Exclusive: Queer Comedian Hannah Gadsby on punching up the patriarchy

We caught up with comedian Hannah Gadsby to talk about working with her wife, writing a book and her new feel-good show.

The photograph shows a headshot of Hannah Gadsby. She is facing left and is topless. Her body, face and hair are all painted grey.
Image: Hannah Gadsby

When the offer to interview Hannah Gadsby came up in the office, I nearly screamed with excitement – and for anyone who knows me, screaming really isn’t my style – but this was a dream come true. They say a person only takes a tenth of a second to make a lasting first impression so I was determined to break the ice as fast as possible.

I thought I could do this by pointing out what I believe to be all the similarities between myself and Gadsby. For one, we both have a super cool palindromic first name (although I’ve shortened mine to Han). 

We are both butch intersectional feminist lesbians. And among other things, we were both born in the same year – but a lady never reveals her age so I’ll let you Wiki-search that one for yourself. 

As fascinating as I may find these similarities, trying to convey this to someone without sounding like a full-blown stan doesn’t come easily and no matter how many ways I rehearsed it, I just couldn’t seem to nail the delivery. So instead of using my better judgement and not mentioning any of this, I blundered my way through highlighting all of these similarities to a slightly bemused, nay unimpressed, global celebrity with a hit Netflix show.

Have a Nice Time
Amidst my awkward scrambling to gather some sense of semblance post-disastrous intro, Gadsby’s new wife, Jenney Shamash interrupted my squirming to introduce herself as Hannah’s producer and reminded us that she would be sitting in the cyber ether of an unnamed Zoom screen just to keep track of time. After which she signed off with an all too chirpy American twang “y’all have a nice time!”



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A post shared by Dr. Hannah Gadsby (@hannah_gadsby)

Queue a moderately well navigated segue: “First of all, congratulations on getting married and lovely to meet Jenny. So they say you shouldn’t work with family, so how’s married life going for you?”

There’s an awkward chuckle before Gadsby replies, “Great. Jen and I worked together before we got together – without giving you too many sordid details there.

“I think we forged a bond through work, you know, being creative and I think that in the creative fields there’s a more all-enveloping life, that tends to happen.” She drolly quips, “I probably wouldn’t be so keen if we both worked in a factory.”

I wanted to understand how her previous two shows – Nanette, a groundbreaking feminist opus which saw her “break comedy” and catapulted her from a festival circuit hit to international superstar; and Douglas, where she spoke about her latent diagnosis of Autism whilst still taking what had fast become trademark digs at the patriarchy – had influenced her latest show Body of Work.

Douglas seemed like a really natural progression from Nanette, and it suggested a change in your understanding, and obviously your diagnosis with autism, but can you tell me what you feel you’ve learned since doing both Nanette and Douglas, especially Nanette because it was so seismic in the way it was received?”

After a short pause, Gadsby began, “Well, it’s hard to pass it out as an individual moment anymore because so much has happened on top of it… And now there’s been a pandemic so nothing’s normal.”

Quickly pointing out that Nanette wasn’t her first foray into comedy, she added, “I’d been doing comedy for quite a long time before that and I haven’t changed my approach to it. Every time I write a show, I’m thinking about what my brain wants me to think about, what it is that’s preoccupying me. And I’ve remained steady to that process, so every time I’m going to do a show it’s going to evolve from that standpoint.

“But my life has changed, and like I said, so has the world. I think we’re all grasping at what things mean now. So, you know, I don’t feel special anymore – It’s a shame.”

I pick up, “Are there similar themes in your current show?”

“It’s definitely… a bit of history and you know, I like to punch up and there is a reliable punch up at the patriarchy,” she drawls in true Australian fashion, “so yeeaaahhhh.” 

Quickly becoming more serious, she continues, “But it’s a different enough show. Actually, it’s quite different. Again though, storytelling is the lynchpin.

“I like the show… like I’m very fond of it. It’s got some good spark in it.”



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A post shared by Dr. Hannah Gadsby (@hannah_gadsby)

Gadsby also published her ‘first’ book, Ten Steps to Nanette last March – a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the complexities of navigating the world as an undiagnosed neurodivergent queer person.

I asked how it was to write the book while revisiting some extremely traumatic experiences.

Gadsby explained, “Books are such a long process, and this one certainly took a very long time to write… the book had been a dead weight to me for so long, that it wasn’t until I finally handed it in that I realised how much brain space it had been taking up and it had been taking it up for years. 

“Essentially I was trying to hold an archive of my life in my head… It was an overwhelming exercise.

“I was writing the book when I wrote Nanette, it just wasn’t Ten Steps to Nanette at that stage because five of them hadn’t happened but it was that sort of interrogating how you tell your own story, that both my book and Nanette are working in.”

Hannah Gadsby’s book Ten Steps to Nanette is available at all good booksellers and across digital platforms. Her show Body of Work is due for release on Netflix in 2023.

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