Hannah Gadsby’s new Netflix comedy special, Douglas, is outstanding
If you watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, then you know it wasn’t a normal comedy special. Gadsby used the time to vent about the issues in life as a gay woman growing up in an intolerant place. The special is powerful enough to bring you to tears but it also makes you laugh throughout. It was clear that this performance was special, it won an Emmy after all, but how do you follow that up?
Gadsby addresses this very early in the new special, Douglas, before taking to the task of proving she’s one of the truly great comedians of our time.
Gadsby begins her Netflix special by calling out anyone who came to her show because of Nanette. She essentially can’t understand why you would watch her pour out all of her trauma on stage in that way and then make the conscious decision to come back to see if she has more. She is even more confused by anyone who came to the show and didn’t see Nanette.
After addressing the Emmy-winning elephant in the room, Gadsby goes on to properly prepare you for what you are going to see. It will not be another Nanette, but she doesn’t want you to be on the edge of your seat waiting for that question to be answered. She breaks her set into sections telling you exactly what she’s going to do, when she’s going to do it, and exactly how the audience is going to react to each section. She even gives some instructions, telling the audience not to react to certain things when they happen and to just wait for it.
This setup was brilliant because it established for me that she has a strong understanding of the audience and a deep concern for their enjoyment of the show. By doing this, she moves you away from trying to see how this show compares to Nanette and toward wondering how she is going to pull off what she just described.
Gadsby is very Australian and she’s unapologetic about it. When she moves into the funny from her setup, she brings this front and center. She’s moved to America and wants to tell her experiences, but in doing so, she breaks down all of the words in her vocabulary that she refuses to change. She explains some misunderstandings she’s had due to the differences and why some of our words don’t work for her.
This works twofold as it’s funny in the moment but also works to set up some of the jokes she’s going to get to later in the set. Besides the differences in vocabulary, Gadsby goes into other awkward situations she’s had simply because of her personality and sense of humor.
One of my favorite bits comes near the end of the show where she uses renaissance era paintings and points out their humorous bits that may go unnoticed if you don’t know the history. Her combination of juvenile jokes about anatomy, historical knowledge, and sarcastic delivery all make this section hilarious from start to finish.
Despite stating that you weren’t going to get another Nanette from this set, Gadsby does reveal something very important about herself in Douglas. She does so very casually and it is key to making a lot of the jokes in the set land. She makes this reveal in the setup at the start of her special, so I won’t rob you of that here if you intend to watch.
It is a big deal for her to have made this reveal, and it further helps you to understand her as a person and as a comedian. After this set, there is no doubt that she is going to be here to stay for a very long time if she so chooses. Her ability to weave in major life issues and situations with jokes about weird body parts and awkward conversations is a huge part of her appeal.
Gadsby is incredibly self-aware and also very aware of how people think and operate. I have no doubt that her next special will be just as brilliant.
Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas and Nanette are available on Netflix.