Words by Suzy Romer
When Hannah Gadsby appears on stage, her manner is gentle and the first part of her show eases us into a comfort zone with perfectly poised jokes and wry observations about famous men, sexuality and barista culture in remote Australian villages. So deftly does she bring us into her world that we are hardly aware that we are being neatly introduced to the principal themes of her talk; reputation, human divisiveness (especially homophobia) and a pervasive culture which encompasses everything from ignorant insults to hatred and violence. With brilliant simplicity, she shows us how men like Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and Pablo Picasso are part of a system where powerful men are protected no matter what they choose to do with their private lives. We roar with laughter, clap and make strange animal sounds of haunted recognition as she demonstrates how art history converts heterosexual women into a couple of crazy stereotypes and wipes out lesbians altogether.
While there are well-turned anecdotes and cheeky punchlines aplenty, this comedy territory goes way beyond the usual frontiers. Each joke is targeted with clear intention and full awareness of its effects on listeners. Every word counts. But her greatest achievement is making her audience feel empathy. She does not do this by giving us warm fuzzy feelings but rather guides us through a complex range of emotions lurking beneath our laughter and then suddenly hits us in the gut with an absolute truth that leaves us literally looking for a corner to sob in as the lights go up. She makes us feel the world as other people feel it. This may not sound like a barrel of laughs but the amazing thing is that it is one of the funniest shows you will see this year. Hannah Gadsby says she is leaving the world of stand-up but I hope she realises the strength of the voice she has found and continues to use it whatever way she sees fit.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette is at 5.30pm Assembly until 27 August. It might be worth trying for returns shortly before the show…
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