Unconventional Mentor no. 4 - Hannah Gadsby

"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself"

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If you haven’t watched Nanette by Hannah Gadsby then you need to stop reading this right now and watch it. Not only can I not do justice to this fantastic stand up piece in what I am about to write, but it is so powerful and moving that you really just have to watch it for yourself. It is hilariously funny, but also incredibly moving. The first time I watched it I cried, and I cried again watching it to write this piece.

Hannah Gadsby has been a stand-up comedian for over 10 years, but I only came to know who she was earlier this year when her stand up show Nanette was released on Netflix. In the show she talks about her experiences being “a little bit lesbian”, what it was like to grow up in homophobic Tasmania and why she has decided that she needs to quit comedy. The show starts out like an ordinary stand-up routine, with Hannah talking about her life experiences. She shares how when she was growing up she wasn’t sure that she fit in with “her people” the gay community. Upon watching Mardi Gras on the TV her first thought was “where do the quiet gays go?

I’ve never seen anyone quite like Hannah. She has that fantastic Australian turn of phrase, describing western art as men “painting flesh vases for their dick flowers”. The topics she covers includes homophobia, gender identity, her experience as a lesbian, feminism, sexual assault and a particularly poignant rant about how much of a shit Picasso (or as she likes to call him Pablo Picasshole) was. The show is funny, so so funny, but about things which are difficult and problematic.

It is half way through where the show starts to take an unexpected turn, when Hannah announces that she is thinking about quitting comedy. From here on in the show oscillates between the funny jokes she has been telling us before, to poignant moments of truth and realisation from her life. The decision to question comedy is told to us in the definition of joke, which is the release of tension and Hannah continues to build and release the tension for the rest of the show, it really is quite powerful. By the end of the piece you realise that Hannah is the strong woman from the quote I mentioned at the beginning and for me I had definitely found a new Unconventional Mentor.

Mentor Advice: Your story has value

The advice that I take from Hannah Gadsby is that your story has value and should be told, The whole premise of Nanette (without spoiling it for you) is that for a long time Hannah’s comedy has been rooted in being self-deprecating, but this really isn’t a healthy thing to do.

“I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak and I simply won’t do that anymore.”

The big reveal of the show is that Hannah has been telling the stories of her life as jokes, but only sharing half of the story and this has come to define her. Rather than dealing with the trauma she has faced, she turned it into a joke and she is now realising that this is not serving her. Towards the end of the show she shares the true outcomes of the jokes she had shared at the start and it reduced me to tears. I don’t cry much at films or TV programmes, but her story hit me so hard I just burst into tears. Hannah has realised that her story has value, that it deserves to be heard. She tells us that all of our stories deserve to be heard, particularly as there may be someone out there who relates to our story and upon hearing it, seeing how we live our lives, they might just feel less alone.

If you still haven’t watched Nanette then you can find it here and you can also read more about Hannah Gadsby here