WWhen Dave Chappelle released his Netflix special The Closer, widely condemned for its transphobia, fellow actor Hannah Gadsby was among the protesters, describing the streamer as an “amoral cult of algorithms” in an open letter to its CEO, Ted Sarandos. Now comes Netflix’s “carbon offset show,” as Gadsby drolly calls it: a mixed bill featuring the Nanette star and their curated lineup of “gender-diverse” stand-ups. It is recorded on Saturday; the concert at the Soho Theater I attended earlier this week was a warm-up.
It’s a curious confection in some ways. There is no shortage of queer comedy evenings, among which LOL Word features prominently. Stream an event like that and we’d all have the feeling of a thriving, supportive comedy community. We don’t necessarily get that feeling at Gadsby’s party, because the artists are selected from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, and because Gadsby barely seems to know some of them. The evening was going to be called ‘Hannah Gadsby and Friends’, the 45-year-old jokes – but that would have been a stretch.
It’s partly a crack at the expense of Gadsby’s lethargy and social awkwardness, which become running jokes as comic accents for the positivity required of a sidekick. They get away with it because there is enough high-quality stand-up presented that we don’t need the extra hype. And because sometimes Gadsby’s taciturnity seems – and they know it – like a tangy commentary on what one has just watched. On a diverse project, there’s a place for the genitally obsessed routine of American comic Dahlia Bell, but one would think the overlap with Gadsby’s sense of humor must be minimal. Cue Gadsby, returning to the mic, eyebrows arched: “We’re all learning!” »
There’s no doubt that releasing these acts on Netflix is a valuable response to Chappelle’s episode. Thriving queer comedy scenes here and there are one thing; an overall screen profile for these comics is another. The initiative also includes a mentorship program for affected comics. On stage, none of the artists wastes their breath addressing transphobia. The show is a celebration of gender; possibilities and ideas that open up when binaries are pushed aside and assumptions dismantled.
At its best, it can be great for comedy, an art form that involves seeing things from surprising new angles. Actors such as Chloe Petts and Asian American stand-up Jes Tom – both on fine form here – position themselves as changelings, or secret agents shuttling between traditional genders and sexual identities, relaying privileged information in both directions. Purring and delighted, Alok wants nothing to do with either binary, but has great fun poking holes in the threatened masculinity of their macho assailants.
In keeping with the old Jewish joke “ask two Jews, get three opinions,” there is room in this seven-vote (plus Gadsby) bill for at least as many different perspectives on gender — including skepticism mischievous Canadian comic DeAnne Smith, who complains about “having them done against my will since 2005”. The most experienced act on the bill, Smith could also be its star with this set. They are very funny about the consequences of their breast removal operation and strike a resounding tone when they assert that “understanding everything is overrated”. Perhaps in these times of rapid change, we could all accept with a little more grace that “we are all learning,” and understanding will come when the time is right. It’s a cause to which this special, when it arrives on Netflix, could usefully contribute.