Reimagining Feminist Stand-up Post-Nanette

Curator's Note

Hannah Gadsby performed Nanette more than two hundred fifty times, however, only one of the performances became a Netflix special (2018). The revolutionary impact of the Netflix version echoed in the headlines of media platforms with exhilarating descriptions - such as comedy-destroying/breaking,[1][2] a stand-up revolution,[3] a gamechanger,[4] and as deconstructing[5], and upending[6] the comedy. By dismantling of the same old comedy form, Gadsby, with Nanette, provided a new direction to the world of comedy.

Gadsby begins her performance with jokes about funny stories, such as her interpellation as a lesbian by an imaginary authority via a letter, and the weird reactions when people misgender her. Everything is bittersweetly funny, though still critical of heteronormativity, up until the point where Gadsby takes a turn and peels back the real and difficult stories that lie behind the jokes she told in the early moments of her performance.

Incorporating her personal stories of emotional, physical, and sexual violence into her performance disrupts the space of conventional stand-up comedy, where there is no room for such painful and traumatic stories. In doing so, Gadsby not only calls into question the limits of stand-up comedy but also unmasks and undoes its very structure that ultimately relies on the omittance of such stories.

What is marvelous about Nanette is not just its undoing the comedy, but also Gadsby’s bringing in trailblazing affective economies - that have been out-of-place till now - into the laughscape with help of her mighty standing-up, the craftily produced script (consisting of repetitions, reversals) along with the show’s visual aesthetics (use of close-ups, dim-light). Yet, viewing forms – off-screen and filmed – differ in terms of their capabilities of generating affects. While a live show that is viewed in theatres would allow for a shared affective experience due to the possibilities of being affected by others’ affective responses - such as laughing, cackling, howling, sobbing, and crying - the filmed Netflix version, on the other hand, is subjected to the interventions of filming technologies - such as edits, close-ups, lighting, the imposition of sound effects - thereby inevitably manipulating viewers’ sensory experiences in incomparable ways.

Comedy's affective capability to move us bears a pedagogical potential that could lead to "retuning or altogether altering" people's "sense of perceptions of the world.”[7] Nanette’s bringing of the omitted stories - that are mobilized through intentional unsettling/triggering affective pedagogies - back into the laughscape, offers reimaginations of doing comedy; one that is not laughter-oriented, but rather enables a different kind of catharsis that may lead to (un)learning and connecting moments.

Post-Nanette, Tig Notario[8] and Jenny Yang[9] among other women and lesbian stand-up comedians, expressed a hope for a transformation in the future of stand-up, which has had a long history of demeaning others. However, I am more interested in generating a discussion here about the current shape of feminist/queer comedy and the kind of emotional/affective politics it mobilizes towards negotiating the ethics of comedy.


[7] Fawaz, Ramzi. “How to Make a Queer Scene, or Notes toward a Practice of Affective Curation.” Feminist Studies 42, no. 3 (2016): 757–68.



You are totally right. The act and comedy recently of females and lesbians in Netflix and the film industry is indeed revolutionary. 

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