The other night I get a message from Shrehan Lynch telling me about this funny as hell comedy she was watching. I saw her tweets and the quotes looked funny so I had myself a look. For some quick background, I am a standup comedy junkie. I have studied comedy a bit and believe that laughter unites us in a way that only music and food can.
Hannah Gadsby is a gender non-conforming lesbian comedian from Australia. I wouldn’t normally feel the need to describe her looks and sexuality but in this case, it will majorly come into play. Her delivery is fantastic. A quick smile combines with a dry wit makes her style fantastic. She is a master. I know this because in her routine she breaks down comedy. She points out how she creates tension and then quickly dissipates it with a well-timed joke. For much of her show she does just this. It truly is amazing when you see a master at their craft control the audience’s emotions with such power and timing.
About halfway throughout the special things start to change. She speaks about getting out of comedy. One reason she states is, “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.” This is a powerful statement. Think about our students in class who obviously do not conform with what society believes is the norm. Do they have to put themselves down in order to be heard? How does the power dynamics play out? This was a powerful statement.
Another part of her special she speaks to the idea that straight white men are “suddenly a subcategory of a human”. The more I learn about intersectionality, social justice, and sexual abuse the more I see a lot of straight white men are a problem. We were the norm, the baseline, the standard while everyone else was labeled as some other category. Yet we are a major part of the problem. We have had the power for so long and look what has become of it. There is #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #takeaknee, and countless other hashtags that are mainly in response to the harm caused by white men. Before you get your undies in a bunch I understand that white men are not solely responsible for these issues. I also realize that not every person who is sexually abused was done at the hands of a white male, or not every police officer who harms a person a Person of Color is white so please don’t #AllLivesMatter me. The statistics show who has the power in this country and who is doing the most harm. It is clearly white men. If you need more proof look at the race and gender of mass shootings in this country.
Part of Gadsby’s power of her special is how she revisits some of her early jokes and adds an ending to them. Earlier in the show, she tells a story about how she forgot to come out to her grandmother. This gets some easy laughs. When she revisits the story she talks about how she was too ashamed to come out to grandmother. There were no laughs. It was just honest raw truth that makes the viewer slightly uncomfortable because there is no punch line. No laughs. It’s just raw honesty pummeling straight to your heart.
The most difficult part of the show to watch for me was when she revisited a story about hitting on a girl at a bus stop. The girl’s boyfriend comes out and pushes her until he realizes she’s a woman. In that part, he calls her Madam and apologizes. She jokingly talks about how as a kid she was in trouble when her mom called her that. Again a quick laugh. When she revisits that story she becomes visibly angry and emotional. She tells us how she didn’t let us know the whole story. Once the guy realizes she is a non-conforming lesbian he kicks the shit out of her. No laughs. It’s just raw honesty pummeling straight to your heart.
The final ten minutes of the show is riveting. The tension is high. You want a joke to come. To let you off the hook. It never happens. There is no final callback where everything is tied neatly into a bow. She talks about being raped by two men when she was 20. Talks about how she may have to quit comedy because she can no longer chop her stories into a beginning and middle leaving out the brutal end.
When the show was over I sat. In silence. I was emotionally raw. This was not the comedy I was expecting yet it was what I needed to hear. If you are a white male I strongly recommend you watch this. It will attack you. You will become defensive. This isn’t about you though. It’s about Hannah. It’s about every other person from a marginalized group. It’s about understanding that we have choices to make. We can no longer sit on the side while people are fighting for their lives. We are either allies or we are oppressors. I choose ally.