I Didn’t Like “Nanette” — And I’m Liberal
You know what I’d like? I’d like to live in a world where I can write a piece like this and not be attacked for it. So, the first step is to write it.
A couple of months ago, on my way back from from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I finally watched the much-ballyhooed #Nanette.
Wow. Just wow. I cannot remember being so thoroughly… underwhelmed by a special. I’m still stunned by just how mediocre it was. WHAT are people talking about? I felt like Kathy Bates in Misery. I wanted to just stand up and shout, “Have you all got AMNESIA? THEY JUST CHEATED US. THIS WASN’T FAIR. HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCKADOODIE CAR!”
First of all, yes, Nanette is not wholly a comedy special. It’s meant to subvert the genre. I know — I’ve read the reviews. And I know it’s not exactly popular these days to criticize — or even critique — liberal comedy. Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely loathe Donald Trump and what is going on in this country. But this doesn’t mean that we should just accept whatever the Left shows us and calls comedy.
Here’s the problem: Hannah Gadsby didn’t subvert the genre; she insulted it. She dumped all over the very notion of comedy — and that bothers me. It reminds me of that scene in Seinfeld:
Jerry: I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.
Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?
Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!
When Gadsby decides that she wants to pull a Big Pun and doesn’t wanna be a player no more, she says that jokes aren’t enough to encapsulate what she’s going through. OK, what she’s really admitting is that she’s not a solid enough comic to write jokes that can accomplish this. Don’t impugn the entire field because you’re just not that good at it.
At the #Emmys last night, Gadsby implied that we didn’t “get” her special. That’s when I couldn’t sit still anymore. Not only did you turn out a subpar special, but also you now want to insult us for not getting it? How is this any better than what men have done to women over the years? Men are wrong every time we’ve done it and Gadsby is wrong to do it now. I get what the special was: Nanette is structured as a comedy routine, followed by an announcement, some comedy theory, and then the “real story.”
My biggest problem was that it wasn’t funny. Around 20 minutes in, Gadsby shifts and says she wants to drop out of comedy. Well, how ’bout dropping some comedy first? Circa 2009, I was at the Hollywood Laugh Factory one night when Dave Chappelle dropped in. He hadn’t been around much the last few years and he opened with something like, “You wanna know why I don’t do much standup anymore? The sh!t’s too easy for me.” He then spit 20 minutes of fire that had us almost falling off the balcony, yelled, “That’s what’s up!” put the mic back in the stand, and walked outta the club to a standing ovation. That’s how you do it.
As a comedy consumer, I’m as tempted to write critiques as much as the next loudmouth know-it-all. As a comic, I steer away from it as it’s not really all that smart to critique your colleagues. However, in this case, I feel compelled to post this because we’ve come to live in a world in which if you say you don’t like Nanette, many will call you out as transphobic or anti-woman. And I feel like I stand in a good place, having just emceed an anti-domestic violence event this past Saturday and being booked to emcee another women’s empowerment event early next year. (And the fact that I even have to state my credentials annoys me. But trust me — if I don’t, the reaction is much worse. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. If I don’t mention it, will they think I’m insensitive? If I do, will they think I’m insecure? So do I or don’t I? Ahhh! You see the anxiety this causes all of us?)
Was Nanette funny? Funny is whatever makes you laugh, so I obviously cannot tell YOU whether YOU thought it was funny. But do this: go back and watch it again. Beyond the fact that there are entire sections of empty seats, the people who were there simply weren’t laughing all that much. There were a few people up front, most likely her family or friends, laughing their arses off and applauding/supporting. (“Clapter” comedy at its best.) But a nice, full laugh is a rare occurrence in Nanette. So don’t take my word for it — the audience itself is not terribly entertained. (Well, they were terribly entertained.)
Why? Because most of these jokes have been done before — by other comedians. It’s hardly original. Society is still struggling with the trans debate, but LGBTQ comedians have been doing LGBTQ jokes for well over a decade. This is trodden ground.
Even the pivot point — about joke structure — has been covered many times (and even before this). The one insightful bit was about how jokes are the Beginning and Middle but not the End.
Beyond the writing’s being average, the delivery isn’t all that spectacular, either. The number of times she goes meta and calls out what she’s doing becomes tiresome and tedious. She laughs at her own jokes and tries to soften the tone of what she’s saying — until she doesn’t, when she drops a monologue fit for a political rostrum.
The genius of Bo Burnham is that his specials dissecting and deconstructing comedy are funny and original. You can give me a personal story but make it hilarious— like Hasan Minhaj, Ellen DeGeneres, Ali Wong, Neal Brennan, or Michelle Wolf.
Maybe be better at your job and then you can lecture us. Dear God.