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Comedy can be dark, illuminating, frustrating, hilarious and terrifying all at the same time. It can be simply for enjoyment or it can frame the world in a way you’d never thought to see it. It is this paradox of comedy as a genre that sits at the heart of the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, Nanette.

Hailing from Tasmania, Gadsby is best known for her role in the sitcom Please Like Me. But it is her latest piece of stand-up comedy, filmed live at the Sydney Opera House and then screened on Netflix, that really demonstrates the power of Gadsby’s story.

Nanette is storytelling in its most powerful form, with nothing left out or omitted. It is, fundamentally, a stand-up comedy special about the demise of comedy. But in reality it’s difficult to know what to call it because Gadsby subverts the comedic genre halfway through her 70-minute set. She questions and dissects the genre and in doing so questions her audience’s own reaction to comedy.

Gadsby discusses how art and specifically comedy can amplify sexism and homophobia. She frames her experience of the world to allow for people to identify with her but to also respect the uniqueness of her story.

For the first half of Nanette, Gadsby maintains her usual thread of comedy but then all of a sudden there is a purposeful shift in tone. The paradox at the heart of this show comes when she reveals, “I do think I have to quit comedy”.

She examines the prevalence of self-deprecating humour throughout her 10-year career and then goes on to reveal that she no longer wants to do it. “Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore”

The key to the show’s success came from the fact that it featured on the Netflix homepage and was universally covered in the press. This meant it reached an audience broader and more diverse than perhaps one of Gadsby’s previous shows could ever have done. It became a cultural touchstone, a word-of-mouth recommendation, and not just another stand-up comedy show.

Visit Netflix’s website to watch Nanette.

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor of BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.

www.linkedin.com/in/izzy-ashton-950352a7

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