Douglas review: Hannah Gadsby strikes again
Douglas is Hannah Gadsby at her prime, and with it, she finds a way to insert the ending her stories deserve
Perspective. Perspective is essentially what makes us who we are. It flavours the emotional core of a person. So, it isn’t surprising that perspective defines the art we make and consume. Even more so in comedy, which is basically funny commentary which provides a newer perspective on things we see in everyday life. And when I watched Nanette, it was Hannah Gadsby’s evolved perspective of art, her own and others' as well, that hit me hard. It was my first experience with her work, and it isn’t everyday that a comic says she wants to quit comedy in the middle of her set. It was a show of a certain kind: brimming with honesty, frustration, and the need to tell her story right, even if it means losing her craft. (Of course, there was good comedy in between as well.)
Streaming on: Netflix
Creator: Hannah Gadsby
It is that self-awareness that makes Gadsby special. Perspective. Douglas is lighter, of course. It is not another Nanette. But Gadsby knows that, and she prepares us for it, quite literally, with a prelude that describes the course of the show with moderate detail. If anything, it makes work easier for people like me who are writing about the show, because we don’t need to worry about spoilers; there’s literally no way we can spoil this piece. But what it also shows is the strength of Gadsby’s form: the way she coherently weaves a narrative of humour, insight, facts, and representation. It is meta, in a clever way. As she puts it, she sets our expectations by ‘telling us what to expect’, and then goes on to exceed them. It doesn’t matter that you know what’s coming, it is still pretty entertaining because of the way Gadsby presents it. Perspective.
Some of Nanette’s themes are repeated though: like ‘the gentle-needling of patriarchy’, the mockery of misogyny, the usage of art history. Some of the examples do too: like the representation of women in art, or artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo. But this isn’t criticism, because it makes a lot of sense. (I don’t see any of this, especially misogyny or hate crime, going out of fashion anytime soon.) Also, Gadsby’s take is extremely amusing and informative. Perspective again. To quote Gadsby herself, she hasn’t met a joke yet that she hasn’t wanted to call back. Add that to already-met experience, and the result is effectively engrossing. She knows this as well, it’s a decision. A wise one, unlike some of the ones our early artists have made. (It is also one of the rare times where a comedy special requires you to Google stuff; she truly is one of a kind.)
In Nanette, Gadsby acknowledges how a joke has two parts: a set-up and a punchline. And the lack of a third part, which stories have, is what made her question comedy. With Douglas, she finds a way to insert the ending her stories deserve, in a way reinventing the structure itself. This is Hannah Gadsby at her prime. So the constant smile I had when I watched Douglas, wasn’t just from the intelligent, perceptive comedy she was making. There’s also some satisfaction and pure happiness to see her again on stage. It means, as an audience, we have done something right. That, in a small way, we have contributed to preserving a voice that deserves a lot of love and attention. I see Hannah Gadsby more as a storyteller than just a comic. A storyteller whose tales I quite look forward to in the future as well.