‘Nanette’ so much more than stand-up

A few weeks ago, I used this bit of space here to share my love of “The Great British Baking Show,” and the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives me during tough times.
And I’m still here for it. I stand wholeheartedly by my assertion that nothing soothes a disquieted spirit quite like a little polite competition over pudding.
But as much as I dig escaping into entertainment, I do believe there are times when what we watch shouldn’t be all sugar and spice and Mary Berry being nice.
Sometimes, it’s important to tune into things that take a different tack — that force us to face the uncomfortable truths of our world today. And that do so by making us uncomfortable.
To that end, I can think of no better example on the airwaves today than Netflix’s “Nanette.”
I first heard about it from my friend Angie, who urged our circle of girlfriends to watch via a group text a few weeks ago.
“Okay, Womenz,” she wrote. “I’m giving you an official recommendation (and I think we should do this for each other when something is really moving): the Netflix stand up of Hannah Gadsby. It is the most humanist thing I have seen, in stand up at least. … My face fell off.”
Several days passed before I found myself alone and with the afternoon free — the viewing conditions I had pre-set, based on Angie’s synopsis. I could tell it was going to be intense, and wanted to be sure I’d have time to ruminate afterward.
And, of course, no witnesses, in case I cried.
Good thing, too. Because cry I did.
I also laughed out loud. And got angry. And realized about three-quarters of the way through that I was, quite literally, on the edge of my seat.
To call this special “stand-up” is a bit of a misnomer. Indeed, Gadsby is a comedian by trade. And yes, she is standing up while she talks.
It’s true that in parts it is very funny, packed with anecdotes and amusing stories.
But it’s also filled with pain. With anguish. With rage.
What Gadsby delivers here is so much more than a stand-up routine. It’s more like a monologue on the human condition.
You needn’t take my word for it, either (or, alas, even Angie’s). In the weeks since I first watched, “Nanette” has been taking comedians, critics and regular folks like me by storm, eliciting adjectives rarely used for such shows.
“Transformative,” “utterly floored,” “life-changing,” “empowering,” “brave,” “soul-affirming.”
The New York Times called it “an international sensation, the most-talked-about, written-about, shared-about comedy act in years,” adding “in its success Ms. Gadsby has perhaps pointed the art form of stand-up in an altogether new direction, even has she has repeatedly vowed, onstage, to quit the business.”
That’s right. Rather than ride the wave of her many accolades, the woman behind “Nanette” has vowed to leave comedy altogether.
After watching this show, I understand why.
I really hope, however, that she doesn’t.
There are many balms for the soul.
Laughter is one.
Honesty is another.
Which we need most right now, I don’t know.
But with this special, Gadsby has proven to be proficient in providing both.

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