His cis, straight, liberal parents

Oh good god.

Staggered by the malevolent stupidity of that opening I rushed to find the source: “The ‘Nanette’ Problem.”

It took me a while to write a critique of Nanette, the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s universally praised one-woman Netflix special that premiered in June, because I couldn’t quite figure out what I hated about it.

But when my cis, straight, liberal parents told me how much they loved it, the reason for my dislike coalesced: In order to make straight, cis viewers feel comfortably woke, Gadsby shits on an entire language of comedy developed over decades largely by Jews and queers. The greatest trick Gadsby pulls is convincing those who have little interest in actual gender, sexuality, or political radicalism — and apparently little knowledge of comedy — that they are watching something new and radical.

“Little interest in gender,” says a man about a feminist lesbian. I guess this man simply assumes that people he calls “cis” have little interest in gender, because of being “cis” and all? That it’s only people who declare themselves trans or queer or nonbinary who have lotta interest in gender? Needless to say, Peter takes care to let us know he’s nonbinary.

Comedy, Gadsby says, cannot hold her trauma — and so she spends the last half of her show explicating her trauma, saying that she actually cut off a true story at the halfway point earlier in the set, because in truth it ended with her being beaten up for being gay, and that no one would laugh at that.

Gadsby is good at relaying these powerful and heartbreaking stories of trauma. They’re important to tell. As a nonbinary person with trans and queer friends who have been harassed and assaulted for who they are, they resonated with me. But it’s in her analysis of comedy that Gadsby lost me.

So apparently it’s only nonbinary, trans, and queer people who understand about being harassed and assaulted for who they are? Lesbians aren’t good enough? Women aren’t good enough? They’re all way too old hat and wrong wave and “cis” and parent-like?

Comedy can be radical; it’s just that when it is, it’s not typically on Netflix. Queer and trans people have been performing comedy that transgresses how we traditionally think of the form: sets without easy punchlines that are weird and often unreadable unless you’ve been deep into the lexicon of queerness for years. There’s new, fresh, and interesting queer comedy being performed in basements and clubs in New York and elsewhere (see: here and here ) — but it’s comedy that is written and performed in a self-referential vernacular built over years that makes it mostly accessible only to fellow queers (and less-covered by the mainstream media).

In other words, Peter Moskowitz is cooler than any of us can dream of being, and obviously way cooler than that boring lesbian Hannah Gadsby.

In a few lines, Gadsby completely lets her audience off the hook, transforming justified queer rage (whether it comes in the form of outward anger or inwardly facing self-deprecating humor) that is often ignored by the mainstream press and the rest of society because it can be so challenging to power structures, into a fault within herself, and by extension all of us.

As a queer person, I want my anger to be heard. I believe my anger constructive, even if it’s self-deprecating, and even if you don’t get it. By telling us we need to challenge our anger, sublimate it into love and understanding lest we destroy the world, Gadsby is not challenging her audience, she’s challenging her fellow queers to be more respectful, more civil, to display our pain in ways that cis, straight people can appreciate, in ways that get us called groundbreaking by those who have broken no ground, and have no interest in listening to us when we speak in ways that are unreadable. Gadsby hasn’t changed comedy, she’s just let cis and straight people in on the joke. And there’s nothing radical about that.

Seriously. The whole point is to exclude cis and straight people.

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