Netflix UK review: Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
Ivan Radford | On 27, May 2020
“Had I known trauma would be that successful I would’ve budgeted a bit better.” That’s the sound of Hannah Gadsby returning to Netflix with a new stand-up special, Douglas. It’s an unexpected follow-up to her masterful Nanette, a stand-up comedy that brought audiences to tears with its heartfelt deconstruction of humour – and the trauma, prejudice and pain she had experienced as a lesbian growing up in Tasmania. The special ended with her quitting stand-up comedy, refusing to turn her experiences into a joke anymore – and just as she stepped down from the mic, that personal and powerful declaration saw her skyrocket to global fame.
Following up that is no easy feat, but if anyone can rise to an impossible challenge, it’s Hannah Gadsby, a comic whose style and choice of subject matter makes her one of the most singular voices on the scene. In typically self-aware fashion, she addresses the challenge head-on, describing Douglas as “my difficult 2nd album that is also my 10th and some people’s 1st”. What follows is a 20-minute introduction to her show that outlines exactly what she will say and in what order she will say it.
If that sounds like it would spoil the fun of the whole thing, far from it: Gadsby is perhaps unrivalled in her ability to craft a set, subtly laying down jokes for her to pick up later, even as she tells you she’s doing it. It gives every punchline and callback a double pay-off – first, the fun of connecting the doors, and second, enjoying the thrill it gives her.
She’s also a master at controlling tone, allowing it to vary from minute to minute without ever letting it off the leash. She moves from talking about her dog to inappropriate remarks in parks to pausing for art history lectures and then ranting about the way that all of society, culture and language has been named, labelled and codified by men. Along the way, she knowingly dips into cliched observational comedy, but even the most accessible bit is a trojan horse for her to segue into dissecting the perception of autism and of women being hormonal.
The more she sinks her teeth into her material, the angrier she gets – and she takes the audience with her for every step of escalating frustration and righteous indignation. The result isn’t as jaw-dropping as Nanette, but it has all of that special’s profound power and provocative wit, served with a remarkable blend of self-deprecation and smug confidence. Nanette was seeing Hannah Gadsby at the end of her tether, this is seeing her winding up for another go, and it’s a joy just to see her buzzing with such energy, lining up each of her targets and hitting them squarely in the bullseye with a swagger. It’s her no longer turning herself into a joke – and it’s one of the funniest things you’ll see this year.
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.