Hannah Gadsby Is ‘Comfortable’ Not Being Funny in First Stand-up Set After ‘Nanette’

Ben King/Netflix

In the early 1700s, a physician named James Douglas, a quasi-famous midwife known for performing public dissections of female pelvises in his home, came across a wrinkle of uterine flesh he hadn’t seen before. The region was a tiny cavity, sort of like a kangaroo’s flap, which expands if a woman needs more room during pregnancy. The doctor called his anatomical New World the “Pouch of Douglas.” Medical dictionaries describe Douglas’ revelation as “an extension of peritoneum between the posterior wall of uterus and the rectum in females,” but it’s basically a reproductive crawl-space. As findings go, it’s about as close as you can get to discovering nothing. In comedian Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up set, a work-in-progress which runs through March 9 at the Hayworth Theater in L.A., she compares the little flap to the extra zipper on a suitcase. “It’s a potential space,” she told the crowd. Gadsby’s calling her new show “Douglas.”

If there’s a specific subtext behind the choice to name her set after the nothing-discovery of an 18th century pelvis dissector, Gadsby doesn’t mention it outright. Douglas is also the name of her dog. But the new show arrives on the heels of Nanette, a comedy special which aired on Netflix last summer, sending waves through the think-piece internet and comedy Twitterverse. The special, for those who managed not to hear about it, had nothing to do with the name Nanette, and everything to do with a problem Gadsby saw in her industry—namely, an expectation that comedy minorities make themselves the butt of the joke. The polarizing show, which begins as a fairly unremarkable set, before taking a serious twist into Gadsby’s account of a hate crime, prompted two tiresome debates: one over whether it heralded the end of stand-up, and another over whether it constituted stand-up at all. But whatever the special meant for its genre, Nanette signaled something fairly straightforward about Gadsby’s career: “I’m quitting,” she told the crowd. She didn’t, as it turns out. And in Douglas, the comic is workshopping what, exactly, not-quitting looks like.

“It’s hard to know what this show should be,” Gadsby told the audience Thursday night, “because I quit comedy.” Douglas is a work-in-progress at its most fundamental. (“This is rough as guts,” she says at one point, “but I feel pretty comfortable, because Nanette wasn’t funny, and, well…”) A willfully half-finished ninety minutes of performance, it’s almost admirably sloppy. Gadsby zig-zags between subjects, goes on long tangents, cuts herself off mid-sentence, drops huge, sometimes hackneyed, personal bombshells, and practices crowd-work to varying, occasionally laborious, degrees of success. But with any rough draft, the audience bears witness to all the potential versions a piece might become, and in Douglas, Gadsby seemed to be staring down two possible paths.

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Hannah Gadsby Is ‘Comfortable’ Not Being Funny in First Stand-up Set After ‘Nanette’

Ben King/Netflix

In the early 1700s, a physician named James Douglas, a quasi-famous midwife known for performing public dissections of female pelvises in his home, came across a wrinkle of uterine flesh he hadn’t seen before. The region was a tiny cavity, sort of like a kangaroo’s flap, which expands if a woman needs more room during pregnancy. The doctor called his anatomical New World the “Pouch of Douglas.” Medical dictionaries describe Douglas’ revelation as “an extension of peritoneum between the posterior wall of uterus and the rectum in females,” but it’s basically a reproductive crawl-space. As findings go, it’s about as close as you can get to discovering nothing. In comedian Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up set, a work-in-progress which runs through March 9 at the Hayworth Theater in L.A., she compares the little flap to the extra zipper on a suitcase. “It’s a potential space,” she told the crowd. Gadsby’s calling her new show “Douglas.”

If there’s a specific subtext behind the choice to name her set after the nothing-discovery of an 18th century pelvis dissector, Gadsby doesn’t mention it outright. Douglas is also the name of her dog. But the new show arrives on the heels of Nanette, a comedy special which aired on Netflix last summer, sending waves through the think-piece internet and comedy Twitterverse. The special, for those who managed not to hear about it, had nothing to do with the name Nanette, and everything to do with a problem Gadsby saw in her industry—namely, an expectation that comedy minorities make themselves the butt of the joke. The polarizing show, which begins as a fairly unremarkable set, before taking a serious twist into Gadsby’s account of a hate crime, prompted two tiresome debates: one over whether it heralded the end of stand-up, and another over whether it constituted stand-up at all. But whatever the special meant for its genre, Nanette signaled something fairly straightforward about Gadsby’s career: “I’m quitting,” she told the crowd. She didn’t, as it turns out. And in Douglas, the comic is workshopping what, exactly, not-quitting looks like.

“It’s hard to know what this show should be,” Gadsby told the audience Thursday night, “because I quit comedy.” Douglas is a work-in-progress at its most fundamental. (“This is rough as guts,” she says at one point, “but I feel pretty comfortable, because Nanette wasn’t funny, and, well…”) A willfully half-finished ninety minutes of performance, it’s almost admirably sloppy. Gadsby zig-zags between subjects, goes on long tangents, cuts herself off mid-sentence, drops huge, sometimes hackneyed, personal bombshells, and practices crowd-work to varying, occasionally laborious, degrees of success. But with any rough draft, the audience bears witness to all the potential versions a piece might become, and in Douglas, Gadsby seemed to be staring down two possible paths.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here

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