Are you ready for the return of the Hannah Gadsby discourse? I for one can not fucking wait.
If you forgot: in 2018 Gadsby released Nanette, her first special for Netflix. It’s a bold, personal, conversational show that, in the course of a little over an hour, travels from Gadsby’s distinctive but still fairly recognizable take on stand-up to a pointed cultural critique of how women and marginalized people are treated in society. It turns into a serious and powerful argument against the status quo, which only serves to heighten and magnify the more explicitly comedic portions earlier in the show. Gadsby didn’t redefine comedy, or anything, but she presented a well-written and passionately performed example of how stand-up doesn’t constantly need to be funny—how it can incorporate emotional honesty and righteous anger alongside the punchlines and observations. Critics ate it up, including Paste, but a very vocal contingent of the comedy world did not.
Nanette became an obnoxious flashpoint between old-fashioned stand-up traditionalists and those who realize the art form can be far more expansive and diverse than it’s been. Scores of comedy club lifers—typically male, typically middle-aged or older—treated Nanette and its critical reception with extreme contempt. Almost immediately after its release the Nanette discourse had almost nothing to do with the show or Gadsby herself, but was essentially the latest rehash of the sexist “women aren’t funny” lie. It was an exhausting and ridiculous reaction to a great show, and if anything, only backfired for those complainers, who raised the show’s profile even higher by constantly mocking it.
Well, it’s been two years, and Gadsby’s back. Her follow-up special, Douglas (named after one of her dogs), will be launching on Netflix on May 26, 2020. If you’ve seen her live in the last two years you’ve seen a version of this show; it’s the same show that Hilton Als memorably tore apart in the New Yorker last year. His review is deeply critical of Douglas, but not for the same reasons that the angry brick wall set hated Nanette so much. It’ll be interesting to see if Douglas is as solipsistic as Als wrote, or to see if Gadsby took some of those criticisms to heart. Either way, I’ve been looking forward to Douglas for almost two years, and it’s good to know when it’s finally coming out—even if it’ll make me want to avoid all comedy social media for months afterward.