An Open Letter to Hannah Gadsby

 

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I just wanted to write to tell you how much I enjoyed your show, ‘Nanette.’ You don’t see a lot of genuinely incendiary stuff anymore. Incendiary and vital.

Your show is full of emotional bloodletting, but it’s also deceptively sophisticated. You set your audience up really well by slowly peeling away the exceptions they could apply to defuse the bomb that you eventually place in their lap.

You’re careful to separate yourself from gay pride, the rainbow flag and the Mardi Gras, and then conclude that process by even separating yourself from the tag ‘lesbian’ as something you might be able to hide behind.

Once you started to discuss the anatomy of a joke, that’s the sign you’ve moved away from comedy and into something else. And by that time, your audience is trapped in there with you. As you begin to open some of the more brutal leaves of your experience, they’re almost hostage to it – what does it mean to laugh at these things?

By the end, you’ve given your audience a pretty confronting tour of the inside of your psyche and leave the blame, or maybe the crud that’s burned off, like what’s left burned onto the end of an exhaust pipe, for the straight white males who need to ‘bloody well pull their socks up.’

The comparison I’m moved to make is with Henry Rollins. He’s never really been called a comedian and I think that ‘Nanette’ is much more a spoken word performance which ingratiates itself by beginning as very funny.

I admired the way you trapped and confronted me, not only with the stories you told, but also the mechanisms of logic that deployed them. A significant part of what’s so powerful is how common your experiences are and how many members of your audience will count them amongst their own.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘pull your socks up’ thing. I know what it’s like to be beaten up and not have the ability to defend yourself. All you can do is weather the thrashing and hope to escape the hospital.

It’s amazing how the fragments of an experience like that continue to flash at you in the rear-view mirror of your life. I don’t know why, but having a tag hung on me in the light of that seems all the more… unjust.

Have you thought about that, Hannah?

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