Hannah Gadsby @ Assembly George Square

Nanette explores internal shame

Review by Ben Venables | 08 Aug 2017
  • Hannah Gadsby

Though the bile-laden debate surrounding the 1997 legalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania offers context, this is a show about how shame is internalised and experienced as low self-esteem and self-hatred.

Hannah Gadsby draws parallels between that meagre sense of self-worth and the role of a comedian. After all, a comedian lowers their own status to make everyone else feel better. With this in mind, she casts light on a cruel side of comedy – the part where we laugh at someone rather than with them.

Once we've learned to ride a bike, it is hard to unlearn it and lose balance. Similarly for this comedian, at the apex of her career, the nurtured instinct to be funny is impossible to shake off. Stand-up becomes a sophisticated art, but turning its wheels relies on two elements: tension and release. In Nanette, Gadsby examines the tension part of comedy, making us all sit in a state of increasing unease. But this isn't some performance strategy to win back the room – big tension rewarded with a big laugh – it is more like an endgame where Gadsby calls out comedy for acting as a panacea. What if we've evolved to feel tense, to feel something is wrong, because it actually is wrong? And, what are the consequences, both for us and the comedian when she lets us off the hook, and makes all those bad feelings go away with a quip?

No longer prepared to make us feel better while she feels worse, Nanette is Gadsby's final show. It would be disingenuous to say it is an enjoyable one. She creates a world of discomfort, an internal feeling of tension without release. And, that is rather her point.

Hannah Gadsby – Nanette, Assembly George Square (Studio 5), 2-27 Aug (not 15) 5.30pm, £10-12

This review is based on an opening night preview