A Reflection on Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’

I stumbled across this stand-up comedy show scrolling through the digital wilderness at that point in the evening where anything will suffice to get you through to an acceptable bedtime hour. Hannah Gadsby is an Australian comedian who has been on the circuit for around 10 years or so, but in this show she explains that the circuit has only taken her around on a vicious cycle, and explains it is not enough for her to be just ‘funny’ anymore.

She starts off, however, in normal fashion (although she would pertain her fashion is ‘not so normal’). Very dry, thorough and to the point with her humour: she does her job in almost scientific terms, dissecting her jokes and timing their ‘two-points’ of tension and relief with the utmost precision (and she knows this as well). One joke in particular underpins the show as its fundamental core: the message that, as the show reaches its powerful and penetrating climax, made comedy take a step back and really assess what its purpose in the world should be.

Two women are at a bust-stop: herself and another, just chatting away (‘maybe having a little flirt, who knows?), before a man, who we very soon find out to be the other’s girlfriend, shouts out ‘oy you faggot!’. The man in question then clocks that she is not a man but, indeed, a woman, and retracts his statement to say that ‘I thought you were a man hitting on my girl, and in any case I don’t hit women’. Cue the ironic ‘what a guy’ from Hannah, the classic build-up of tension and swift removal to make everyone room at ease, the reason why most came to stand-up in the first place. However, as she goes on to explain, this ‘joke’ has been on too long a hiatus, and needed to be developed into a more conventional ‘beginning-middle-end’ story, delivering a fatal blow to the punchline.

The man realised that actually, she was a ‘faggot’, and proceeded to beat her to within an inch of her life, leaving her on the street in tatters. Yet she would not go to the hospital, or call the police, or ask for help, because as a marginalised individual in this world she has felt as if help did not belong to her, that she did not deserve it. This ending is not funny, it is not joke, but for ten years she had made it so, because it is what the business requires: humour, not honesty. And kudos to her for shattering the illusion, as we reach this point in time where even the rosiest of entertainments cannot hide from the cruelty of our society, where you see comedians like her all over using self-deprecation as a means to something better, but not the end.

Finally, I want to reflect upon her discussion of Picasso, the patriarchal strings that have pulled him up tight and paraded him around as a hero, and how it made me a feel. She was very visceral in her criticism of white, heterosexual males (of which I’m part of) and I must admit, it did stick in quite deep. She highlighted his philandering, abusive conquests, including that of an underage girl, and the deep misogyny rooted in him she labelled as a mental illness (and so it should be). But she highlighted (unintentionally to me of course but to the ‘group’ I belong to) the prejudice that is also deeply rooted even in my psyche. She mentioned Woody Allen in a list of truly evil men who are still celebrated for their work and the argument that you should ‘split the artist from his work’. Now Woody Allen’s comedy to me has always been truly tremendous, both his prose and his films. And (now I know, naively s) I have defended that ‘one and the other’ argument precisely because of that. But her message, that we live in a rigged system of men in my mould who are only now receiving dents of criticism, put me to shame, and rightly so. I still have a lot to learn, and performances like hers will soon open up those dents so that we can configure society in a completely new way.

Talking Feminism

Our editor, Joshua Cialis, interviews the director of Freak, Ellie Ward, about The Herd’s upcoming run of Anna Jordan’s play in York and London.

Heart breaking as it is hilarious, Freak is the story of two women, Leah and Georgie. The action unfolds across their two bedrooms, which face opposite each other, with the audience positioned either side of the beds. This is a truly immersive piece, with Georgie and Leah telling their stories straight to the audience. Leah tells us of her plans to lose her virginity; Georgie of her dreams about King Kong, and her ex-boyfriend Jamie. This is feminist theatre, but Freak isn’t a show about how to be a good feminist. It is about two women deeply entrenched in the media-obsessed, misogynistic world of the 21st century. It is about sexuality, rape culture and female friendship. But mostly, it is about giving Leah and Georgie the space to tell their stories.

‘Freak is a bold examination of what it is to be a woman in Britain today’. Does Freak suggest what being a “woman” means or what it could mean?

Freak suggests that being a woman in Britain today is hard. Jordan’s characters; Leah, a young teenage girl, and Georgie, a 30 year old woman, represent just two lived experiences of girlhood and womanhood. What being a “woman” means is a hot topic at the minute, with the #metoo movement, and debates surrounding sexual harassment and sexual conduct between the sexes. However, Freak doesn’t focus on the abuse women suffer at the hands of men, but the abuse women suffer at the hands of themselves: that is, “internalized misogyny”. From Veeting for new boyfriends, to validation via male appraisal, both Leah and Georgie are symptoms of the patriarchal culture we live in. Freak pulls at the fabric of womanhood, unravelling it’s hypocrisies and limitations in hilarious, and sometimes painful, detail.

So what is a good feminist? Or is there such a thing?

I believe the only viable way to be a “good” feminist is to accept you are probably a bad one. Humans are not perfect, after growing up within patriarchal systems of power, rape culture, and a media obsessed with the perfect body, image, life, it’s gonna be pretty hard not to be a hyprocrite from time to time. And that’s fine. What’s dangerous is to put women on the “good” feminist pedestal, which the media like to do. It just means when they slip up we can knock them off and berate them, undermining all the hard and genuine work they have done. Bad feminism underpins Freak. Neither Leah or Georgie would identify as feminist, in fact, they represent what feminism seeks to blunten: obsession with the male gaze, self-hate, perfectionism in body and physical attractiveness. The perfect feminist is a myth that needs busting.

Do you think the definition of feminism is changing? The fight is no longer about the vote it’s about values?

Definitely. There is a huge difference between social change, and political change. Yeah, we’ve had the vote for 100 years, but social value systems that have been engrained in culture for 100s of thousands of years are going to take more time than that to overturn. Also, feminism, especially in the media spotlight, can be very white washed. We’ve got to take time to understand feminism on an intersectional level. I understand that whilst I am up against prejudice as a woman, I also carry with me a lot of white privilege. So yeah, its all about values. And not sitting on our arses thinking it’s all sorted – check your privilege!

I find the different readings of a play very interesting. In your direction of Jordan’s play did you stick fast to the script or was there a little wiggling?

For us, all our characterization was pulled straight from Jordan’s script. It was a bit of a bible, and one of the most beautiful pieces of contemporary play writing I have read. Of course, while the facts we pulled from the script have stuck fast, there is wriggle room in how we communicated the associated emotions. Rather than focus on blocking, we focused on mapping out the reasons the characters were saying what they were saying, what they wanted the audience to think. That’s the joy of Freak – the show feels different every night, as Marie and Caitlin [the two actors in this performance] try out new ways to communicate the intentions they understand so clearly!

Herd is a feminist theatre company…to promote discussion, share ideas and skills and provide opportunities for women and non-binary people’. Why do you think it is important to use the arts (specifically theatre) as a springboard for the discussions of feminism?

After our first run of Freak so many people came up to me, or messaged me, telling me the ways in which they related to Leah and Georgie, and how it made them think about their attitudes to sex, body image, and sexuality. Within Freak, Leah and Georgie do not realize fully how the things they are saying and doing are problematic. This is the audience’s job. Freak is a rare diamond as Leah and Georgie are telling their stories directly to the audience, forcing them to think about not just the fictional situations of the play, but similar events in their own lives. What would I do in that situation? What did I do in that situation? Theatre generates discussion without specifically asking for it: the dialogue which results is complex, personal, truthful. And it is necessary. By glancing at someone else’s life, you are able to hold a mirror to your own, and affect change.

Do you have a favourite line from the play?

This is tough! Possibly, “I smoke fags out of the window, try on every piece of clothing I own and see how many times I can cum during Homes Under the Hammer!”

Finally why should I come and see Freak?

Freak is hilarious, hearting breaking and vivid. You will literally be sat within Leah and Georgie’s bedrooms, listening to their stories. Freak kinda feels like you are being told fresh secrets at a sleepover, or chin wagging with your best friend, whose had kind of a rough week. More importantly, you will see part of your life in Georgie or Leah. Whether they remind you of yourself, your Mum, your daughter or sister. Freak has something for everyone, and is not one to miss.

Freak is showing at the City Screen Picture House, York on 25th-27th July as part of Great Yorkshire Fringe. And at Cecil Sharpe House, London between 19th-22nd August 2018 as part of the Camden Fringe. Make sure you order your tickets to support this emerging feminist theatre company.

Send us your Work

Hello Reader,

Did you know that we are open for submissions of poetry, prose and art. If selected your work will be published in 003 of Foxtrot Uniform. We want to see your new poems, short stories, essays, collages, sketches, or anything else you might’ve done. Foxtrot Uniform is a free space to express yourself. Our magazine is your magazine.

We already have some amazing submissions but we think there’s more to see! If you would like to have your work published, email foxtrotuniformpoetry@gmail.com and attach up to 5 pieces in a word document, along with your name and address. Every person that is published will receive a free copy of the magazine and their work will be immortalised in print alongside some other great creatives.

So what do we like to see?

Foxtrot Uniform is a free space for creatives to share their work. We like to see the unseen, the form bending, the formless, the political, the surreal, the beautiful, and the ugly; if your work is different and new we will probably like it…

So what are you waiting for, email us some poetry, prose, or art…