Hannah Gadsby predicts a ‘revolution’ in comedy

Hannah Gadsby speaking at the launch of the 33rd Melbourne International Comedy Festival.Credit:Joe Armao

In her first Australian public appearance (bar two interviews) since filming her globally acclaimed Netflix special at the Sydney Opera House, Hannah Gadsby has foreshadowed a “revolution” in comedy and declared the dominance of the white male comedian all but over.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival on Tuesday, the Tasmanian born comic praised the festival’s push towards inclusion.

“When I first began [comedy] … it’s safe to say that diversity wasn’t a key quality of the stand-up comedy population,” she said. “That is changing."

Ms Gadsby singled out fellow Australian women comedians Celia Pacquola, Anne Edmonds and Zoe Coombs Marr as “punching equally as hard as I am and equally as well and brilliantly”.

“I can only hope the diversity continues to grow more genders and, in particular, sponsoring and fostering and nurturing – particularly in this racially fraught moment in history – more diversity in race.”

In recent years MICF has made significant forays into Asia, taking its Comedy Roadshow to India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and more and scouting for regional talent to perform at the Melbourne festival in shows such as the popular Comedy Zone Asia. Closer to home the festival hosts the national Deadly Funny stand-up competition for aspiring Indigenous comedians.

Ms Gadsby said not just the face of stand-up was changing but the nature of comedy.

“I believe there is a revolution in comedy about to happen – a real, big, global revolution … where the joke is not the only tool in a comedian’s kit."

Gadsby won the festival’s prestigious Barry Award for best show in 2017 with Nanette, which went on to sell out tours in London and New York before being picked up by Netflix. Roundly praised by critics, it was a raw and personal take on her experience of abuse as a young gay woman, which tapped into the #MeToo zeitgeist months before the Weinstein scandal broke.

Gadsby relocated from Melbourne to Los Angeles and her piercing commentary – including a well-received appearance at the Emmys, and a speech putting the ‘‘good men’’ of Hollywood on notice – has been widely reported on.

Gadsby credited MICF and its development programs – including Class Clowns for school-age comics, the Raw Comedy national competitions and the Geez Louise program for women comics – with helping her career.

“I doubt without the infrastructure provided by those programs that I would have persevered through the rough and tumble of the world of stand-up comedy," she said.

“Even if I had have, I think it’s certain that the more competitive and masculine world of stand-up in pubs and clubs would’ve shaped a much different voice than I’m able to use today.”

Gadsby’s first full-length show since Nanette, Douglas, premiers at MICF on Wednesday in an already sold-out run ahead of another international tour. Additional shows have been scheduled around Australia in December, however Gadsby urged comedy lovers to try someone new.

“Please take a punt see someone you don’t know,” she said. "I would really strongly encourage you to see somebody who does not look like you.”

The 33rd Melbourne International Comedy Festival is on until April 21. The Oxfam Gala screens on ABC TV on Sunday. comedyfestival.com.au

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