Hannah Gadsby's welcome return is a lighter but equally powerful set, writes Ethan Sills
It's rare that you see a comedian produce a set that relies so heavily on their previous show to work. Yet few comedians have the sort of success Hannah Gadsby had with Nanette. Her 2017 show won countless awards and went global after a Netflix deal made her trauma-filled monologue available to millions.
That show, an angry but hopeful deconstruction of the standard comedy hour, more than earned the acclaim and swarm of think-pieces it launched, and delivered Gadsby a legion of new fans right when she had planned to quit the game.
Thankfully, she's returned, and is well aware that Nanette's success is a big reason why her new show, Douglas, is why she nearly sold out The Civic Theatre and is not still performing several metres down the road at Elliot Stables as she did 10 years ago.
It's a phenomenal rise in just a decade, and Gadsby is aware of her newfound fame, something she doesn't let dictate the show. Bringing up Nanette early in her set, she says she would have spread out her trauma had she known it would be so popular – "I could have at least made a trilogy".
So the heartbreaking stories from Nanette are gone, but much of the anger and contempt remains, particularly when squared against the patriarchy and the low bar men have set for themselves. Yet, while Gadsby purposefully kept the jokes to a minimum in Nanette, here rarely a minute goes past without her delivering a line that will knock the breathe out of you.
Topics range from her interactions with Americans while touring her shows, to arguing with teachers about hypothetical penguins. Gadsby fires back at the haters who argued that Nanette was a lecture by delivering a fiery art history lesson, visual aids adding to the experience, as she brutally weaponises her university degree.
No matter the subject, Gadsby finds unexpected laughs in all places and offers the audience no respite in a breezy, tightly constructed set. While it is a much lighter version of Gadsby than most would have seen before, the show does take a quieter turn when she discusses her recent autism diagnosis. It is the most emotive the show gets as she draws all her topics together to argue how her condition has shaped her worldview and interactions with people.
It is a testament to Gadsby's skill and talent that everything pulls together, her callbacks and connections surprising and tightly woven together, yet it never feels overly construed. It is simply one of the sharpest and funniest 90 minutes I've ever experienced, and I already await Douglas' future Netflix debut to relive the magic again and again.
What: Hannah Gadsby,
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Where & when: Civic Theatre, February 1st ; Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, tonight.