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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) is a brilliant and masterful work of comedy in which Gadsby announces she is quitting comedy. In this article, I draw on classical and contemporary humor theory to explore the comedic content of Nanette and critique Gadsby’s reasons for quitting. Although I largely agree with Gadsby’s concerns about comedy, I argue that the very show in which she presents them, Nanette, stands as evidence against their universal truth. Gadsby argues that comedy is no longer conducive to her health for at least three related reasons. First, the selfdeprecatory comedy out of which she has built her career is a symptom of her humiliation which she is no longer willing or able to showcase for the pleasure of others. I argue that while self-deprecatory humor can, of course, be a sign of humiliation, it needn’t be. Comedians, including those on the margins, can and do effectively employ self-deprecation without humiliation or denigration of self, and one way comedians do this is as a ruse to expose the ignorance of the audience or of comic targets not present. Second, Gadsby analyzes jokes and argues their two-part structure, set-up and punch line, is inadequate for telling the whole story of the trauma she has endured as a lesbian who, as she puts it, presents as “gender notnormal.” However, I maintain that, although jokes may not be, stand-up sets are often complete wholes with beginnings, middles, and ends. In fact, Nannette is a prime example of such complex comedy. Finally, she argues that the comedian’s job is to create and dispel tension, but she is no longer willing to take responsibility for or do anything to dispel the tension created when she speaks of her past trauma. But I discuss how Gadsby, as a true master of her craft, is able to create a highly successful and very funny comedy show in which she completely controls the tension while explicitly choosing to leave significant portions of it with the audience. In fact, super stand-up comedy can introduce tension it neglects to remove without sacrificing the humor. Indeed, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is a prime example of comedy that powerfully does precisely this.


The Southern Journal of Philosophy





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