Hannah Gadsby made waves this year after rejecting the Barry Award for her raw, fearless show Nanette in a stand against homophobia
When Hannah Gadsby announced Nanette would be her last show she was not entirely sure what would happen.
But Nanette was a triumph, easily the most talked about show at this year’s Melbourne Festival, and the winner of Australia’s biggest comedy award. “It started off as a theatrical conceit,” she says. “The press believed it and I almost believe it myself – but I haven’t given up because I’m performing in Edinburgh. I think I won’t be doing stand up in the classic form, of clubs – but in a way it was set up as a means to end it.” She is currently writing a book of memoirs as well as making a television show about the history of the nude in art.
In Nanette Gadsby exposes the mechanics of stand up – making the audience laugh but then, at a certain point, refusing to diffuse the tension in the room. Deeply personal memories are exposed alongside a challenging re-evaluation of the madness of Van Gogh and the womanising of Picasso. “I think really the reveal is about the purpose of creativity and perhaps questioning how we frame it as a healing or therapeutic thing.”
Part of her aim was to find a way of talking that was real. After ten years of stand up she felt it was time to rethink her self-deprecating style. “How can I be a comic when the more I do it the less my life is believable. I don’t have an ordinary life and I don’t think many comics do after a while.”
The debate about gay marriage in Australia brought Gadsby back to her childhood in Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal and homophobia was unavoidable and sometimes violent.
“I’m a childless queer woman – so to not address that as your career goes on – I knew I was going to have to start talking shit really. So I thought – I wonder what will happen if I say what I really think? Fuck you. I’m going to say what I really think. And it has really hit a nerve. There’s a part of that show where I wasn’t in control. Sometimes I felt very vulnerable. Child abuse was not something I had talked about on stage. It didn’t make me feel powerful but it did give me a sense of genuine connection with the audience. That is partly what the show is about. It’s almost a meditation on that vulnerability.”
She refused to accept the Barry Award in the name of Barry Humphries, who has made outrageous comments about marriage equality, transgender issues and human rights.
“I think it is important not to accept that behaviour. What I experienced as a kid and the way people spoke when I was a kid – it feels different now but politically the language is strangely familiar. There is a danger in that and in the language that sometimes runs around social media. Part of what I was throwing up in Nanette was the idea of being very careful.”
WORDS: Claire Smith
PHOTO: Jim Lee
WHERE & WHEN
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Assembly George Square Studios, 2-27 August (not 15), 5.30pm
From £12, Tel: 0131 226 0000