Hannah Gadsby Transforms Trauma into Comedy in Netflix's Nanette

Hannah Gadsby "Nanette"
Christine Linnell

It’s a pretty hectic time for comedian Hannah Gadsby. Not only has she been on an exhausting comedy tour for the last 18 months, but now her new Netflix special Nanette has gone viral, as more and more people discover it and demand that all of their friends watch it too.

If you haven't seen the show yet (and seriously, you should get on that), Gadsby starts out with familiar jokes about growing up as a butch lesbian in small-town Tasmania, feeling out of place at Pride parades and coming out to her family. Then halfway through, she challenges the entire concept of comedy with a passionate monologue about bigotry, toxic masculinity, and how she's used humor as a survival tactic that doesn't do justice to her story.

We got the chance to call her at home in Tasmania and get her reaction to the overwhelming response to her show — read the full interview over at The Advocate — but we were also dying to hear more of her thoughts about Pride Month, what a Tasmanian sense of humor is like, and how she’d describe her fashion sense.

We just got through Pride Month and we're very tired, so your jokes about Sydney Mardi Gras and wondering "where are the quiet gays supposed to go" are especially funny. If you were in charge of Pride Month, what would it look like?

First I would say that I’m not a leader, I shouldn’t be in charge of anything! I think Pride is doing a wonderful job, honestly, I do. I think it’s a really important thing.

When I was in New York I really loved the Dyke March, that was a fantastic thing. Bit too many drums, maybe, but that’s my own issue.

The community is its own thing, so I wouldn't want to be in charge. It is what it is. 

You talk a lot about your self-deprecating humor, and how it's a problem when it comes from someone already on the margins. Is that kind of humor a big part of the culture in Tasmania?

Oh, yes! 'Don't get too big for your boots.' Culturally, it's a very healthy way to see yourself, to undermine yourself. I find America kind of difficult to be in sometimes,  it's so positive, and I'm like what's going on here? 

But when it comes to undermining yourself in the ways the world undermines you anyway, that’s when it's the real issue.  

I've always been a bit unassuming and self-deprecating, and the more success I experience, the more important that is. To be self-deprecating, to keep myself in check. But from where I come from, and the sorts of people who identify with me, I think it's important to show my strength. 

Some men on the internet got very defensive about your special and don't think it's very funny. Do you think you're going to change their minds eventually?

Dunno. Ask them. Talk to them. They've got to grow up. If that's what they get out of that special, honestly, if they bring that special back to themselves, I can't help them.

In one of your earlier standup sets, you joked that you shaved your head right after you came out as a lesbian because you hadn't read the Gay Agenda and just assumed that was the next step. What's your approach to fashion these days?

My fashion philosophy is now informed more by [the fact that] I’ve been diagnosed with the autism spectrum, and that’s really why Pride overwhelms me. I have an aural processing disorder. So now I wear blue. I find blue a very calming color. And I don’t like choice [in fashion], I feel very overwhelmed by it. To self-impose this brings me a great amount of calm.

Nanette is now streaming on Netflix.

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