Hannah Gadsby's 'Douglas' is the Perfect Response to 'Nanette' Haters

About halfway through her new Netflix special Douglas, Hannah Gadsby addresses the most common criticism of her last special, Nanette. "I know better than anyone that what I did with Nanette was not technically comedy," she tells the crowd. "I wanted that show to have an audience and a broad audience, and if that meant I had to 'trick' people by calling it 'comedy,' that's technically a joke." While she gleefully addresses her haters in Douglas, the new special may convert some into fans.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you already have a fully-formed opinion of Douglas, even if you haven't watched it. If you're not at least curious to see where Gadsby takes her new special, you're most likely of the mind that Nanette was an abomination to the comedy world and already hate Douglas. You're most likely one of the people that went out of your way to tell Gadsby that "Nanette is not comedy, because it didn't make me laugh every step of the way," as the comic puts it in her new special.

Before delving into Gadsby's masterfully mapped out response to her haters, it's probably important to admit that I was of the "Nanette is not comedy" camp. While not as vitriolic as some others, when asked my opinion, I never hesitated to tell people that I didn't like Nanette and didn't think of it as comedy. I understood the importance and could see the power in the special, but told people that it wasn't for me.

Before Gadsby even begins Douglas proper, she outlines the show, warning that she would bait her haters about halfway through and shortly after "tear my haters a new a*****e," by giving them a lecture, which is what some people called Nanette. Not only is Gadsby funny as she takes swipes at the people that criticized her previous special ("If that show made you laugh all the way through, what the f**k is wrong with you?"), the lecture that she warned about is so outrageously silly and the tone changes so suddenly that you can't help but laugh, even if you were one of the people at the serving end of the joke.

"You want a f**king lecture? I'll give you a f**king lecture," she screams before Michaelangelo's The Creation of Adam appears on the screen behind her, and she begins what you may expect from a freshman art history class, adding quips about the size of Adam's junk. She runs through a number of classic works of art, making jokes that are both sarcastically biting ("Women were generally standing around in groups of three naked, just waiting for men to name all of the things") and silly ("We've got Pythagoras; he's busy naming all the triangles"). The fact that Gadsby mocked Nanette's critics by doing exactly what she was accused of is funny, but the bit works, because the lecture is funny whether you've seen Nanette or not.

The fact that Douglas is so silly and funny is what makes it the perfect response to that "not comedy" camp. It's easy to bait an audience into getting other their skin, but making an audience laugh is what makes comedy a hard job to begin with. Gadsby is funny as she makes fun of American terms like "sweater" or "fanny" (when referring to one's rear end) and golfers, or tells the audience a hilarious story about learning prepositions. Gadsby shows that funny comes naturally to her, and some men disliking Nanette didn't faze her.

Most interestingly, I rewatched Nanette after enjoying Douglas and realized there are a lot of laughs in it, more than I'd remembered. The closing was just as powerful as before, but I found myself laughing more early in the special than I had when I first viewed. It wasn't supposed to be a traditional comedy special, and even though the serious ending resonates most, as a comedy special there's more to it than there seemed to be the first time I watched it.

Hannah Gadsby
Hannah Gadsby attends the FYSEE Hannah Gadsby conversation and reception at Raleigh Studios on May 13, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre/Getty
Hannah Gadsby's 'Douglas' is the Perfect Response to 'Nanette' Haters | Culture