Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s international career ironically kicked off after she announced that she was quitting comedy in her furious 2018 show ‘Nanette,’ which you might have seen on Netflix. Now—lesbians, prepare your “feedback”—because the butch is back again with the follow-up show ‘Douglas,’ taking aim at the haters, the patriarchy, sexual-identity, and more. The show will be on Friday, October 18th at Harpa. We were lucky enough to quickly chat to the icon about boundary-pushing comedy, Cher, and more.
Hey Hannah! It’s, as Alanis Morissette would say, ironic that that you made a show saying, “I’m quitting comedy and here’s why,” and that show making you an internationally famous comedian. Did the response that ‘Nanette’ got change the way you viewed comedy?
No, it didn’t change the way I viewed it, but it amped up my optimism for what audiences were hungry for in comedy. I sort of knew what I was doing, so that’s why I thought I would probably exit stage left after doing a show like that. But the show was popular. I went from being what I would have called a fairly successful comedian in Australia to being quite a significant comedian in the world, much to my surprise. That says more about the audience than anything else, that perhaps there was something missing in what people expected as comedy and what was being put on stage—that perhaps audiences wanted something different and that there’s an audience for all sorts of different things.
Well, Cher has done many retirement shows.
Right? And if I’m like anyone, it’s Cher.
So, Iceland only got its first women and queer comedy night—Soulflow—a few months ago.
That’s not outrageous in the scheme of your population and also comedy. It’s actually pretty good. When’s it on?
Monday nights at Gaukurinn
Had I known!
They wanted to invite you! But when you started out, what was it like for a queer woman in the comedy scene?
Well, Ellen was out by then so it was OK. In a certain way, it’s a doubled edged sword. It gave a point of difference, but it also meant that that seemed to about all you could talk about after a while. That is the prism through which people would see you. I really honestly think that at this point in history, being a queer woman isn’t necessarily something that will hold you back—if you don’t look like a queer woman. And that’s something I can’t seem to avoid, you know. I think it’s really where the hurdles kick in.
I’m a lesbian, so I think I relate to that.
Yes, do you look like one?
Sometimes. I have long hair so I can pass.
That has it’s own problems—queer women who are straight looking. People just assume that they are not queer. It’s an assumption of identity, which is taxing.
There’s been a debate, both in Iceland and worldwide—and I’m not going to name any names—if comedy’s role is to push boundaries and what that means. I.e. if you’re pushing boundaries by telling jokes about marginalised people or if you’re pushing boundaries by not. Do you think comedy is innately supposed to push boundaries?
I don’t think comedy is innately supposed to push boundaries and I think that the people who make jokes about marginalised people are not pushing actual boundaries. Jokes about marginalised people exist off the comedy stage. It’s what people do; it’s how people marginalise people, by making jokes out of them. It’s the first step to dehumanising someone. So I don’t actually see that as pushing boundaries. For all the comedians who cry foul on PC culture infringing on their rights to make jokes, none of them are actually talking about important issues. I’m not sad that Jerry Seinfeld can’t tour around colleges and tell all the jokes he wants. I’m just not sad about that. He made one of the most groundbreaking television shows and that doesn’t take away anything from that, but he’s made enough money—he doesn’t need to complain that he no longer resonates with a young audience. It’s not PC culture—audiences are maturing. For all this ‘We should make jokes about marginalised people!’ No, lets make jokes about the oil and gas industry. You know, there’s precious few comedians speaking to actual power.
In ‘Nanette,’ you talked about why comedy was hurting you and your self-image. What is personally important to you then about comedy?
It gives you a chance to re-interrogate the way you see yourself and the way other people see you. You get to push back against certain ideas. You get to represent yourself, as far as I’m concerned, and I represent some fairly marginalised situations. I think it stems from an integral part of the human condition, which is that we like to talk to each other. The tradition of oral storytelling is the foundation for pretty much every culture on earth. If you think about it, if the only reason you’re speaking is to make people laugh, then what you’re talking about is something that’s Machiavellian. The end justifies the means, so it doesn’t matter what you say as long as people laugh. I think both should be considered in tandem. What I have to say is as important as how I say it and what happens after I say it. It’s a responsibility that goes with free speech that people really forget. The reason we fight for free speech is not just so we can abuse it. People who have a platform really should consider that. They should hold themselves accountable and have some responsibility.
To completely switch the subject. Let’s talk about ‘Douglas.’ Does it continue the thread you started in ‘Nanette’?
Nope! This one’s a very funny show. It’s sort of an ever-evolving feast. What you will see in Reykjavík will be different from what will eventually be filmed. I’m a big believer in the live aspect of stand-up. That’s why I have put in a fairly thorough world tour before I’ll film it. ‘Nanette’ was a live show for almost a year before it was filmed and was ever-evolving. Audiences then become part of the process. If something doesn’t work, I change it and it builds. It’s an exciting show for that because ‘Douglas’ has gone through places I’ve never been through before. It will be an interesting new show.
Can you tell us why it is called ‘Douglas’?
Yes! My dog’s name is Douglas. I miss him. There’s also a few other reasons.
I must ask: Will there be any, as you joked about in ‘Nanette,’ “lesbian content”?
Well, as I like to say, I’ll be onstage the whole time. I do tell a story about a dalliance, but that’ll be an interesting story to tell here because it involves a miscommunication that is very much based in me having autism and also the English language being a bit stupid. So yea, a little bit of “lesbian content.”
Have you enjoyed your time in Iceland?
I really have. It’s been pretty great. I’ve only done the south coast so I’ll have to come back and get the rest of it done. This is my little holiday before the rest of my European tour.
‘Douglas’ by Hannah Gadsby will be on October 18th at Harpa. Tickets are 4,990 to 9,990 ISK and can be bought here.
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