This was our 88th Movie Night. We first started in October 2002 and we have five per year. This was also our 5th Zoom Movie Night. I NEVER would have guessed last April that Zoom was going to be needed for an entire year. As always, we had over 35 men join us for the movie including a new man I have never even seen before. We had 14 Alumni show up to share their experience, strength, and hope.
I saw this special when it first came out and I loved it, but I was very hesitant when it came to showing it at movie night. This one-woman stand-up had the feel of a TED Talk to me and I was concerned that the raw and controversial nature might be hard for some of the men to hold and appreciate. Each time I show a movie I always ask them in the feedback portion post movie to think about why they thought I chose this movie, this time I asked them before the movie to get out a paper and write notes looking at their commonality with the performer and the subject matter. I wanted them to focus on the similarities and not the differences. After all the star is a 43-year-old gay female from Tasmania. So, I took a deep breath and off we went.
In 2018, Netflix released Gadsby’s stand-up show, Nanette, expanded her international audience and received multiple accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special and a Peabody Award.
Gadsby created the stand-up show she named Nanette partly as a response to the public debate which took place in Australia before the law was changed to allow same-sex marriage, and soon after her diagnosis of ADHD and autism.
The show was originally named after a woman Gadsby had met, who she thought could be turned into an hour’s worth of material. During the writing process, she realized this was not the case, but the name had already been chosen. She ended up ignoring this inconsistency and wrote an hour of material unrelated to Nanette. The initial shows were more combative with the audience, and made Gadsby feel victimized, so to get the audience more on her side, she added more jokes and relieved more tension throughout the show’s run.
Gadsby uses Nanette to deconstruct the nature of comedy and its conventions by having her audience undergo the same tension in which marginalized people suffer daily. She shares personal anecdotes related to her experiences as a lesbian and gender-nonconforming woman, explaining how her comedic style is influenced by her identity. Due to Gadsby’s upbringing in conservative Tasmania, she was raised surrounded by people who believed they held a license to hate others, which induced her at a young age to accept prejudiced views toward queer people. To deal with the social inequality she faced, Gadsby says that she turned to self-deprecating humor. She realized that the self-deprecating humor common to standup comedy is doubly painful for marginalized people because it adds another voice to the chorus of people who already insult and belittle them. This led her to conclude that she can no longer do standup comedy and so she structures the piece around claiming she is giving up comedy. She has since stated that she is not doing so after all, due to the surprising response to her show.
In Nanette, Gadsby further plays on the conventions of comedy by incorporating storytelling into her routine. In addition to the stories, she shares about her lesbian and gender-nonconforming experiences, Gadsby relates personal stories about her comedy career, family, and college experiences among other things. Gadsby expresses the need to use stories in her comedy because she is frustrated with the form of standup comedy. She does not feel as if her story, because her identity and victimization do not fit comfortably into society’s narrative, is being listened to properly. The representation of her story through Nanette affords Gadsby hope that her experiences will be “felt and understood by individuals with minds of their own,” and that her story will finally be heard.
After the movie ended it was incredibly quiet in the Zoom room. We had a wide range of feedback. A few of the men had seen it before but it was fresh for them looking through the lenses of recovery. Shame, guilt, abuse, and trauma are all very transportable emotions. The sheer power of her story left several men numb. For the most part her show touched a lot of men that night and besides feeling relieved that I had made a wise choice, I also was proud of the depths of the dialog we had after viewing the movie. As a wise man once said, “the truth shall set you free”.
As we start to come out of the trance of this pandemic life will reveal the cost of doing business to us as individuals and as a society. If the stressors of the “NOW” mount up and the truth of your own experience becomes more evident you might conclude that some help might be the next indicated thing on your journey in life. If that is the case, you must know that you are NOT ALONE and help is an email away. Find your courage instead of looking for comfort. And remember do not leave before the miracle.