Hannah Gadsby’s “Douglas” Is a Very Satisfying Follow-Up to Her Historic Special “Nanette”
If you’re reading this, you have no doubt watched Hannah Gadsby‘s lighting rod, milestone hour special Nanette, which debuted on Netflix in 2018, rippling the very fabric of comedy and amplifying the conversation about sexual violence against women.
The follow-up to that hour is saddled with a unique sort of anticipation that even stands apart for Chappelle’s grand return to stand-up comedy a few years ago. There was so much debate about whether Nanette could even be considered a comedy, an opinion almost exclusively voiced by men who probably felt attacked or rudely awakened in some way by Gadsby’s show. Thus, the expectations for the new special are kilometers higher (Gadsby makes a great point of not bending too much to American whims in Douglas) than they were before.
So, how do you follow your own historic comedy special? Well, just make another damn good special. That’s exactly what happened with this new hour Douglas from Gadsby.
This time around, Hannah shows just how masterful she is at managing expectations. In fact, she even “shows her hand before playing it” by offering up an outline of her hour and giving notes to her critics all before she gets it started. Layered into that is her explicit message that she’s letting all of us know what she’s going to do, therefore taking comedy’s crucial element of surprise away, and still presenting an exquisite hour of comedy. To pull off comedy without the surprise really shows how undeniable your persona, writing, delivery, and command of the audience really is (i.e. how great of a comedian you really are).
The weaving of clever, yet still subversive observations on America, some of the best art history jokes that comedy has ever or will ever have, a continuation of the great, fiery teardown of the patriarchy, enlightening material on autism altogether are so arrestingly delivered by Gadsby that it doesn’t matter that you might know what’s coming during this whole performance. Nanette turned the notion of tension on its head and Hannah has now moved on to deconstructing and turned the concept of expectation on its head for Douglas.
If you’re to draw a divide between American style stand-up and the more solo-show, narrative-based hours of the UK and Australia, Gadsby has successfully made a blend of the two. Douglas absolutely takes the baton from Nanette in form and content, but Gadsby makes a comedy special that is hysterical throughout that answers her critics on her own terms even though she absolutely doesn’t need to.
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas is now streaming on Netflix and you really ought to go watch it as soon as you can.