There are times where the most meaningful and essential conversations to have and work on to create a better world are hidden in the most unexpected places. When you think of the combo Netflix and stand up comedy, you might think of relaxing, light and joyful entertainment. Well, Hannah Gadsby may shake all of your pre-conceived ideas and your expectations with her now available on Netflix show called Nanette.
As she says “laughter connects us all” and she had made a career out of the art of “creating and releasing tension”. In Nanette, she explains with a real didactic talent the art of comedy, creativity and the stigma of the tortured artist.
But what she explains with an even more wonderful verve is how this was a deceptive art with a high mental health cost. For decades, she had externalised bits of her story and her identity, offering them to the public in a ‘stand up comedised’ way. She had done it with excellence, - being “really good at [her] job” as she says -, because she learnt early on in life and through repetitive traumas that humour could be her survival, her escape. But she came to realise that it was a survival made of internalised shame, misogyny, homophobia and mental illness.
She was violently taught that she wasn’t physically and mentally the woman she needed to be. She also learnt she was a sin for being a Lesbian. Those learnings are false and perverse dogmas, but taught virulently during anyone’s upbringing, they leave the marks of self-deprecation and self-hatred. And in those marks the survival tactic of self-deprecating humour became a trap where Hannah’s legitimate hurt and anger were repressed. She wanted to escape her traumas and she only managed to escape her truth and the strength of telling her story.
“Broken and rebuilt but who will never flourish”, Nanette is the scream of her soul that said “Enough!”. She will no longer self-harm through comedy and she will no longer mute her story. This is a #MeToo moment and so much more. To me, it is a powerful ‘J’accuse’ to the patriarchy, to White cisgender and heterosexual men.
Throughout her poignant story but also a brilliant art history class and using recent worldwide events, she denounces a society highly misogynistic and homophobic. She denounces the heteronormative and heterosexist constructs of gender and body types. She denounces a society where women only have the “choice to be a virgin or a whore”. A society where all sexual abusers like Weinstein, Trump or Kavanaugh “are not the exceptions but the rule”. A society that encourages to punish anyone who isn’t one of the two pre-conceived, restrictive and oppressive version of a human being. A society that legislates how women can be and behave. A society where men don’t have to ask for consent or be respectful of women being just girls.
Hannah Gadsby talks about the arts and how they reveal what is wrong with our world. In poetry and painting, older men taking what they want out of minors has been romanticised and idealised for so long. Hollywood did the same. The Weinstein story was only the very beginning of challenging a system that is highly guilty of creating the rape culture. That same system that tells women to be abnormally skinny and pushes them (and men and non-binary or genderfluid individuals) to anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders and/or body dysmorphia. That same system that allows companies to pay women less than men. That same system that is clinging on its unacceptable and unfair privilege of not respecting, accepting and treating women equals with men, non-straight individuals equals with straight individuals, non-White individuals equals with White individuals, transgender individuals with cisgender individuals, autistic individuals with neurotypicals etc. A world where gender is a binary power force, a war of oppression and discrimination. A world of violence and abuse.
This is the #MeToo movement effect that lead to so many voices finally daring to speak their legitimate wounding, their legitimate anger. I say daring because they have too often been criminally dismissed when they managed to find the strength to tell their story and seek help and justice. Movements and voices like #WhyIdidntReport or #1in5 which aim to end the stigmas the abused have to suffer on top of what was inflicted to them, to end a culture that is allowing those horrors to happen constantly without punishing most of the tormentors.
But that’s not it. Hannah Gadsby manages to be funny, touching, inspiring and truthful with a brilliant talent and intelligence that she uses to combine the strength of a #MeToo movement with the strength of mental health movements like #1in4 or #WorldMentalHealthDay.
Because she doesn’t only tackles issues about gender norms, sexism, homophobia, sexual assault, rape and abuse. That is already a massive accomplishment to be able to do so in one hour with so much intelligence, perspicacity and insights. But she goes further than that. She also tackles issues about mental health and mental illnesses, revealing the damages of muting our wounds, our sensitivity and our vulnerability. This has the flair and the force of a Brené Brown Ted Talk.
And to all of this pervasive system and those issues, she says “NO MORE!”. A no more that includes no more self-harming escape, because she realised she had a story to tell “properly”, a story worth sharing, and for me a must be heard story. Hannah Gadsby wants with her last show to connect with all of us beyond the connection of laughter, in a place where lives a more authentic meaning.
Like her, I believe that sharing our stories is a gateway to work on purging the world of archaic carcinogenic views and dynamics that are consuming and harming all of us. And because she has the eloquence of being so inspiring, I took on me to write this recommendation. Because Nanette isn’t just a show, isn’t just a talk. Nanette is a commitment we can all make to check our internalised discriminations and our restrictive ideas of what a woman or a man can be, and to challenge the mistaken binary conception of gender.
Nanette is a resolution to no longer mute victims and for victims to be so much more than that. Nanette is the voice of victims becoming Teachers who have lessons so valuable. Valuable lessons we all need to learn and practice. Yes, we need to learn and practice leaving behind our restrictive views. Yes, we need to learn and practice respect and acceptance of all individualities. Yes, we need to learn and practice real equality over all aspects of current inequalities. Yes, we need to learn and practice to be better human beings because it is long overdue to build a world of togetherness where diversity is not persecuted and are celebrated. Diversity is the most precious treasure humanity has. And we all have a responsibility and a role to play in letting it flourish.
I hope you will watch Nanette, because it sure is a Netflix so special.
*I wanted to call my article ‘The Great Hannah Gadsby’ but that formulation already existed.
I want to dedicate this article to my dear client who recommended Nanette to me. She will know who she is. Thank you!