Nanette: How Hannah Gadsby is shifting perspectives

Aggie reviews Hannah Gadsby’s standup show and tells us how she inspired her

‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or they’ll kill you’ – Oscar Wilde

This quote is a concrete piece of advice that’s as applicable today as it was when Oscar Wilde wrote it.

I am not suggesting for one moment that all comedians speak the truth – far from it. However, after watching Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, there is no denying that this woman is speaking hers. And in the process, she is encouraging myself and others to speak our own truths. Her hour-long documentary takes the audience on an emotional journey of highs and lows as she conveys her own personal journey through her career as a comedian and as an individual.

Messages presented in a comical context sit deep with me. They get you in all the right ways, and in Nanette, Hannah is excellent at her job of managing the audiences’ feelings. As our emotions shift into a higher frequency through laughter, Hannah hits us with her message. The association of what she is delivering, from jokes about homophobia to sexism, are cleverly juxtaposed with laughter, and that tension between the two means the message dwells longer. I visit it again and again in my mind… long after I’ve stopped watching. Below are five of my favourite messages that Hannah presents us with in her Netflix documentary Nanette.

Be Yourself

Being yourself is an increasingly complicated issue, thanks to our capitalist system teaching us to keep buying and adhere to a consumerist way of life. We are continuously taught to look for satisfaction, distraction, and understanding everywhere but from within ourselves. Hannah Gadsby shines a light on this difficulty, encouraging us to accept ourselves by taking us through her own challenging life journey. She discusses accepting her homosexual identity, abuse, and her path towards establishing her own self-worth.

She uses this opportunity to introduce a part of herself which is fairly niche: her talent of mixing comedy with her knowledge of art history. She sadly relays her experience of understanding the world through art history, and seeing her own rejected identity within it. ‘I understand the world that I live in, and my place in it, I don’t have one’.

She relays traumatic everyday experiences of feeling like she doesn’t deserve to have a place in the world because of her sexual identity and appearance – something she calls ‘existing in the margins.’ She feels as though most of her life she has been ‘seeking permission to speak’, which makes the experience of her owning the stage in front of thousands incredibly poignant.

Sensitivity as a gift

In addition to this, Hannah focuses on living in a part of the world which devalues sensitivity. She highlights sensitivity as a gift, and encourages us that it’s time to start viewing it that way. According to the dictionary, sensitivity can be defined as ‘an appreciation of other’s feelings’ and ‘being able to detect or respond to slight changes’ – so essentially to be sensitive is to be empathetic and aware through the use of the senses. Hannah asks the audience ‘why is insensitivity something to strive for?’ before going on to say that her sensitivity is her ‘strength’ as it helped her ‘navigate through a very difficult path in life’.

Hannah asks the audience ‘why is insensitivity something to strive for?’

In the West sensitivity has been reshaped to mean weak, inferior, overly emotional and chaotic. When I picture people saying this, I must admit that it is mostly men with corporate careers that are being affected by a big case of toxic masculinity in Ego Town. But feelings make us human, they help us connect, and it is becoming clear that we need to value sensitivity more. With alcoholism being as prevalent as ever, and male suicide being the biggest killer of men, it is clear people are trying to suppress feelings that they cannot accept or process. A shift in our conceptual take on sensitivity needs to happen, and Hannah uses her time in the limelight to address this.

People laugh when they’re uncomfortable

People often laugh when they feel uncomfortable, as well as when they are happy. More often than not we fill awkward silences and uncomfortable feelings with cracking a joke. Hannah Gadsby explains how she has been doing this her whole life to diffuse feelings of discomfort with her own identity.

By addressing this, she is encouraging us to be okay with being serious when a serious subject or issue comes to the surface. I really resonated with this point. I used to feel a need to laugh to diffuse tension, and I still do sometimes, as many of us do. However, when we become accepting of experiencing and processing deep feelings, then we will lose the need to use laughter as a silence filler in any conversation which becomes ‘deep’ and exploratory. Being able to sit with our emotions is so important, and Hannah is demonstrating how we can do that.


Hannah delivers laughter to soothe your female soul. She openly jokes about being mistaken for a white man, and not minding as she thought she might get ‘good service for no fucking effort’. She then goes on to explore what it would be like to be a man taking up physical space, using both the arm rests on a plane, because you know, men… they’ve earnt it. She also talks about the slow transition in our current society towards systematic approaches for equality, and how things aren’t looking so great for the straight white male anymore. She also goes on to say she wouldn’t be a straight white male if you paid her… ‘although the pay would be substantially better’.

One highlight was when Hannah discusses the young woman that Pablo Picasso abused. She says that nobody stuck up for the young girl because they thought ‘her potential was never going to equal his’. This struck me right at my core. I found it unbelievably powerful that Hannah had encapsulated in a sentence in front of thousands on a stage the way men are automatically given more respect, and often more of a ‘future’ than women. Memories flashed through my mind: the times when men had overlooked me and sought a man’s advice when I knew the answer to their question, when male friends chose a male in a dispute because he was a man, when you’re doing the same career as a male friend… but he’s going places and you’re not. The list continues. The pain that women experience every day and every week continues. And there Hannah was, telling us how disgustingly unacceptable it was.

Tears fell down my face, for myself and for the other women and young girls, that have to fight this battle every day. These men are our friends, these men are our teachers, and they didn’t see the potential in that young girl as they wouldn’t see the potential in you. This world isn’t built for women, and Hannah is a key piece in the big puzzle towards changing that. Just remember girls and women, in the words of Hannah Gadsby, ‘there is nothing stronger than a woman that has been broken and rebuilt herself’.

Question everything

As an extension of her feminist thinking, Hannah teaches us to question everything, starting with gender. She refers to herself as ‘gender not normal’. So what is not normal gender? This idea allows us to delve deeper into gender performativity: the idea that gender is fluid, ever-transforming and on a spectrum. However, Hannah points out that people still don’t question where their hateful attitudes surrounding gender come from. With passion and anger, she talks about how she has been seen as ‘incorrectly female’ her whole life, and asks, what does it mean to be a correct female?

 What does it mean to be a correct female?

In addition to this, the show had me questioning why Hannah often apologised after getting angry. It is clear that Hannah is shifting from her old self into a new unapologetic self, but as a woman, it seemed at times saddening that she fluctuated between owning her anger, to feeling the need to diffuse the tension by apologising. This is linked to gender performance in women: feeling a need to apologise for our place in the world, apologising for taking up too much space, apologising for daring to stand out in front of thousands of people and move them to tears. That is nothing to apologise for and I long for a world where girls and women stop apologising for their opinions, power and influence.

Men have been running the world, unfortunately that world has been, and still is, full of misogynistic politicians and artists. As Hannah explains, this results in girls and women ingesting narratives subconsciously which tell us that we are undeserving. Hannah’s show is a good place to start if you have been seeing too much of a male narrative.

To summarise, what made Hannah’s piece so incredibly impactful is her ability to be vulnerable. It is through vulnerability that we connect with others, and Hannah is so incredibly authentic with her perspective. She invites us to explore how you don’t fit the perfect image that we’ve been sold, because perfect is a construct. Through this exploration, you will find company there, maybe you’ll find someone like you. So go, watch Nanette, be inspired to speak your truth, as she has hers.

‘What I would have done to have heard a story like mine’ – Hannah Gadsby

Have you seen Nanette? Let us know if Hannah Gadsby speaks to you in the comments or on social media.

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