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‘Nanette’

Hannah Gadsby preaches in her new special, “Nanette,” on Netflix.

Yes, the special is listed as a comedy routine, and, yes, Gadsby does get in a few punchlines, but she is preaching.

She uses her craft to tell her story and to bring a message of change to her audience.

Hannah Gadsby spends a majority of this emotionally intense special discussing why she is quitting comedy.

She feels she can no longer participate in the culture that has propelled her to popularity and has been her profession.

The toxicity of self-deprecating humor and ripping humor from her own experience is doing too much harm.

Gadsby, a native Tasmanian, speaks of her childhood and adolescence spent in a society where homosexual acts were illegal until 1997. She tells stories of her own coming out and confrontations with brutal homophobia.

These stories were once punchlines, but they are now pieces of evidence to why she must leave.

At times, her rhetoric earns a hearty laugh, a nervous chuckle or stunned silence from her audience. She uses and critiques the conventions of comedy to communicate the truth of her life.

She speaks bluntly of her own experience with shame and hate. As a closeted lesbian woman in Tasmania, she absorbed the homophobia around her.

She diagnoses her self-deprecating humor as an outgrowth of this internalized disgust and shame.

Gadsby stands before her audience as a wounded individual, speaking her truth.

But, as she says, there is nothing more powerful than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.

Gadsby is wounded, as are we all, but she stands in power to proclaim the truth.

As the special progresses, Gadsby warns the audience that the comedy is ending, and the truth is coming.

She uses the lives of Van Gogh and Picasso (she was an art history student) to focus on the realities of mental health, sexual assault and the wrongful worship of reputation.

This 70 minutes is not about a laugh. Gadsby is done creating laughter at the expense of her own self-worth and the silencing of reality.

She is done crafting jokes with traditional endings regarding her, or anyone else’s, experience.

Yet, she maintains her humor. As she tells stories of fans accosting her for her sexuality, her mental health struggles and her frank speech, she still speaks with a smirk on her face.

With a few minutes left in the special, she finally says, “That was your last joke.”

She meant it.

Watching “Nanette,” we are reminded of the power of story. We are reminded we have a responsibility to speak the truth.

As the audience shifts uncomfortably in their seats, and Gadsby stands on stage in front of the silence, we are reminded of the power of story.

Gadsby preaches. She speaks of the worth of each individual and the power of their story.

She refuses to allow shame and guilt to reign and is willing to walk away from her career in order to do so.

She sees the reality of polarity and hatred in the world and wants to make a change.

“Nanette” is not easy to watch. Hannah Gadsby delivers difficult words.

But, if we are to move forward, we must hear her. We must take on the tension of this world and work to rectify it.

Director: Jon Olb and Madeleine Parry
Writer: Hannah Gadsby
Cast: Hannah Gadsby

“Nanette” is available on Netflix as of June 19, 2018. The show’s website is here.

Harrison Litzell

Harrison A. Litzell is a student at McAfee School of Theology and the Children’s Ministry Intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church.