Hannah Gadsby brings her shrewd discomfort comedy to new show Douglas
There it was last June on Netflix, somewhere between the second season of Stranger Things and approximately 236 episodes of Friends: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. In just over an hour, her uncommon brand of eviscerating standup brilliantly erased the lines between comedy, confessional, and a sort of real-time discourse on speaking truth to power.
The show’s success made the Tasmanian native an instant and unlikely celebrity — pop culture’s premier autistic Antipodean lesbian, suddenly an ingenue at 40. Its follow-up, Douglas, currently ensconced for five weeks at New York City’s Daryl Roth Theater, feels like both a natural extension of Nanette and a gentle buffering of it (though gentle, here, is always relative).
In a supremely meta introduction, Gadsby lays out exactly what her audience — which on this night included writer-musician Carrie Brownstein and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark — should expect: the emotional highs and lows; the emphatically not-funny bits; the fart jokes (two) and Louis C.K. jokes (just one, but it’s good). Then she walks herself off, and returns for just over 100 minutes of riffs on several favorite and now often familiar topics: art history, anti-vaxxers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, toppling the patriarchy.
There are also dry-witted digressions on Where’s Waldo?, 18th–century male Scottish midwives, and the challenges of choosing an appropriate pet name (Douglas is one of her beloved dogs). If the moments of breezy Seinfeldian observation don’t rest entirely easily alongside smash-the-state takedowns of casual misogyny and American exceptionalism, her acknowledgment of those disconnects goes a long way toward mitigating them, and allowing the show’s energy to ebb and flow as well as it does.
Maybe unavoidably, too, Douglas lacks some of the deeper emotional impact of Nanette, a fact Gadsby is glad to acknowledge up front. If it’s more trauma her audience is looking for — particularly the raw recountings of sexual abuse, physical assault, and rape she experienced as a girl and young woman — she is, alas, “fresh out.” Though that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have highly personal and at times heartbreaking anecdotes to share about the painful impact her autism diagnosis continues to have not only on her personal life, but her mere ability to move through the world.
Even when not everything in the show coheres, it’s a pleasure just to watch Gadsby’s brain work: the way she chews a thought and doubles and triples back; the on-the-spot flashes of inspiration, dad-pun wordplay, and discomfiting honesty. But you don’t need to take a reviewer’s word for any of that — or even make the trip to New York, if it’s not in your travel plans; Douglas is already set to debut globally on Netflix sometime next year. B+