We all have a terrible habit of staring at our phones and mindlessly scrolling through apps like Instagram while watching TV, even when the show playing is one of our favourites.
(And if you don’t do that…well, you’re a better person than me and every single other person I know.)
But Netflix’s new comedy special is so compelling, so raw and so very relevant that you’ll find yourself unable to tear your eyes away from the screen, even for the brief moment it takes to glance down at your Facebook feed.
Hell, a seagull could swoop into your living room and pluck your phone from your fingers and you wouldn’t even notice. Such is the might and the majesty of Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special, Nanette.
If the name of the show sounds familiar, that’s because it has been heaped with acclaim and critical praise since Gadsby first started touring it.
Nanette (named after a barista who was going to play a central role in the set until the subject matter just didn’t quite work) was named joint winner of the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and winner of the Barry Award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
The show, which was filmed live at the Sydney Opera House, chronicles the 40-year-old gay comedian’s thoughts on growing up in Tasmania, a state that that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, along with her own experiences of dealing with criticism, toxic masculinity, homophobia and overall what it is like to live in a world determined to see you only as an outsider.
In the set, Gadsby calls out everyone from Louis C.K. to Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and even Pablo Picasso. Those hits are wound into humorous and cutting anecdotes that sit perfectly alongside tales of her mother, her grandmother and even one particularly opinionated fan who pulled Gadsby aside after a show and berated her for not including enough “lesbian content”.
Nanette is the one Netflix show you need to watch.
There are laughs a plenty to be had in Nanette, thanks not just to Gadsby’s clever joke writing style but also to the effortless way she commands the audience’s attention (she has been at this comedy game for well over a decade, after all, and her masterful style is well on display here) but it is not just the humour in this set that makes it so completely unforgettable.
At the beginning of the show, Gadsby’s stories, jokes and moments of reminiscing about her childhood induce raucous laughter from the crowd. Even a tale about a night when a man had threatened to beat her up for talking to his girlfriend, only to start bumbling and apologising when he realised she was in fact a woman, is met with chuckles from the audience.
And then, Gadsby begins to shift the tone of her show.
The wry raising of one eyebrow is gone, along with the mischievous glimmer that appeared regularly in her eyes every time she landed a joke. Instead, they are replaced with a steely resolve and fiery passion as Gadsby recounts to the audience exactly what our laughter has cost her.
“I have built my career out of self-deprecating humour, that’s what I’ve built my career on,” she says to the captivated audience. “And… I don’t want to do that anymore. Because, do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who is already 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.”
She goes on to tell some of her stories in a different way, this time they are recounted without the sanitized and cheeky resolution that comes after they havebeen placed on the comedy conveyor belt. This time around we see the pain that living through these events has caused Gadsby. The second act of her show very much shines an alarming and despicable light on our world.
Take, for instance, that charming story of the man who threatened to bash her up because he thought she was a man chatting up his girlfriend. Early on in the piece she joked about leaving him there in his own ignorance.
It is not until the set is nearing its end that we find out the ugly way that story really ended for her.
Nanette is a marvel not just because it will make you laugh or because it will make you think. That is, after all, what great comedy should always make you do.
Instead, Nanette will make you feel wildly uncomfortable. It will make you feel shame and it will make you feel hope, at times you will even feel all of these emotions in the one moment. So much so that you'll start to wonder how your mind could be processing all these thoughts at once and still be so captivated by the woman speaking on stage.
But most of all, Nanette will make you go quiet, it will stun you into silence as so many realisations about the world suddenly confront you in a very new way.
And, even though you are watching this show through a screen in your home, a show that was taped months previously, not one ounce of the intensity and emotion has been lost through the change in medium.
As I watched Nanette I felt my eyes lock with Gadsby's, and even though she was was being filmed standing before a packed audience in one of Australia's most iconic venues, her words shook with such intensity that I felt like she was speaking only to me.
I know that people say this next bit a lot, about so many shows, but in this case it rings particularly true.
If you watch one new Netflix show in the foreseeable future, make it this one.
Nanette will be available to stream on Netflix from Tuesday June 19.
For more TV show and movie recommendations like this, you can follow writer and Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.