Story Pile: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

I really liked Nanette. I thought it was really good and I wanted to share it around with my friends, because at its best, the Story Pile is an opportunity to just grab all my friends and talk excitedly about something you haven’t seen, or, if you have seen it, to jump up and down with you and show you how clever we both are for liking this thing. I liked Nanette so much I did a very rare video examining it where I trotted out Steve Geyer of all people.

Not to go over my love of Nanette, though, because it was a prickly recommendation at the best of times. Basically a ninety minute long Content Warning with its own absolutely brutal conclusion that nonetheless brought with it some truly body-blowing comedy that oh no here I’m going and praising Nanette again, but the point is, fuck that, Nanette is great, and Douglas is great too, phew, got the subject back into the cradle oh wait now we’re talking about A Knight’s Tale oh well that was great.

Now, Douglas is a show that helpfully starts out with a table of contents. Seriously, Gadsby goes over the themes and subject matter in the show and just tells you what’s going to be going into it, which means my normal concern about spoiling in a show that’s so built on timing and surprise is a little diminished. Particularly, then if I tell you this show is about autism, well, that’s something that she mentions in the opening, and she does so without making the phrase itself shocking or startling.

There is one particularly natural thing about Douglas though, to me, which is Gadsby is amazing at conveying Australianism in a way that is natural to me to hear without being indecipherable. When she outlines a conversation with a stranger at a park (and that stranger is probably in LA, now, so I am projecting onto that person), the way he conducts himself as she expresses it feels like an incredibly natural Australian bloke.

This was on the one hand, extremely comforting, because as an Australian, it’s very easy to feel like Australia is this invisibled place, and that I could connect with Gadsby’s work in a way that might be unknown to the general audience. That was cool, but it then brought with it a dash of tension, because I don’t know if you’re familiar with Australian Feminism, but there’s a reason you rarely see me promoting the work of Important Australian Feminsts –

Because lots of them are TERFs.

This meant that as Gadsby is going on her very funny, insightful comments, I’m sitting here worried about her being milkshake ducked. I’m so worried, as I watch, because Australian and Feminist so often leaves me waiting for that moment when someone just calmly or passively says somethi-

And she’s probably a TERF, so fuck her-“

Gadsby interrupts my notes, and my thoughts, and I have such a gale of relief. I laughed massively out of relief – and it took the edge off.

Still, that isn’t to say that the show is perfect. I think there’s a content warning to be noted, in that there’s something I’d call trans-indelicate language. Gadsby refers to biological components of her body with phrases that refer to uteruses as ‘lady’ parts, and – like, this is a needle to thread? If this was a style guide, or academic writing, or composing a rulebook, I’d feel very comfortable making corrections or suggestions of corrections to wording. In this case, especially since the conversation flows from the root of talking about one person’s actual uterus, and it’s a comedy show and often has to be workshopped and refined and is also a woman talking about her body, I just feel uncomfortable saying how things should be, or the impact of what these word choices do.

Which is a bummer.

It’s a bummer, because I don’t think I can meaningfully judge or warn here. I can’t say ‘she says some transphobic shit’ and just drop it. I can’t say ‘there’s some harsh language and use of ‘cunt’ but it’s okay, because of what it serves.’

All I really can do is let you know, there’s this language and I think it’ll come down to how good a job she does in her one-way performance of showing you what she is, what kind of person she is, and how okay with that word choice you are.

Otherwise, Douglas includes art history jokes, which Gadsby does a really good job with and I’m super glad of getting more of them.