MICF review: Hannah Gadsby, Nanette

A battle cry of an apparent swansong, Hannah Gadsby bows out at the top of her game. Inspiring, devastating and seriously smart.

There’s an almost apologetic opening to writer, television star and comedian Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up show Nanette. Firstly, there’s the name, inspired by a grouchy ‘barista’ encountered momentarily in a small regional town, but as Gadsby says, more than once, that’s not really enough of an idea to wring an hour’s worth of stand-up from, locked in early, as it was, for brochures’ sake.

There’s also the confession, early on, that this is likely to be her last comedy show. Whether or not Gadsby is serious about that, one thing is clear – Nanette is one of the most gobsmacking hours you’ll encounter at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy festival, pushing the boundaries of what comedy means.

Recalling the hideous affect on her closeted teenage self of Tasmania’s ten-year debate over legalising homosexuality, creating an ongoing platform for hate speech that questioned the validity of her very being, Gadsby notes that where she lived in north-western Tassie, 70 per cent of all polled thought homosexuality should remain a crime. The other 30 per cent weren’t exactly parading their support in the streets, either.

Last year’s plebiscite debate opened old wounds, driving Gadsby to shit-cracking. For her, it felt like brutal history repeating, as did the attacks on the Safe Schools program and vocal abuse of trans people and their right to use a bathroom in peace.

Nanette, then, is actually a firebrand call to arms not only for LGBTIQ rights, but also equality for women, but it’s more than just numbers, it’s about the right to prosper without assault, both mental and physical, and the insidiously hypocritical religious and patriarchal structures encountered on a grinding daily basis.

A star at the top of her game, Gadsby knows exactly how to inspire even as she details the crippling self-doubt it’s been a battle to overcome. Believing firmly in paying it back, her inner strength hard-won allows her to inspire others. She knows exactly how to grasp an enthralled audience and lead them from hilarity to despair and back again without a moment’s notice.

Try not to feel your heart break as Gadsby reveals a moment of opportunity offered by her dying grandmother to talk about her sexuality but choosing to keep the peace and let her go with it unspoken, and the aftermath of a terrible bus stop encounter. A passionate art history buff, she also makes short work of the tortured artist stereotype and the glorification of Picasso. Mental health is a topic dear to her heart.

Sometimes overcome with white-hot fury but always delivered with laser precision, this is Gadsby at her most powerful. Nanette should not be missed, and if it truly is her swansong from stand-up, in a world that feels less and less funny, then I, for one, hope it frees up her genius as an incredible force for change in whatever medium makes her happiest.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★1/2

Book tickets to see Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette at MICF here.