In her 2018 Netflix show Nanette, Hannah Gadbsy broke through the punchlines expected in stand-up comedy routines. She addressed the realities of growing up as an LGBTQ+ woman in Tasmania, including the homophobia and abuse she faced. To navigate through this, Gadbsy used humour to put herself down in order to speak. “I built a career on self-deprecating humour and I don’t want to do it anymore,” she powerfully explained. “Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it come from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility, it’s humiliation.”
Gadsby also announced that she was quitting comedy but, thankfully, the global success of Nanette changed her mind. After announcing that she will be bringing her new tour Douglas to the UK in October, fans are intrigued to know what a show by a comedian who gave up comedy will be like.
“What I very much did with Nanette was, ‘Hi, I don’t care,’ and now obviously a lot of people are invested in what I do next - myself included,” Gadbsy tells Stylist over the phone from Boston, where she is currently touring. “I’m trying to not think about that and focus on - given where I am now in my post-Nanette world – asking myself what am I thinking, what’s on my mind and how do I engage with the world, as opposed with trying to guess what people want from me.”
Describing the response to Nanette as “overwhelming”, Gadsby says the supportive response from straight white men is what has surprised her the most. “I didn’t write the show for them,” she laughs. “So I was expecting a bit of backlash from that demographic. But I didn’t get that – a lot of guys really connected with it and… I liked that.”
But with self-deprecation being a key theme of the show, the fact that a spectrum of people have identified themselves in Gadbsy’s words is perhaps unsurprising – because who doesn’t rely on self-deprecation? Although it’s no longer a habit to use as a tool for acceptance, Gadsby still thinks self-deprecating is an important art in survival.
“I think there’s a place for self-deprecation, I really do. I could not have done what I did without the protection of it that I built around myself,” she says. “It’s a really valuable thing to be able to do as a survival skill and a coping mechanism. But I think as a maturity thing, it’s important to also know how to shift and when it’s appropriate to shift. It’s no longer a habit, it’s just another way of expressing or navigating certain situations so I can do it if needs be - if I need to disarm people.”
Going deeper into her experiences as a queer woman, Gadbsy also recalled her rape and abuse in Nanette. She also recently revealed in a Variety interview that having the right to abort her rape related pregnancy saved her life. At a time when straight white men are implementing abortion bans in America and LGBTQ+ women are being beaten up by men on London buses, vocalising these experiences feels as vital as ever.
“It’s a difficult place for queer women,” says Gadbsy. “We’re at an interesting point in the world where, for every gain we’ve got, it feels a bit slippery at the moment. There might be a lot of positivity around the language and the stories we’re telling about LGBTQ+ experiences but it’s not reflected in reality.
“I think the further you go down the socio-economic ladder, the more dangerous a place it remains. It’s really important for people who are privileged to know that and it’s important for people like myself to keep acknowledging that, because I’m fine. People don’t beat me up at the bus stop anymore because I don’t need to catch buses.”