So like a good little empiricist, I continue my exploration of the Dave Chappelle controversy by doing some research. In this instance, by deciding for myself whether Dave’s third condition is fair: Is Hannah Gadsby unfunny?
Why Hannah Gadsby? Despite being Australian and much-lauded, I know nothing about Gadsby. I thought they were a them, so I sent some time brushing up my non-binary pronouns, but it turns out she’s just a regular old-school lesbian, so I don’t have to wrestle with they/them/their.
So is Gadsby funny?
I just finished Nanette (2018) and in the beginning it was pretty benign. For example, while she doesn’t identify as transgender, Gadsby enjoys being mistaken for a straight white male, because, quote, it’s a nice holiday from being recognised as a “fat ugly dyke” unquote.
That got a laugh from the audience, men and women alike, but pretty soon only the women are laughing, and a short time later nobody was laughing at all. In Nanette the ‘fat ugly dyke’ joke was a trap. Gadsby rejects self-deprecating humour. She won’t be the butt of her own jokes, poisonous pills filled with shame and self-hatred.
Because (surprise!) men are to blame.
Gadsby won’t be quitting comedy, as promised, but instead she’ll target men — their money, power and especially their reputations. Former US president Donald Trump’s ‘pussy grabbing’ is cited, but she’s also lasering celebrity comedians like Dave Chappelle.
Is this why Chappelle picked her?
Gadsby scorns the idea of ‘angry white male comedy’ because white men can’t be victims. Her misandry crests by literally screaming at all the men in her audience to “pull your socks up”. She’d be lucky if half the audience saw the funny side.
By this stage, I’m wondering if this is still #comedy. Gadsby rejects the man-hater tag, but admits her fear of men expresses itself through anger. When she screams at men to “Stop wasting my time!” I’m thinking, hmm girl stop wasting mine.
But I endured the last six-minutes of Nanette for the sake of scientific objectivity. Gadsby roars that no man would dare test their strength against her, now she’s a “broken woman rebuilt” but then later posts this?
Angry and defensive much?
Hannah Gadsby claims she doesn’t want to spread anger, because anger is dangerous. She says laughter is not medicine but the ‘honey’ that sweetens the bitterness of the message which good comedians delivers.
But she doesn’t earn enough laughs in Nanette to sweeten the pill.
So far, Chappelle is right — Hannah Gadsby isn’t funny.
But she is smart, and because Nanette was popular she’s now famous too. Despite claiming to have had no plans to “make it in America” she’s not missed the opportunity to capitalise on her wildly profitable trauma-eggs, and hate-baits her male audience in the Nextflix special Douglas (2020) to leave if they are ‘manflakes’.
After 40 long minutes of giving her the benefit of the doubt, I took her advice. Comedians can be lots of things, but they can’t be boring.