Backtalk: Don’t Waste Hannah Gadsby’s Time

This week, Dahlia and Amy dig into Hannah Gadsby’s tremendous, heartbreaking, and honest Nanette. Gadsby’s Netflix special gives us insight into what it means to to tell one’s story to wide acceptance—at one’s own expense. Using comedy as an example, Gadsby asks: Is it enough to be in control of our own narratives and art if we’re still creating and consuming it through a colonized gaze? When do folks from marginalized communities get to be messy, frank, show their whole selves? Plus, let us know what you want Dahlia and Amy to argue about—text “Fight” to 503-855-6485!

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WATCH

Dahlia watched Disobedience, a British film about two Orthodox Jewish lesbians in London, which made her want to rewatch One Of Us, a documentary about the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. Both are illuminating looks at closeknight, religious communities and those who try to escape their confines.

READ

Amy can’t get enough of the sad, lonely characters of Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, a collection of short stories about the small lives of Chinese people in contemporary times.

LISTEN

 “Tear Me To Pieces” by Meg Myers is #TBT ’90s alt-rock with a modern edge. So good.

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TRANSCRIPT

DAHLIA: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Wild Fang. At Wild Fang, we’re pretty big fans of rule breaking. Case in point: we’re female-funded and woman-run with clothing and accessories inspired by men’s fashion. Because we believe in a woman’s right to wear whatever the hell she wants and be whoever the hell she wants. So head over to Wildfang.com to get $10 off your next order with code Right On.  

[theme music]  

AMY: Hi welcome to Backtalk. This is the feminist response pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.  

DAHLIA: And I’m Dahlia Balcazar, Senior Engagement Editor at Bitch Media.  

AMY: And every week we start off by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. What is yours, Dalia?  

DAHLIA: So I’ve been watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Showtime show Who Is America? You might know Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G and Borat and Bruno. He’s catching a little bit of heat because there are only men writing on the new season of his show. And in fact one man, Kurt Metzger, who has a history of being a harasser. So rightly he is catching flak for having a bad writing team.  

But [chuckling] one personal pop culture moment is that Sacha Baron Cohen has invented all new characters for this season, and he is traveling around the country trying to dupe celebrities and politicians with his new characters. And one of them is a dude named Dr. Nira Cain, who is, here’s how he describes himself on Twitter. “Dr. Nira Cain-N’degeocello, proud Democrat, lecturer on Gender Studies at Reed College. Co-principal at Wild Fields Poly Ed, stay-at-home male mom.” And according to Amazon, Dr. Nira Cain-N’degeocello is a self-published author of a book called Being Food, a book called Immoral Toddlers, [both laugh], and a book called The Freedom Illusion. This is a personal moment for me because I myself am an alumna of Reed College. As if there is a Gender Studies department at Reed College. There definitely is not. Shots fired.  

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: This dude is totally made up. You know, he’s like one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter egos. But watching him displaying my liberal arts college education in front of a lot of conservatives, it just gives me the giggles. But also too bad you didn’t do your research, Sacha Baron Cohen: there is no Gender Studies department.  

AMY: [chuckles] My favorite pop culture moment this week is the Portland Zine Symposium that’s happening this weekend. The Portland Zine Symposium has a soft spot in my heart because it’s one of the first, my first, exposures to the city. I would come to Portland to visit it and check it out. And this year’s special guest is Osa Atoe from Shotgun Seamstress.  So this is really a shout-out to the zine Shotgun Seamstress, which was made I think like, ooh, like 15, 20 years ago. I’m not really sure. But it was a zine made for and by black punks. And Osa Atoe, who put it together, who’s like a really great ceramic artist now—[laughs] like I wanna buy one of her pots—but she put together an anthology of all the issues so you can get the anthology if you wanna check out like sort of Black history of punk rock, especially as its focus on the Pacific Northwest. ‘Cause Osa Atoe lived in Portland for a while. So my pop culture moment is Osa Atoe and Shotgun Seamstress.  

[cutesy bells ring]  

AMY: Hey, so we’ve noticed that there’s been a little glitch on iTunes, and our recent episodes of Backtalk and Popaganda haven’t been coming up on your iTunes stream. But we’re working on fixing it, and they should be coming up soon. So sorry if you’ve missed us ‘cause we’ve missed you too! Because we’ve noticed that you guys haven’t been leaving reviews or ratings on iTunes!  

DAHLIA: [laughs]  

AMY: My feelings are hurt. [laughs]  

DAHLIA: Well, at least we were like, we’re like, “No one will rate us or review us! What’s happening?” And then we were like, oh! Our episodes aren’t even popping up. And so I feel like we’ve been, in a sense, vindicated because it’s just that you don’t know to leave us a review.  

AMY: [laughs] So in the fortunate case if that you’re listening to this later and you’re catching up on old episodes of Backtalk, just know that there was a little glitch. And we do appreciate if you do have the chance to rate and review us on iTunes ‘cause it really helps boost our visibility for the podcast.  

Speaking of you can become a special supporter of Backtalk, the podcast, by becoming a pollinator. Pollinators are a special group of Bitch supporters who contribute just $8 a month. And for $8 you get a subscription to the Bitch magazine, the Bitch mug, and a cute sticker for your laptop. You can join by going to bitchmedia.org/pollinators. And it’s just $8 month. Dahlia, what can folks get us for $8 a month?  

DAHLIA: Amazing. There is a public pool that I had no idea existed, like a mere one mile away from my home. And two entries for adults to the pool: $8.  

AMY: [laughs] Yes! Ok, so you can help Dahlia and I go lounge poolside while we’re dealing with horrendous cultural shit [laughs] by contributing just $8 a month, becoming a Backtalk supporter.  

[cutesy bells ring]  

DAHLIA: On the last episode of Backtalk, we unveiled our new text voting platform for voting on Amy Vs. Dahlia. We are super excited to play around more with that. And so I guess I’ll say who won first before I ask for your more votes. It’s ‘cause I almost don’t wanna say ‘cause it’s so terrible for me.  

AMY: [laughs]  

DAHLIA: On the last episode of Backtalk, Amy and I argued, as we frequently do, about who is the best Disney villain. Amy thinks that it is Ursula. [laughs]  

AMY: I know it is Ursula! It is Ursula, you poor unfortunate fools.  

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: And I tried to argue that it’s Captain Hook, weakly, I might add. 116 people voted. And six of those people voted for Captain Hook. [laughs] Thank you!! That means 110 people voted for Ursula as the best Disney villain, which means Amy is victorious.  

AMY: Yes. I hope that maybe, I don’t know, on some off chance somebody with some power will hear this and understand that we need an Ursula movie.  

DAHLIA: We did get two comments that are funny. Let me read you one. One, “Ursula is the butchiest and most powerful bitch ever.” Two, “It’s Cruella, though.”  

AMY: [laughs]  

DAHLIA: The best villain.  

AMY: Yeah. Is it, though?  

DAHLIA: [laughs]  

AMY: Is it? I Think that being like a ruler of the undersea [chuckles] is something to aspire to. I mean like anybody can rally together a bunch of puppies. They’re really—  

DAHLIA: [laughs] Anybody can kidnap 101 Dalmatians.  

AMY: Duh!  

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: So Amy and I really, really like coming up with these arguments, but sometimes it’s really hard for us to figure out what exactly to argue. So we want your help. This time around, if you will text the word “Fight” to 503-855-6485, we are gonna ask you for your suggestions of things that we should argue about. So all you have to do is text the word “Fight” to 503-855-6485, and we eagerly await your responses.  

[cutesy bells ring]  

Amy and I have been talking about how obsessed we are with Hannah Gadsby’s special on Netflix, Nanette. You might be able to describe it as standup, but I think it sort of transcends standup into a like lecture-prayer-monologue. It’s really incredible. And I just wanted to play one little clip to start us out.  

[recorded clip starts with enormous applause]  

HANNAH: Do you know what should be the target of our jokes at the moment? Our obsession with reputation. We’re obsessed with, we think reputation is more important than anything else, including humanity. And do you know who takes the mantle of this myopic adulation of reputation? Celebrities and comedians are not immune. They’re all cut from the same cloth. Donald Trump. Pablo Picasso. Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Roman Polanski. These men are not exceptions. They’re the rule! And they’re not individuals. They are our stories. And the moral of our story is we don’t give a shit. We don’t give a fuck about women or children!! We only care about a man’s reputation. What about his humanity? These men control our stories. And yet they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity, and we don’t seem to mind so long as they get to hold onto their precious reputation. Fuck reputation! Hindsight is a gift. Stop. Wasting. My. Time!  

DAHLIA: It’s kind of standup, but it sort of transcends standup into talking about storytelling and who gets to tell their own stories and how humor can sort of divert people’s attention into a different direction when you’re talking about a story. And Amy and I wanted to talk about it because I think it fits in so perfectly, but also really complexly into what we’ve been talking about really for years about who gets to tell their own story? And what does it mean when some communities aren’t given power over their own stories? And how that feeds into one million things: like how that feeds into narratives that we accept about what sexual assault looks like, narratives that we accept about what representation on screen looks like. And I think Nanette is really fascinating because it sort of gets to the root of who gets to tell a story and what it means when a particular person gets to tell a particular kind of story.  

AMY: Yeah, and one of the things that I— I think the reason why it struck a chord for so many people, because I really can’t log onto Twitter or any other place without people gushing over this special because it’s genre-bending. It’s not just a standup. It’s, like you’re saying, it’s like she’s telling about her process as an artist, as a comedian but like more than a comedian. And I think one of things that really struck me is how fully honest she’s being about her work. And in the standup was— Gosh, I don’t wanna spoil this, but she talks about this joke that she’s been telling for a long time in her routine. And in the special, she talks about how there’s a limit to how she told the story because this story, there’s a great punchline to it. But after the punchline happened, something really fucked up happens to her that she doesn’t include when she’s doing her standup and talking about this incident. And it made me think about how even when some of us who are from marginalized communities are given platforms to tell our own stories, to do our own work, we still have to sort of keep parts of ourselves inside so that we don’t ruin selling the plot that’s been given to us. Because we don’t want to sort of expose who we really are. We don’t get—  

I guess what I’m trying to say is that what Nanette revealed to me is that for somebody like Hannah who has a platform, who’s been a successful standup comedian for a long time, she still had to hide huge parts of herself, huge parts of who she is. And that for people who haven’t had, traditionally, this platform or this access to tell their own stories or to do work that they wanna do, they don’t get to be messy, you know. And I think that like historically, people who have been in charge of these types of platforms and networks of course, I’m just thinking of like old white dudes, right? They get to be messy all over the place. They get to be messy in the most disgusting ways. And then yeah, maybe they’ll have like their mea culpa moment, and then they sort of step back from the limelight. And then they get to have their redemption moment, and then they get to have the second arc to their story. Like people who have been in charge of these systems of entertainment, of publishing, of the sports world even, you know, like they get to be messy as fuck and do whatever the fuck they want and tell their stories in all of its disgustingness and their bad behavior, but in a way they get rewarded for it. They get to be known as like the tortured genius or just like a bad boy who’s just like their artistry transcends their horrible behavior. Or that like there’re fucked up things that have happened to them, even, supposedly feeds into their art. But when it comes to marginalized folks, sometimes we have to suppress horrific parts of our own history because we don’t want to be seen as a party pooper or a downer when we’re expressing our art, like Hannah did in how she talks about this specific thing that happened to her and how she used it in her standup. But she had to clip it and not tell the reality of the situation.  

DAHLIA: We have actually a really great piece sort of about that over at BitchMedia.org. It’s called The Myth of the Male Genius by Aditi Natasha Kini. But I think Amy, oh, what you’re saying it’s so, it’s like so rage-inducing. You know, male artists, or tortured male geniuses, have the privilege of putting their messiness or their ugliness on display in their art. And for people not thinking that’s them, you know? For people seeing some separation and being like, “Oh yeah. Maybe there’s fucked up rape stuff in this. You know, maybe there’s a joke about masturbating in Louis C.K.’s movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s about him.” Whereas like you’re saying, maybe marginalized communities feel like if they have this one shot to be heard or to be published or to be known in some sort of pop culture venue to tell their story, that they cannot put their messiness on display because that comes back to them. They do not have that privilege of like oh, maybe it’s a different character.  

AMY: And the other thing I was thinking is that when white male artists do their work, their identity is never on trial. Like in Nanette, Hannah talks about how, there’s this joke about how, you know, she just got done doing her set, and somebody came up to her and is just like, “Hey, you know what? There’s not enough lesbian content in your set. [laughs] And then she goes on, and she says about how, well, just the mere fact of her being a lesbian doesn’t make her content lesbian enough? But that’s what I’m saying. It’s like when marginalized people, even when they get the platform and can do their art, their identity’s always being interrogated. And so anything that they’re saying about their work or in their work reflects back on who they are as a person and whether or not their identity is a hindrance or something is that got that got their foot in the door.  

And so it’s not even just like there the work is on trial, but that then their identity and who they are as a core person is on trial. Whereas I can imagine, and I’ve seen, you know, white male comedians go up, and they do an entire set that has nothing to do with their whiteness, their maleness. And it’s never being interrogated in that sense. And you don’t have audience members going up to them afterwards being like, “There’s just not enough like, I don’t know, white guy terribleness in your set.”  

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: There’s not enough heterosexual content.  

AMY: Right! I mean that’s something that we— I think that you know, our job is to critique culture and to talk about oftentimes the ways in which it’s fail us. And I think that Nanette is saying, is asking us to think like, even when we have the space to do our art and we’re trying to get our voice out there and being heard, how else is it being limited? Like we’ve been so colonized in how we think we should express ourselves that we self-censor, and I think that’s a huge part of what she’s saying in her special. And how do we decolonize ourself? And I think that’s like one of the things that I think is so painful about the special, is like you’re laughing and you’re crying. And you laugh so that you don’t cry. But it’s just like this moment where you know, she’s ultimately asking herself, asking us as viewers, asking us as people who also create works of art to think how deeply colonized are we, and how do we shed it out?  

And she says, there’s a refrain in her special where she says this is, “I’m gonna,” quit comedy while delivering amazing punchlines.  

DAHLIA: And she she says over and over, “Hindsight is a gift. Stop wasting my time.” I can see how the way I’ve framed these stories hurts me myself, Hannah. And if we’re not able to look at the way we’ve talked about our own narratives or narratives about queer people or marginalized people, if we’re not able to look at those and say like, here’s where that’s wrong, here’s why we have to change them, then it’s a waste of time.  

AMY: Yeah. And the fucked up part is that we’ve been wasting so much time, right? And OK, so like I’m working on writing fiction or writing essays or whatever, and I often think about what am I not saying? Yeah! [laughs] Dahlia just…. [laughs]  

DAHLIA: I have a thought.  

AMY: Yes, your thought. Sorry.  

DAHLIA: My eyes lit up like a light bulb because Amy started talking about something that I wanted to bring up, which is that last week, Amy and I and our producer, Ashley, went to a lecture by one of Amy’s professors Kiese Laymon, and he was exactly talking about this theme. And he is talking about his work as a memoirist, and he was sort of asking of the people gathered, when you’re looking at your own writing, where are you lying? And at first, you know, I was like, oh, I don’t lie. But I think the point that he was getting at is what you’re saying is the way that we have framed narratives about our own lives or about the trauma of our lives or the trauma of our friends and family. How are we creating these narratives in ways that are lies because they make us more comfortable for now with the truth?  

AMY: And they make us not only more comfortable to us because it’s so hard to sort of face some of the fuckery that we’ve endured, but it makes us more comfortable to the wider audience if you’re trying to appeal to a mass audience. Like I’m sure you know, Hannah’s set, and she’s saying that like you know, she didn’t reveal certain things that happened because she wanted the punchline to live there! But she she didn’t want her audience to know the full truth of what it means to be Hannah Gadsby.  

DAHLIA: Yeah.  

AMY: And the full truth of that is like it’s painful. And I think that for people who create cultural products, you know, we think about the impact of our work, and we wonder, well, if I say this, will this happen? Or if I say that, will that happen? And often, that mitigating of what we say or don’t say, it’s us lying to ourselves. And I think that’s the thing— You know, I sat there at Kiese’s lecture, and yes, I study with Kiese at school, and like every fucking time we have class, my mind is blown, right? And even though I’ve studied with him for two years now, in that lecture I was still like, I’m still learning so much fucking shit from this dude! Because he’s asking questions that I don’t think are traditionally asked in spaces of the literary world.  

DAHLIA: Mmhmm.  

AMY: Nobody’s going up to Pulitzer Prize winning novelists and asking them, “The fuck were you lying about this in story?” Nobody’s asking these questions! And the thing is that we have to, I think, interrogate and think about the shit that we are lying about when we’re creating our work. And to think about what the artist is lying about when their work is being shown to us. That’s why Hannah’s special struck such a chord because we can all really look inward and think about that and to realize that not only are artists lying in their work, not only are we lying in our work, but how are we lying in our day to day lives? You know? How are we justifying things ourselves to make existence easier for us? And I think that that made me interrogate that as well, you know? Like on my day-to-day living, in what ways am I making up fiction so that I can survive better, so that I could breathe better, so that I’m not feeling like the world is pushing down on me.  

And I think those are coping mechanisms. But what are the effects of that? And I think it really does come back to this point that I had said earlier about how deeply colonized we are with misogyny, with patriarchy, with racist, homophobic shit? Every day, I’m working all the time on stripping that from my own way of thinking. So I think that we put a lot of pressure on artists to tell their truths and in that way, reveal a truth about us. And I think Hannah’s special did that because she really told her truth about how hard it is to do her work while being in her space and her body. But now stripping that away and showing us that, I can’t do this anymore. It’s like a detriment to her.  

DAHLIA: I feel like we see a lot of sort of like repercussions from these kinds of conversations going on in casting, but they happen sort of like after people have been yelled at to begin with. For instance, Jeffrey Tambor was fired from Transparent for—I mean for being a sexual harasser—but also after lots of outcry about a cis man playing a trans woman. Just like last week, Scarlett Johansson quit this movie called Rub & Tug. Sorry that I said that out loud.

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: Which is about a trans man running a massage parlor. And Scarlett Johansson you know, has gotten yelled at several times for taking parts that she should not take.  

AMY: Wow. Wow. Her Legacy. She’s just like my favorite Asian actor.  

BOTH: [laugh]  

DAHLIA: And so it’s really interesting to see what we’re talking about play out in Hollywood, except it always happens on the backend after they’ve fucked up. It never happens on the frontend in terms of thinking about who how to do representation.  

AMY: Yeah, and then those two examples really speaks to the fact that you know, I think in my feminist journey of understanding or thinking about culture, I was a big, you know, I really harped on like, “Representation matters! Representation matters.” And it does matter. But I think we have to think beyond representation mattering because yes, Jill Soloway ,got to put her own show on but ended up casting a cis white dude to play a trans woman. Like yes, this Rub & Tug— [laughs]  

DAHLIA: I know. Rub & Tug.  

AMY: —sounds really fascinating, but they were gonna cast a cis white woman to play a trans man. So these stories need to be told, but we need to be, I think, be more thoughtful about how we tell these stories, who we are put in these positions who tell these stories, ‘cause they can bring nuance to it. Like the things that Hannah said on that stage couldn’t have been said by anybody else besides Hannah and because she has the hindsight of her career and the work that she’s put out. And I think that as a culture, we’re really missing out on amazing, beautiful, devastating art by censoring people or not even actively censoring people but socializing artists to think that they’re not allowed to speak or to think or to make art in a certain way. And I think that is such an important cultural moment. And all hail Hannah Gadsby for this because she was able to make a special that hit on so many poignant points and do it in a way that resonated so that we’re really thinking deeply about how we even just consume comedy, you know, something that I think people consume very thoughtlessly.  

DAHLIA: Mmhmm.  

AMY: And I mean I cannot speak highly enough of the special, and I think this is just gonna be one of those things that I’m gonna put on and play in the background for the rest of my life when I’m struggling with work, or when I’m thinking about how art is being made and how we can do better as people who take in art, and how we can do better as people who make art. And I just can’t speak enough about this. And if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s special, please watch it. It’s on Netflix.  

[cutesy bells ring]  

AMY: At the end of every, episode we wrap things up by telling you something we’re watching, reading, and listening to. Dahlia, you’ve got something else we’re watching besides Hannah Gadsby’s special.  

DAHLIA: [laughs]  

AMY: What is it?  

DAHLIA: I’ll give you a double recommendation. I recently watched the film Disobedience starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as two Orthodox Jewish women in London who are in love but cannot be together. And that made me wanna rewatch a documentary on Netflix called One of Us about ex-Hasidic Jews and their lives in New York City. And so both films are about very tight-knit religious, conservative communities, one in London, one in New York, one a documentary, and one fictional. But I thought both were really, really fascinating. So I recommend them both.  

AMY: And I’ve got the read pick. It is Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li. It is a collection of short stories, and I am loving it! So Yiyun Li’s background is that she was born and raised, I think, in Beijing and then immigrated to America. But these stories are just so, they’re very character-based, and they’re about modern Chinese people or Chinese people in modern times. And oftentimes, these people are very lonely or very depressed or just like very sad people. And maybe it says a lot about me, but I love reading sad shit sometimes.  

DAHLIA: [chuckles]  

AMY: But she’s written about them in such a beautiful and nuanced and subtle way that I just, I’m just in love with this collection. I’m not done yet. I got two more stories to go, but I can’t recommend this enough. It’s called Gold Boy, Emerald Girl Yiyun Li.  

DAHLIA: I have the music pick this week. And sometimes I feel a little embarrassed about my music choices because they mostly come from 1998.  

BOTH: [chuckle]  

DAHLIA: And today though I have a music recommendation that seems like it comes from 1998, and I mean this in a good way! It’s like all angsty girl pop. I’m really, really into it. This song is called Tear Me to Pieces by Meg Myers.  

AMY: Thanks for listening!  

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening! 

[Tear Me to Pieces plays] 

 

♪ Lust, lust, never enough 

Indelible human nature keeps me up at night 

It’s a pretty fixation 

It’s a pretty fixation 

But it’s a wicked temptation 

It’s a wicked temptation 

 

I know this love will tear me to pieces 

I know his hands will dig up my secrets 

It’s in your eyes, ah, you fucking liar 

I know this love will tear me to pieces 

 

Bang, bang, fire away 

The rapture’s trying to kill me 

Pulsing through my heart 

And pain, pain, always the same 

Beautiful hurts like crazy when it falls apart 

 

It’s a pretty fixation 

It’s a pretty fixation 

But it’s a wicked temptation 

It’s a wicked temptation 

 

I know this love will tear me to pieces 

I know his hands will dig up my secrets 

It’s in your eyes, ah, you fucking liar 

I know this love will tear me to pieces ♪ 

DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.  

♪ It’s a pretty fixation 

It’s a pretty fixation 

But it’s a wicked temptation 

It’s a wicked temptation 

It’s a pretty fixation 

It’s a pretty fixation ♪ 

by Amy Lam
View profile »

Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.