Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette is one of the most famous pieces of comedy / theatre of the century, a devastating examination of how a horrendously traumatic event effected one woman’s life. It can’t be underestimated as to the importance of it, of how it changed others lives, and the effect it had on it’s audience as a whole. So Gadsby’s follow up was always going to be difficult to create, especially considering how expectations were extremely high.
Pleasingly Gadsby’s “difficult second album” is a mostly superb slice of comedy though, as with nearly all stand up specials it occasionally lags, there’s the odd weaker moment, but for the large part this is sublime stuff. She tackles a number of themes with aplomb, though the main ones are how people reacted to Nanette, how men were unfortunately responsible for naming everything, along with the nature of autism and her diagnosis with it.
Gadsby’s obviously very aware of people’s expectations of the show and so she addresses that from the get go, listing everything that’s going to take place which includes observational humour, various different stories, a couple of lectures, a tale of whether or not a penguin was in a box or not, and one Louis CK joke. It’s a clever idea, perhaps not needing to last almost fifteen minutes, but otherwise it sets out just how this is going to be very different from Nanette, but also contain a number of subjects that she’s just as passionate about and yes, the patriarchy’s going to get a deserved kicking once more too.
She delivers on all of her promises, and the only time she isn’t truthful is in that she claims the opening section won’t be all that funny when it is and then some. Discussing the differences in words used in America and the rest of the world she has some great observations but also doesn’t forget to include a number of daft gags too, so while a piece on gas and petrol is smart and amusing, even funnier is the fact that in her opinion Arugula sounds like the noise a clown car’s horn makes.
Then there’s the first story of the show, involving her dog Douglas, and why he’s named that. It allows Gadsby to introduce the theme of men frustratingly naming everything in an effective manner, and it’s something she mines a lot of strong humour from throughout the show, while being understandably quite angry about the subject too. Yet at the same time she’s still capable of being absurdly funny, like the way she suggests that if women were involved in the naming of things balls would be called “Karen’s handful”, and the mix is a fantastic one.
The strongest part of the set follows as she talks about “Puffer fish” incidents, where she explodes in anger over tiny things, and this lets her criticise all number of subjects in deliciously funny ways, with the idea that “Where’s Waldo?” is the ultimate example of White Male Privilege being a hilarious suggestion. That’s also the case with her material on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and their ill thought out Renaissance names, and a section on the use of the word cunt and how for her it summons up the image of a golfer is sturdy stuff indeed.
More discussion on the nature of Nanette and what exactly it was follows, before she gives us a lecture on art. This was something that she was apparently considering doing post Nanette instead of a stand up show, but here she weaves it in to the rest of the set with skill and nearly all of it is very strong, indeed it’s so good I hope it’s something she returns to at a later date, as she not only has the knowledge but also the skill to make it both informative and hilarious.
The next major parts are all about her autism and how she initially self-diagnosed, with Anti-Vaxxers getting a well deserved tearing apart, though this section and the one that follows it about her time at school trying to understand pronouns is the weakest. It’s not that there aren’t moments of mirth to be found, but they’re fewer and further apart, I wasn’t in any way bored at this point but I did find myself smiling rather than laughing.
Fortunately the ending brings everything together with the most amount of well timed call backs that I think I’ve ever witnessed, and the promised Louis CK joke ends the show in a glorious way. I’d not normally spoil how a show ends but Gadsby did so at the beginning so for once I don’t feel guilty about doing it, and I also mention it as the way Gadsby created the joke highlights just how fantastic a comic she is. It’s a shame that the segments leading up to the very end of the show aren’t quite as good as it loses it half a star, but don’t let that put you off this fascinating piece of comedy that proves that Gadsby still has an awful lot to say, and proves herself to be a master of the art form while saying it.
You can watch Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas on Netflix here.