Hannah Gadsby: Nanette is one of the best sets I’ve ever seen. Gadsby gives us stories with not just setups and punchlines, not just beginnings and middles, but with the endings, the consequences and the aftermath, and, most importantly, the shame.
The closet can only stop you from being seen. It is not shame-proof.
And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.
Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix
Shame is not a weapon. At least, it shouldn’t be, because it is way too powerful. But here we are living in cultures where we regularly, habitually “soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate”. Shame is an identity-shredding bullet when aimed at a kid.
Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, one of the world’s leading experts on the adolescent brain, shows us that during adolescence, shame has a particularly powerful impact on the brain. Adolescents feel, even anticipate, embarrassment in more profound ways than adults. One sure fire way of making sure that you are neither heard nor respected by a child, is to embarrass them. That’s not a matter of choice. Shame will close down all other options for children other than the quest for survival. It puts them into full on fight or flight meltdown. And in that state of mind, you get nowhere. It may look like a child has complied. They blush beetroot and retreat. They sit quietly and go home. But the shame is sitting so presently in their minds, that they heard nothing, learned nothing and are harbouring now a deep seated sense of shame that may turn outwardly into anger, or inwardly into resentment. Or worse, it may morph into significant self loathing. None of these outcomes are good.
Adolescents are not like us. They will, one day – once all the pruning and shaping and hormonal pummelling is over – become like us. But right now, they are in the eye of a storm and a little empathy goes a very long way. Shaming goes a very long way in the opposite direction. Those of us who have spent many years in classrooms, usually learn that the quiet word, one to one, works way more effectively than shouting at them in public. The eye contact, little raised eyebrow, tap on the shoulder – the techniques that signal you’re watching and aware, but still allow them a route out of public denouncement, are often enough. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes, the situation gets out of control. That’s when you model what it is to be an adult. Unflappable, firm, fair, kind and consistent. Paul Dix’s book on behaviour “When the Adults Change, Everything Changes” is excellent on this point. We are the adults. We have authority with equal responsibility. Shaming should not be part of a responsible adult’s repertoire. It’s a failure to default to it.
Gadsby opens with her self-deprecating style. That gradually segues into a confrontation with shame and how comedy “can force the marginalized to partake in their own humiliation.”
But in the course of the hour-long set, which was filmed at the Sydney Opera House (Gadsby has also been performing at the SoHo Playhouse, in New York), “Nanette” transforms into a commentary on comedy itself-on what it conceals, and on how it can force the marginalized to partake in their own humiliation. Gadsby, who once considered Bill Cosby her favorite comedian, now plans to quit comedy altogether, she says, because she can’t bring herself to participate in that humiliation anymore. Onstage, Gadsby typically speaks in a shy, almost surprised tone, playing jokes off of an unassuming, nebbishy demeanor. She clutches the mic with two fists and speaks softly, forcing audiences to listen closely to hear her. In “Nanette,” she seems to slowly shed that persona, becoming increasingly assertive and, at times, deadly serious. Her set builds to include more and more disturbing accounts of her own experiences with homophobia and sexual assault, and broader themes of violence against women and male impunity. But for every moment of tension, Gadsby gives her crowd release in a punch line-until she doesn’t. When the jokes stop, the audience is forced to linger in its unease. “This tension? It’s yours,” she says at one particularly upsetting moment, toward the end of the show. “I am not helping you anymore.”
Callbacks facilitate this segue. Earlier jokes bearing only setup and punchline, beginning and middle, are provided their endings. CW: violent homophobia
A callback helps to establish a rapport between the comedian and the audience; now they’re in on the joke together. In “Nanette,” Gadsby subverts this technique to devastating effect, returning to the story of the man who threatened her for flirting with his girlfriend outside a pub, only to back off when he realizes that she was a woman. When the story ends there, it’s funny-it’s a joke about the man’s ignorance. But the second time Gadsby recounts this, she tells us that the man in fact came back to her after he walked away, realizing his mistake. “I get it. You’re a lady faggot,” he told her. “I’m allowed to beat the shit out of you.” And he did.
Watching Gadsby, it was impossible not to think of the many women who’ve come forward in recent months with stories of abuse that were years or even decades old. You could consider the #MeToo moment itself as a kind of callback, a collective return to stories that women have been telling one way—to others, to themselves—with a new, emboldened understanding that those past tellings had been inadequate.
Angry white man comedy is lazy, easy, and boring. “Nanette”, however, is skillful, insightful, and emotionally-invested comedy. It challenges power instead of wasting our time with the structural ignorance that prevents many white male comics from being funny or relevant right now. Their comedy is comedy at the lowest difficult setting. “Nanette” is at the hardcore setting where your identity is on the line. This, for me, is comedy at its best.
Gadsby is a masterful storyteller and crafter of tension and release. I’m watching this again to digest.
I built a career out of self-deprecating humor. …And, I don’t want to do that anymore. Because, do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anyone who identifies with me.
I identify as tired. I’m just tired. There is too much hysteria around gender from you gender-normals. You’re the weirdos.
How about we stop separating the children into opposing teams from day dot? How about we give them, I dunno, about seven to ten years to consider themselves on the same side?
I love being mistaken for a man, ‘cause for a few moments, life gets a hell of a lot easier. I’m top-shelf, normal king of the humans. I’m a straight white man. I’m about to get good service for no fucking effort.
Power belongs to you. And if you can’t handle the criticism, take a joke, or deal with your own tension without violence, you have to wonder if you are up to the task of being in charge.
To be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.
What I would have done to have heard a story like mine. Not for blame. Not for reputation, not for money, not for power. But to feel less alone. To feel connected. I want my story heard.
Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing.
There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.
Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine.
Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need. Connection.
Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix