For many fans outside of Australia, their first exposure to comedian Hannah Gadsby was through her 2017 show “Nanette” when it launched onto Netflix in 2018. That show argued that comedy can, and often does, further marginalize those already on the margins. She used her experiences as a lesbian surviving homophobic harassment and violence as an example of how trauma can cause one to internalize the oppressive beliefs. In her case, she had engaged in self-deprecating humor for much of her comedic career, which had brought success but perpetuated her self-loathing. Her next show, “Douglas,” was more lighthearted, but once again dealt with societal issues that had touched her personally, such as medical sexism and being autistic in an ableist world. So, I was a little surprised when she started the US tour of her newest show, “Body of Work,” in Boston on April 15th saying that it was a “feel good” show.
By no means was “Douglas” a heavy show, but it did follow “Nanette”’s structure of using comedy to draw attention to how our society marginalizes people. It seemed that this was something that Gadsby wanted to take a step back from; at the beginning of the show she said she felt like it was owed, as the world was falling apart. Also, that those traumas had been processed. Most importantly, it seemed like she was in a better place personally compared to previous shows. She had gotten married in early 2021 and her wife Jenny — affectionately referred to by Gadsby’s nickname “Jenn-o” — was frequently mentioned throughout the show. In fact, its entirety was dedicated to their proposal story, even as Gadsby took multiple anecdotal detours. Despite the more stressful moments, including memories from an abusive relationship, the overall tone of the show pointed to her current joy.
This tonal departure didn’t mean the end of the conversation about homophobic marginalization. Instead, by centering queer love and joy, Gadsby was displaying her resilience and growth. Though LGBTQ+ marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, that didn’t mean homophobia was gone. It did show shifting attitudes towards acceptance, but not the end of homophobia. Her opening joke was about getting a shark cake so that a Christain bakery had to make a wedding cake for a gay couple without their knowledge. Though her clever thinking was funny, it showed one example of how the marginalization continues. Yet, it also showed how she was no longer engaging in self-deprecation, and instead is happy to be who she is despite not always being happy about the oppressive world she is living in.
As usual, Gadsby has incredible body comedy and comedic timing. Despite breaking her leg and the limitations that it imposed, she was able to even find the fun in that with her cane Michael, making a pun out of the actor Michael Caine. She managed to engage with her props, which were three rabbits of different shapes and sizes placed on different parts of the stage. I say managed, because at one point she crushes one rabbit with a stool and stomps on it with her broken leg. As for comedic timing, she is excellent at responding to the audience. At multiple points she makes wisecracks about audience laughter, prompting another round of it. The best of all was when she was asking for a name for her ex-girlfriend to use throughout the show, and after multiple shouts created a garble “Shannon” was distinctly heard. Immediately Gadsby called it a “shit name” and then rolled with the punches.
Though I was laughing the majority of the show, I did leave feeling dissatisfied about the lack of art included. Maybe it’s the Art History major in me, but Gadsby does a great job of including art historical analysis into her shows, whether for poignant moments like Van Gogh’s sunflowers in “Nanette” or criticizing the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in “Douglas.” When I was waiting for the show to start, I found myself analyzing the three rabbits onstage and guessing what she might connect them to. I was disappointed to find that there was no connection with art to be made, especially considering the title of the show and the advertisement photo depicting her in likeness to an Athenian marble. Despite this disappointment, I can’t recommend the show enough.