So: Now what? Gadsby didn’t quit, obviously. Here she is, onstage, in a blue Calvin Klein suit (“Fuck dieting. Get a tailor!”), a gay woman, with autism, from the island of Tasmania. And here am I, one of 3.7 straight white men in the room, neuro-bloody-typical as far as I know, flicking my male gaze this way and that, with my notepad open and my nib flexed in a cold fury of nitpickery. “To the men in the room, I speak to you now,” she said in Nanette, “particularly the white men, especially the straight white men. Pull your fucking socks up!”
Douglas is the name of the new show, and it’s just as much of a high-wire act, in its way, as Nanette. She named it after her dog, so we get going with some dog-talk. “We had a lot of dogs growing up … because we lived on a busy road.” Bam! A joke! Then we’re talking about L.A., where Gadsby now lives—entertainment L.A., industry L.A., the L.A. of groomers and stylists. “A woman comes in with a huge rack … of clothes.” Bam! Another joke! This one, however, Gadsby instantly deconstructs: “It’s a single entendre!” She’s very good at jokes. She’s very good at being rude. Somewhere inside her, in fact, is a swaggeringly profane old-school Australian barroom bloke; she lets him out periodically and to great effect.
Read: ‘Nanette’ is a radical, transformative work of comedy
Dogs, L.A., life post-Nanette, the different meanings of the word “fanny”… loads of laughs. On golf: “What a waste of space and time. Men who play golf and have families are cunts.” Gadsby is having a conspicuously great time. Her fantastic short-back-and-sides, long-on-top haircut, which she mashes and plumes with her hand as she proceeds, is one of her physical props. Her glasses are another, pushed back up the bridge of her nose as a kind of nerd punctuation, a visual stammer. Her eyes, behind their big frames, pop with alarm or zero in.
Douglas moves easily, almost meanderingly—this, at least, is the sensation. But as Gadsby develops her digressions, and bores laserlike along her tangents, a large and extraordinarily intricate design begins to reveal itself. Throwaway lines recur, become motifs. Other lines are instant proverbs. “Closed minds can’t be opened from the outside.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She subjects that old saw to her interstellar scrutiny. The eye? Just one eye? Whose is it? And abruptly she’s become a hunched Cyclopean man, peering at the world, turning his head, taking monocular snapshots and snarling, “Beauty! … Beauty!” The taxonomy of beauty, she tells us, “is a Trojan horse for ugly ideas.”
Gadsby doesn’t like small talk. She likes rules, especially ones she’s made up herself. A doctor recommends the pill. She doesn’t like the pill. “The pill gives me suicidal ideation.” (An eager stillness in the audience: We sniff more trauma. “There it is,” she says. “You thought I forgot why you came here.”) She argues with the doctor; he accuses her of being “hormonal.” “A woman is ‘hormonal’ every time she does something a man fails to predict … As if men have emotional neutrality while women are this clusterfuck of internalized chaos.”