Global comedy figure Hannah Gadsby took the comedy world by storm just a few years ago with the show Nanette. Among the honors it garnered were a Peabody Award (2018) and an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special (2019).
The lesbian comedian's difficult second album (which was also her eleventh solo show) was named Douglas, after her dog. Hannah took Douglas around the world, selling out London's Royal Festival Hall in London, the Sydney Opera House and D.C.'s Kennedy Center, among other venues. Douglas was an Emmy-nominated smash hit (after Netflix released it in 2020), moving beyond the trauma at the center of Nanette and, instead, letting the world see the view from Gadsby's brain with a show that covered, among other things, her autism diagnosis.
Windy City Times talked with Gadsby recently about a variety of topics, from comedy to quokkas (more on those later).
Windy City Times: I'm curious about your thoughts concerning Chicago. To be honest, I've never been to Australia and all I know are that it's beautiful and all the wildlife can kill you.
Hannah Gadsby: Well, I mean, my impulse is to correct you on "ALL the wildlife," although a fair number can. There are some cute ones. Have you ever heard of a quokka [a type of wallaby]?
WCT: Q-U-O-K-K-A? I certainly have.
HG: Yes! They're the happiest creatures on Earthbut enough of them. What do I think of Chicago? Look: I'd be lying if I said I had a lot of thoughts. [Interviewer laughs.] You get a fair bit of play on your television settings and I couldn't think of a show that's set there? What television shows were set there in the '80s and '90s, when I grew up?
WCT: Well, you have Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., etc. now. There were plenty of movies, like the Batman ones. There was the TV show ER.
HG: And there was Family Matters, with Urkel…
WCT: As we walk down memory lane…
HG: Yes, but let's move on. I know you dye the river green [on St. Patrick's Day], which I find fascinating because that's not a healthy river color. [Interviewer laughs.] At first, I was, like, "This is not a healthy look" and then I realized you were celebrating the Irish, and they're NOT the healthiest-looking white people on Earth. [Interviewer laughs.] I say that with a lot of Irish blood in me.
WCT: I can't think of anything that's scarier than walking onto a stage and trying to make a group of people laugh. I'm curious as to who influenced you to the point where you felt you could do that.
HG: I didn't come up as a performer so no one influenced me, in that sense. There was no live stand-up in the island state of Tasmania in the '80s and '90s, much less in the little corner where I grew up. It wasn't like Chicago, which has quite the comedy scene.
Oh: That's something else I know about Chicagothe improv comedy scene! But it's okay: I'm Australian and I don't have to know your history. People tell me that and I understand thatbut it could just be people improvising.
WCT: [Laughing] I caught that.
HG: But there's this comedy competition in Australia and it gets quite a lot of airplay on the radio station. (By the way, that's how old I am: radio station!) [Interviewer laughs.] That was blazed into my consciousnessand like most people who've never done comedy, I said, "Well, that sounds pretty easy," although it's definitely not.
As soon as I got on the stage, I felt a comfort that I hadn't known in real life. I am atypically wired, neurologically speaking, and I think the fear factor I feel when socially mingling isn't there when I'm speaking in front of hundreds or thousands of people. I think it's a combination of a neurological situation and just not knowing enough to be frightened. But knowing what I know now, would I go back and do comedy? No wayit's too hard.
WCT: Given everything that's been happening with Netflix regarding everything from Dave Chappelle to an LGBTQ+ comedy festival, how do you feel about the company? [Note: Gadsby has had her specials air on Netflix but has also criticized Netflix and its co-chief executive Ted Sarandos over connecting her with Chappelle's The Closer.]
HG: Well, it's wasn't a festival, but there was a show ["Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration," which was part of Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival].
How do I feel about Netflix? It's a business, and I don't like businesses because I'm a human; humanity is not a business. But having said that, I will use them as a tool but I'm trying my best not to let them use me as a tool. When Nanette was scooped up onto this streaming service, their attitude was different than what they have now; there's been a huge shift in their internal workings, which I don't understandand it's almost in opposition to the culture I was introduced to.
It's sad but you have to keep on moving like a sharkwhich is another dangerous Australian creature.
WCT: [Laughs] I was JUST thinking about that.
HG: [Laughs] Yes.
It is astounding. I think there is an interesting conversation that could be had around stand-up comedy and freedom of expression but, at the moment, I'm not convinced I want to participate in that conversationbecause some of the people involved are trying to censor trans people and trans minds. You can stand up for freedom of expression without trampling on other people.
WCT: Lastly, I do want to ask this: What's one thing about you that would surprise most people?
HG: Hmmm… I'm funny?
WCT: [Laughs] That wouldn't surprise most people!
HG: [Laughs] I'm really into fabrics. I'd like to say I could sew, but I'm definitely haberdashery-adjacent.
WCT: I'm going to use that phrase: "haberdashery-adjacent."
HG: Thank you. I'm a haberdashery ally.
Hannah Gadsby will bring her "Body of Work" show to The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., on Wed., July 13, at 7 p.m. See www.msg.com/calendar/the-chicago-theatre-july-2022-hannah-gadsby.