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‘Jokes have sorted themselves out’: Hannah Gadsby on stand-up's experimental & more playful side

Australian comic Hannah Gadsby
Ben King
Australian comic Hannah Gadsby

Australian comic Hannah Gadsby has been working in comedy for more than a decade, but it was her 2018 Netflix special Nanette that catapulted her onto the global stage.

Nanette broke down the structure of standup comedy, as Gadsby shared her vulnerability, raw emotions and life experiences that have shaped her.

Ahead of her Milwaukee performance of her newest show, called Body of Work, Gadsby reflects on her growth in stand-up.

"I didn't want to become a comic until I was doing it for about a year or two," she recalls. Comedy was something Gadsby stumbled into, rather than "through a planned attack," and each bit of success continued to bring new opportunities.

"I didn't have a lot of experience in comedy when I started so it's been a steep learning curve, and so I just made it up," she admits. "Everyone tells me that I don't do comedy 'normally' and I just have to believe them. Because I actually thought I was."

While comedy was simply something to do at first for Gadsby, now she says, "It has incredible potential as an art form. You can earn the trust of a large group of people or strangers in the same room and then take them for a ride."

As a veteran in the comedy industry, Gadsby adds that she has seen a change in the landscape, which she welcomes.

"Particularly we have social media now where people have jokes all the time. So jokes have sorted themselves out. I feel like stand-up comedy is now freer to be more experimental, more playful," she says.

While Gadsby has become well-known for her unique approach to stand-up and changing it's structure, she says she doesn't intentionally plan a show looking to catch audiences off-guard. "I am a big fan of form and function must combine... I always think of two things — and there's what feeling do I want the audience to leave with? ... And the other thing is you know what sort of shape of the show?"

Gadsby describes her newest show, Body of Work, as a feel-good show — a romantic comedy as best as she can do. "I want people to leave feeling good. I think it's a nice thing to give to an audience at this moment in time, and also a nice thing to give to my audience who I've challenged a lot," she notes.

While traveling and touring around the world has been fun, Gadsby expresses how taxing it can be, especially as a performer with autism. "With support and accommodations, things that I wasn't able to ask for before being diagnosed and certainly before I was as successful as I am now, I am able to get onto stage and do my best work. And I think it's really worth pointing out because if you're wondering why there aren't more people with disabilities doing stand-up comedy, it's because it's not accessible."

Over the years, Gadsby says she has found the stand up process to be more collaborative with the audience and it's something that she's just enjoying.

"It's very different in the circumstances that I find myself in now because my, you know, people come to my shows to see me. They've bought tickets to see me, she says. "Back in the day, I was fighting for attention of an audience who just stumbled in drunk or, you know, came because they think they want to heckle, you know, like, it's a very different culture."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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