Review: NANETTE (2018)

Note I: Distinctly possible this will end up incorporated into an IBWT video piece (UPDATE: Yes it has!!!) in the near-future, but packed-weeks being what they are wanted to get the text up just in case.
Note II:
Given that this is an overview of a comedy special, it includes the discussion of both jokes and punchlines. If you’ve yet to watch NANETTE and feel inclined to, consider that your Spoiler-Warning.


If you follow the world of comedy and Netflix standup comedy specials at all you’ve probably seen or heard the chatter about NANETTE, an intentionally nonsensically-titled special by Tasmanian comedienne Hannah Gadsby that – depending on who you ask – is either an unfunny lecture devoid of laughs launched by an angry vindictive lesbian who wants to destroy comedy forever or a glorious medium-redefining masterpiece that will change the way you think about the very concept of humor… because it’s an unfunny lecture devoid of laughs launched by an angry vindictive lesbian who wants to destroy comedy forever.

You may think I’m being hyperbolic but the reaction really has been that extreme, with the special and Gadsby herself alternately celebrated and attacked in equal measure with language that suggests nothing so much as the “Social Justice Left” having finally found it’s own answer to the late Sam Kinison. So imagine my relative surprise – coming, it must be said, from my own position of relative privilege and general unfamiliarity with Gadsby’s previous work – in sitting down to watch the thing and discovering that this supposed cluster-bomb of stand-up comedy antimatter was something so “normal” and approachable… that is, of course, until it no longer wants to be, i.e. when Gadsby tips her hand as to the true nature of her set – but then that’s the the whole point. Continue reading


“So what?” is a two word retort that, deployed properly in the correct instance, I’ve long considered to be perhaps the best rhetorical disarming maneuver available in the English language. Two words, two syllables, paired with the exact right combination of inquisitive cadence and matter-of-fact inflection, capable of sweeping an opponent’s most powerful thrust – even the killing blow! – aside with such casual confidence so as to leave them stumbling, stunned, bewildered at their inability to land the blow and (ideally) at a loss for what (if anything) they should do next.

The key, as with any good parry, is to wait them out and let them make what they are sure is their masterstroke – to “hit their finisher” in the parlance of combat sport: Give them the room to make their case, tell their story, argue their point and paint what they fundamentally believe is a vivid picture of not simply their own righteousness but your wrongness. Let them indict you. Let them brand you a villain and your goals malevolent. Let them construct the reality whereby you win the argument and all the world is ash as a result. Let them feel the presumptive stirrings of triumph in having so thoroughly proven you wanting. And then… “So what?”

In other words: “I’ve chosen to reject what you took as a given was the damning end of the argument, so elaborate on why what you just described is supposed to be bad – or bother me? Or bother someone else?” Used properly, there is terrifying power in the rejection of presumed standards, and though seemingly simple; the proper use of “So what?” requires two substantial strengths to execute: The ability to commit absolutely to the projection of certainty that you have no idea why what’s been suggested would be “all that bad” and a willingness to “own” at least the theoretical result you’re performing the possibility of comfort with.


It can, of course, be used for evil as well as good. Continue reading