Ten Steps to Nanette
Allen & Unwin, $49.99 hb, 386 pp
Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette (2017–18) starts out funny but then shifts to long, angry monologues that refuse its audience the release of laughter. By breaking the conventional contract between a comedian and her audience, Gadsby rejected her own former practice of turning her traumatic experiences into jokes. Nanette’s international run and subsequent release as a Netflix special spanned the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which gauged public support for marriage equality, as well as the international #MeToo movement against sexual assault. As high-profile performers such as Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby respectively admitted to and were tried for sexual misconduct, comedians became important figures in public debates about the relationship between artists and their work. Gadsby brought to these debates the perspective of a gender non-conforming lesbian and sexual assault survivor from rural Tasmania. Nanette became an emblem of queer and feminist anger or – depending on one’s point of view – of the humourless, politically correct ‘cancel culture’ many comedians rail against.