and yes, a comedy show that happens to break down the entire problem with comedy. And at the end, she offers the inspiring notion of rebuilding, for “there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.” And it exists as a model for the broken boys of the world, like all those who so desperately need to rebuild.

Because this is the act of joining the human race.

When I think of the way Nanette composes its argument for humanity, I am in awe. She has deftly woven something together that tackles the core problem of our society and finds the fulcrum of it. Earlier in the special she tells us, “Nobody’s born ahead of their time. It’s impossible! Artists don’t invent zeitgeist, they respond to it.” And in a world on the brink of madness, tension and aggression, Gadsby does not provide the simple chuckle to release that tension before we go back to the horrors that be, she tells the truth in spite of it: “Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine. I don’t want to unite you with laughter or anger. I just need my story heard.” She then pulls back to one last reference to the central parable, telling us that the reason we have Van Gogh’s work is because of the brother who held him and took care of him through mental illness. He was Van Gogh’s connection to the world. And as Gadsby tells us with her last words, “that is the focus of the story we need. Connection.”

Afterwards, I think I sat quietly for about fifteen straight minutes.

I spend my life talking about stories. This is literally what I do for a living. Writing them. Writing about them. Telling them. Talking about them. And making all sorts of arguments about them along the way. I do this because I love them. Because I believe in the power of stories probably more than I believe in anything. But it’s been about ten to fifteen years since a piece of art has come along that has so completely rocked my fundamental understanding of stories, the very thing I have spent my life studying. Some of this rocking was the way Gadsby merely gave words to the things I intuitively knew. Some of it was the way she pushed me away from all the wrong, fruitless directions I was going in. And some was as genuinely new, revelatory connections that I was seeing for the very first time. And ultimately, she was confirming the point I too believed on why storytelling is so fucking important to society.

Because I look at a culture that wants the answer to be anger and more toxicity. Or, in the face of that anger, wants the answer to be a joke that will simply alleviate the tension of the moment. But in reality, we need to see the three parts of the story. Our story. The one that exists at the intersection and connections between all of us and our worst behaviors. Which means that, yes, we need to sit with the tension. And, as Gadsby states, we need to evolve from it. But that’s where I also realize something important: I hope that Gadsby realizes that no, she doesn’t need to quit comedy. Because she didn’t actually reject the premise of comedy at all.

She evolved it.

And, if we pull our socks up…

Helped us evolve in turn.

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Hannah Gadsby Rejects the Premise