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When Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix Special, Nanette, debuted in June of 2018, her unique, confessional, and deeply personal brand of comedy took audiences on a journey through what it means to be a lesbian in a profession – and, frankly – in a world dominated by straight white men.
You joked last year in your Netflix special Nanette that “No one in this room is leaving the room a better person.” And I remember when I watched for the first time, it changed me and I’ve cried every single time I’ve watched it since. I’m a fairly cis-gendered white gay man and having somebody who’s candid about their experience means the world. You mix being a comedian and a raconteur. It’s more than getting a laugh, it’s finding pathos. How would you define your brand of comedy?
GADSBY: What I think I was driving at in writing Nanette was that the sad clown is this idea that we have, that it’s just how it should be. And I kind of wanted to reject that, you know, I felt like that just meant I had to stay stuck in a certain kind of trauma in order to have the voice that I did. And looking around the gay community, I did see that space between pride and shame. You know, being in the closet and out of the closet, and nobody really talked, or I hadn’t really felt connected to any story where people go, “You know, the shame sticks.” The shame sticks and we have to pretend it doesn’t, even to each other. Because if we don’t look proud the world will attack.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix youtu.be
It was kind of a very vulnerable space that I felt like I was opening up. You know, sort of in no man’s land, so to speak, because I didn’t want to alienate people. And I certainly don’t want to suggest that self-deprecation has no place. I think I could not have gotten where I was without the armor that I built with using self-deprecation. And I certainly couldn’t have found an audience with the people who would have preferred to be hostile with me if I didn’t have the armor of self-deprecation.
But, I think there is an evolution point that I think I want to push. And I’m just delighted that it resonated with such a large part of the queer community. To be part of the community is really important.
I know growing up as an overweight kid, who, if I’m going to be pigeonholed as anything, I’m a bear… I have always been the big guy who had to turn to that self-deprecating humor to find a place to fit in to make other people comfortable. So I understand that intimately.
GADSBY: I think it’s a point of power to be able to do that. When you get to a certain level of maturity, that practice of caring how other people feel, even though it’s at your own expense. I prefer to know how to care what and how other people feel. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, but also, the body image stuff. I don’t mention it directly in Nanette, but when I say that I no longer want to do self-deprecating, it has every bit as much to do with my body image as it does with my gender and sexuality. Because that is the point where people will sort of move to silence me. You know, it’s like, “Well, you don’t get to have a voice. You’re fat and ugly.” Which is a weird idea.
From your descriptions of where you grew up, it sounds like Tasmania is a lot like Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Western Pennsylvania is the rust belt, it’s “God and guns” country. Does that still identify and inform your life and work? Or is it sort of trying to exorcise that and move past it?
GADSBY: It does, but I think what I really want to do is humanize those people that I grew up believing were my enemies. Because they’re not. They’re as much victims of the toxic politics that play out over our heads. You know, I honestly think that if we want to change the conversation, we do need to appeal to the better part of people. I grew up when these debates were had among people who had to live with each other. And as painful as it was, it’s more human than the debate now. People don’t have to live with the people they disagree with. And I think that makes it even more dangerous, because people don’t get to see the effects of their behavior.
In the midst of Nanette, you questioned very directly a few times whether you needed to quit comedy. What factors helped you decide to carry on and create this new tour, Douglas?
GADSBY: Well, there’s two parts to that. The first is that quitting comedy in the show was a theatrical conceit. Basically, in the running of the show, I knew that people would disqualify what I had to say by way of how I was saying it. So my theory was, if I quit comedy, then they can’t say, “Well, this is not comedy.” It’s like, “Yeah, dude, I quit.” Making a critic redundant before they had a chance to even be relevant.
But as I toured the show – it’s kind of a tough tour, as you might imagine, doing that material over and over again – I believed it when I said it, because it’s like, yeah, I can’t keep doing it.
But it’s also the only thing I can do. I don’t have a strong resume, a strong CV, as they say, but I have quit doing comedy in the sense that what I do, you know, the punch line isn’t King. I refused to bend the knee for that one. And so what I’m doing now is sort of really mucking about with the with the form. I think comedy could be so much more than just set up, punch line, set up, punch line.
One of my favorite lines that comes out of Nanette is, “I cook dinner way more than I ‘Lesbian’. But no one introduces me as the ‘chef’ comedian.” That one kills me.
GADSBY: It’s true. I think you get to a certain age when you just go, “I don’t think my sexuality really should be front and center of my identity.”
Do you feel like you get pigeonholed as that, or as a female comedian in general?
GADSBY: Yeah, look, I think it’s a shame what we do with identity politics. I honestly think identity should be something people get to explore and have fun with when they’re younger and when you’re older, just get on with it. I think writing that show was like, I just want to get on with it. You know, I just want to do good stuff in the world without having to explain myself. Can I just be? And you can’t.
Absolutely. This world wants to, as you talk about, put a pink or blue color on a child as soon as they’re born, and enforce all these rules and regulations. It’s interesting watching the shift over time towards trying to find that neutral space to allow a child not to be the football player, the cheerleader, or any of those very typical American tropes.
GADSBY: Yeah, I mean, the next few generations seem to be all over it. I think they have a much more flexible idea of gender, but they’re not the ones writing the laws at this point. So, I think we’re still in a kind of dangerous place. And I think it’s important that older people step up and try and make it easier for the next generation. I feel like it’s the responsibility of people to not give a care about themselves, once they’ve reached a certain age, and just think more about what’s the focus for the future.
In a similar vein, I don’t know what the timeline was in relation to the Nanette tour, but you were diagnosed with ADHD and autism. Being able to talk about that in your work now, has that changed your perspective on your own life and what you want your work to be?
GADSBY: The diagnosis process, or, as I like to call it confirmation, which gives it less pathology, that has been quite a long process and predated Nanette. But talking about it publicly is something I feel like I can do now. It’s part of that I’m less vulnerable than I was. I wanted people to listen to what I had to say with Nanette without going, “Yeah, but you’re a bit special needs, aren’t you?”
I think just like gender, just like sexuality, I think neurodiversity is something that is a positive for our population. I believe that people who think differently should be seen not as a burden, or, people – particularly children – who fail to hit these markers of what growing up means. You know, you learn something by a certain stage, if you don’t, then you’re behind. I’m quite passionate about sort of breaking that open and widening our understanding of what developmental progress means. That people have a different perspective and valuable perspective, not the wrong perspective.
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas | Official Trailer | Netflix youtu.be
If there’s one thing that I can honestly tell you I admired most in Nanette it was when when you circled back at the end to correct the joke, and correct the record on what happened with the man who beat you. And on the history of the assaults you endured. That’s drawing a real line in the sand and saying, “You know, we all got to chuckle about this earlier. But here’s what really happened now that now that you’ve spent an hour getting to know me.” But beyond that, Nanette ends with a message about taking care of each other, reaching out and really looking after our brothers, sisters, and non-binary friends, too. Is there an overarching message to Douglas?
GADSBY: Yeah, there is, but like Nanette there’s several competing messages. It is about challenging our habits of thought in a lot of ways. I am really tackling this common idea that difference should be ranked and looking at ableism more directly. Douglas is still evolving, which is exciting. And you know, this tour that I’m doing, it won’t be the show that lands on Netflix. It’s my favorite thing to do is share my mind, with audiences, and then the show grows from that.
And there is a beauty to that organicism, that it can grow and change and develop as, as you learn from the audience and the audience learns from you.
GADSBY: Yeah, I think comedy, it really is a conversation. A bit one-sided, but it is a conversation.
HANNAH GADSBY TOURS "BODY OF WORK" STARTING MARCH 2022. DATES HERE.
The Kansas native who now lives in Los Angeles after a stint in New York City is one of our favorite funny lady lesbians.
She sings, she dances, she acts, and she has a sharp eye for the foibles of heteronormative culture. Of course, she was that Midwestern tomboy who wore a tiara to school every day.
The star of MTV’s Mary + Jane and Oxygen’s Funny Girls, Durwood turned being different into a super power.
Her newest EP Comedy Electronica Vol. 1, released via Blue Élan Records was preceded by a series of equally hilarious music videos now on YouTube, most notably, Steal UR Girlfriend.
How It Happened
After meeting and collaborating with Dave Darling (Def Leppard, Queen Latifah, Tom Waits, Brian Setzer) on her debut album, Take One Thing Off, the duo rejoined in the studio last summer to record the follow-up, Comedy Electronica. “I knew I wanted to lean more into pop sensibilities with this album so Dave and I imposed a hard rule of ‘no real instruments,’ explained Scout. “We only broke that rule for a theremin and I think there’s a little bit of guitar mixed in somewhere.”
First single, “Steal UR Girlfriend,” is a hilarious but all too accurate portrait of life as a lesbian. “I’ve always been interested in gender roles and how we alter our behavior to mimic ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ roles, so of my three ‘bros’ in the video, one is a gay cis man and the other is non-binary. I love drag in all directions. Whenever I put makeup on, I consider it getting into drag even if it’s intended to make me look more like a girl. We shot the video in a day in a warehouse in Inglewood. Keva Walker did the choreography and was incredible to work with on set.”
Scout Durwood - Steal UR Girlfriend youtu.be
“Growing up, I was painfully weird, but blissfully unaware of it,” she smiles. “I was everybody’s lovable little weirdo. After college, I moved to New York. I knew I wanted to be in show business, and in my mind, the way to make it was to be the most original, most creative, and most outside-the-box.”
She went way outside-the-box, spending nearly five years as a draw in New York’s burlesque scene: named as one of the Huffington Post’s “20 Burlesque Stars to Know,” to boot. With this unforgettable experience under her belt, she traded the Big Apple for Los Angeles in 2012. After multiple starring roles, her thirty-minute comedy special was released in 2018 on the Epix series, Unprotected Sets.
Also in 2018, her musical debut Take One Thing Off accompanied a twenty-two episode digital series of the same name. The digital series was included as part of the 2020 Slamdance lineup as well as nominated for Best Indie Series at the 2019 YouTube Streamy Awards — an annual awards ceremony which recognizes and honors excellence in online video, including directing, acting, producing, and writing. Scout is also an accomplished cabaret singer and nationally touring stand-up comedian. She currently has a scripted half-hour comedy series in development with Sony / Freeform Entertainment, and hosts a monthly live variety show, Everybody GoGo, in Los Angeles.
“I think I’m still that girl in a tiara who doesn’t know she’s weird. That’s become the heart of my comedy. I’m happy to be different, and I hope other people feel the same way. It’s about letting your freak flag fly, and if that isn’t reason enough to dance, I honestly don’t know what is.”
Track by Track
The lyrics to “Sky Dancer” are actually pretty close to the scratch track. I had the hook, but I was having a weirdly hard time coming up with the verses. Dave put me in the booth and let me freestyle a couple of times. When I came out, he was like, “that was great!” And I was like, “what did I say?” And then we cleaned it up a little bit and that was it. Gunner Sixx through in all the bits and bobs that really make the track work.
“Sexually Implicit” is an excel sheet of words I think are funny to say. It is possibly the dumbest idea I’ve ever had for a song, and also probably my favorite on the album.
“I Don’t Want To Hold UR Baby” was conceived as a rant about all of my pet peeves, but as soon as I hit the first one, I was like… nope. There’s the whole song. We shot that music video at an amazing house in the hills on a day that was blisteringly hot, but because of our shooting schedule, no one got to get in the pool until right before sunset. By then the temperature had dropped, and the water was freezing. I put my dancers through hell, but they keep coming back to work with me!
I’ve always had a joke that men make being a lesbian very easy because they are such weak competition. I basically talked to one of my bisexual friends about all the worst men she has ever dated and put them into one fictional man, which was the basis for “Steal UR Girlfriend”. ‘Predatory lesbian’ has become one of my personal mantras.
Scout Durwood - Sad Ukulele youtu.be
“Sad Ukulele” was inspired by all real events. The uke is the only musical instrument I really know how to play, and it always made me laugh to try to sing about real sad events on the ukulele. As a comedian, this song feels particularly relevant to who I am. I want to change the world, but the only way I know how to do it is through jokes.
More information and tour dates here.
How do you bring up that potentially embarrassing question? As the phone rang I sat wondering how to ask iconic gay comedian and actor Leslie Jordan about his recent altercation with a group of youths spewing homophobic slurs at a West Hollywood Starbucks. Jordan answered my call with, “I’m stepping outside of the Starbucks in which I misbehaved the other day!”
“I’m back at the scene of my crime!” Jordan joked, before explaining that the press’s characterization of the youths as heterosexual irked him. “I saw street kids in West Hollywood: Whether they are gay are not is irrelevant.”
So what happened that day?
Apparently the youths were using gift cards purchased with stolen credit cards in a scam. When they were thrown out, the young men, Jordan reported, “were raising hell, and yelling at everybody, ‘Y’all bunch of faggots, all y’all are gonna die of AIDS, f*cking faggots!’
“Well, nobody said a word, but I flew up—I don’t know where it came from. I said you need to shut the f*ck up and get the f*ck out of here. Not in my house, and not in our neighborhood!” From outside, one of the gang shot Jordan the bird. “I just flew out there and threw my tea right in his face! Pandemonium! Mayhem! Ten cop cars. I was held for throwing the first punch: I was detained briefly for throwing the first punch!”
Jordan joked that “That was the butchest thing I’ve done in my whole life!” But not everyone was as amused. The incident made national news, “much to my mother’s horror. My mother said to me, ‘You could have been shot,’ which is exactly the truth.”
Jordan made it up to his mother, who lives in Chattanooga, on his visit home in advance of his show at Play Dance Bar on September 11, 2015. Many might not realize that Jordan is basically a local. His mother and father both grew up in Chattanooga, and he lived there most of his young life.
Leslie Jordan Documents Quarantine With Viral Video Series | NowThis youtu.be
“By the time I was in first grade we were back in Chattanooga,” Jordan said. “I went to high school there and went to UT Chattanooga and got a degree in theatre. Then I got on a bus—this would have been 1982. And I was no spring chicken at the time: I was 27. I got on a bus with $1,200 that mother had sewn into my underpants, and all I had was a little suitcase and a dream.”
Jordan arrived in Hollywood without a safety net, and unlike so many others making the same trip he found success. “People ask me, ‘What is the secret?’ Well, in 1982, coming from a repressed, Southern Baptist upbringing, I found West Hollywood! There were queers hanging from the trees, and I thought ‘Well, I’m home!’ People come to Hollywood and say, ‘I’m gonna give it five years and see what happens.’ Well I was home, and it didn’t matter what happened to me career-wise, I wasn’t going anywhere. Now, here I am, thirty-three years later tossing iced tea in people’s faces!”
Despite that, Tennessee has never truly left him either. “I’ve used my past so much in my stand-up comedy—it’s funny in retrospect, though when it was happening it wasn’t that fun.” But Jordan admits his adversity wasn’t like what many suffered. “You know, a cousin called me out the other day. He heard me say what a rough time it was, and he said, ‘Leslie, you were the most popular boy in school: what are you talking about.’ And I thought about it, and you know what, so much of it is the internal homophobia, and so much of it is this fear that we’re going to be found out.”
Leslie Jordan's Attempt to Play Straight on Ellen's Sitcom youtu.be
“Plenty of people out there that were teased and tormented,” Jordan said. “I was the target of ‘smear the queer’ occasionally. But I was funny, and I’ve always used humor to disarm situations. The interesting thing I’ve found is that in my adult life, let’s say that I don’t want you to get to know me or I’m uneasy in a situation, I’ll fall right into that. I have to catch myself…”
At this point in his career, Jordan admits sometimes worrying about whether he’ll get work. “In 2006 I won an Emmy for Will & Grace and I thought, ‘I’m set.’ About a year later I called my manager and said, ‘Look, I’ve gotta make some money. I can’t eat this Emmy!’” That sparked Jordan to reinvent his career, doing bookings at events and venues like Pride and cruises.
“This new career started—I book about forty-five venues a year. People think because I’m an entertainer I must be rich and don’t need the money,” Jordan said, setting up his punchline. “I always say, ‘If I had a lot of money I wouldn’t be up here selling my pussy!’”
12 Best Leslie Jordan Moments | Will & Grace | COZI Dozen youtu.be
Being out of Hollywood so much, and with a younger generation unfamiliar with his most well-known work, Jordan sometimes feels out of the Hollywood loop. “You know what’s interesting: that little debacle where I threw the tea on that guy? I’ve had five auditions since then! Is that not silly how Hollywood works? ‘Oh, her! I thought she was dead! Let’s get her a part!’ Well I’m not dead!”
Jordan found some new exposure as an actor. American Horror Story: Coven and The Help are both recent, notable roles. “Coven was wonderful,” Jordan said. “My favorite person was Gabby Sidibe from Precious! She was such a ray of sunshine. We had so much fun! Patty LuPone came down and performed for us. Jessica Lang took us on field trips. It was just heaven!”
When he returned to Tennessee for his family visit and his show at Play, Jordan had this to say: “The young gay boy or girl in the South especially needs to know that what they’re being told in the church pews and here and there—those people are wrong! Find your tribe and we will celebrate everything about you that sissy, that is gay, that is trans. Find your home, like I did!”
Comedian Hal Sparks played Zanies on September 21. I sat down with him in the green room of the Nashville comedy club to chat about gay rights, his television roles, and the role of comedy in society.
Hal Sparks is part underdog, part top dog. The triple-threat actor/comedian/musician currently stars in Disney’s popular Lab Rats sitcom as successful billionaire genius Donald Davenport, a character Sparks describes as “completely full of himself.” During this fourth and final season of Lab Rats, Sparks will not only star in the show, he will also direct at least four episodes. But success was not always a given for Sparks, who grew up as a poor kid in Kentucky.
“In high school, I was a ‘zero,’ and in many ways I won,” he recalls. “I was not expected to succeed in any of the stuff that I have sought to be.” Sparks paid homage to his unexpected journey by naming his hard rock band “Zero 1,” a subtle nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
His underdog past may have helped him connect to his arguably most groundbreaking TV role, Queer as Folk’s Michael Novotny, a character with whom Sparks shares very little. “I have nearly nothing in common with Michael…I’m much more bullish in my life. I’m much more in control,” the actor explains. “The one thing [that I shared with Michael] is that I’ve always been panicked by the beauty of life. There are moments where it just floods, where you’re just like, ‘Oh, my God, this is all so beautiful, it’s silly.’ And Michael [had] that. He had that ‘I love you’ that came from somewhere rooted and deep and natural. And that’s what I liked, I think, most about him.”
Sparks isn’t shy about how heartbreakingly difficult it was to play Michael from 2000 to 2005, the five seasons Queer ran. “He was such an innocent, and he was so broadsided by life,” Sparks remembers. “It was an amazing acting experience to play Michael but it was like walking into a gut punch every time…There’s no other way to do it with Michael. You’re never guarded. So, it’s just always an open wound.”
Although Sparks describes the opportunity as utterly meaningful, it’s hard for him to miss the role. “Part of me can’t because it was brutal from that aspect. Everybody thinks it’s because playing gay and sex scenes and all that stuff. ‘That must have been the hard work of it.’ It was by no means,” he adds. “But being in a relationship drama [portraying] a character who was loving and innocent to his core in a lot of ways was just a recipe for emotional disaster.”
Though Sparks himself is straight, he has been an advocate for gay rights since the early 90s—years before Queer came along. “I used to do the sound at [spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson’s] lectures in L.A. Marianne[’s meeting] was one of the few spiritual gatherings in L.A. where gay people could come and feel accepted,” he notes. “At that point, with her, and with people at her lectures, I was volunteering for AIDS Project Los Angeles.”
In addition to his work with Williamson, a personal connection groomed him to be an ally. “I used to have four running buddies when I was growing up in Kentucky. Two of them have come out as gay. Fifty percent of my best friends when I was a kid were gay.” No “aha” moment was necessary for Sparks to support equality. “I didn’t have [an] end-of-[an]-after-school moment where I was like ‘I need to learn to accept gay people’…The realization was that I never minded, really, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around the lack of acceptance. That part didn’t compute…It was that anybody gave a shit was peculiar to me.”
According to Sparks, a comedian’s role is to explore society’s viewpoints and examine fresh perspectives. “We all live in this highly complex social order and the more complex it gets, the more we run into what I would call like ‘psychological cul-de-sacs’ where everybody seems to be walking down a dead-end road and going in a circle doing something stupid or repetitive or pointless that we keep doing,” he explains. “Everybody’s doing the same shit and it’s not helping anybody and it’s not making us feel any better. So a comedian comes out, makes a big joke about it, and is essentially like a traffic cop going, ‘Everybody turn around. We’ll go back the other way. Nobody walk down this road anymore. It’s a dead end.’”
Sparks considers homophobia to be one of the “dead-end” destinations in this culture. “I always laugh at the idea of a gay agenda. The person drowning does not have an agenda. They just want to breathe. The person holding a person underwater is the one with the agenda. There’s a homophobic agenda. There’s not a gay agenda…Only straight people who don’t think gay people should have rights have an agenda about how to do it and they file legislation and do legal briefs and they do all kinds of stuff,” he continues. “So I’ve been very open about being straight because—it’s not because I’m trying to distance myself from my gay friends, my LGBT friends—it’s because I want the straight friends who don’t like that idea to know very strongly that I’m straight and I support everything about gay rights and fuck you.”
With a busy schedule that juggles his stand-up act, TV work, and playing and recording with his band, Sparks is committed to his craft. “That’s the whole job of being a singer, an artist, a poet, a painter: [to] convey understanding of a different point of view or give elevation to a hidden point of view or perspective that people are hiding from.”