Hannah Gadsby never wanted to be an adult. Not for fear of aging, or shirking of responsibilities. Rather, because it “seemed boring”, as she says in the dry manner that’s become hers. But in her latest stand-up show Happiness Is A Bedside Table, one of Australia’s hardest working comedians begrudgingly accepts that she is growing up.
“I’m having a go at it,” Gadsby begins. “I have plants now, that has to mean something, right?” Plants aside, Hannah Gadsby certainly has the workload of a grown up human person. There are the endless stand-up performances, there’s the touring, the co-starring role on ABC’s Adam Hills Tonight, and the comedy lectures on art history. All of which have been steadily building since Gadsby took out the RAW Comedy National Final in 2006.
For a comedian who revels in mistakes, both present and past, it might seem that the career choice is to blame for her ambivalence towards adulthood. “Growing up was just as difficult before comedy came along,” she laughs. “My life has been a collection of humiliations. I’m the Aesop of failure.”
And if you’ve seen Hannah Gadsby on stage, you’ll know this to be true. Indeed, her life is a wealth of the type of cringe inducing memories that many young comics would die to have. Her life is her material. And you can hear in her voice, that she takes much joy in sharing it. “I played putt putt with my Mum and sister on my 18th birthday, and I was wearing a brand new suede jacket,” she says. “I tried to do something tricky, and I slipped and fell into a pond. My Mum and sister laughed so hard they wet themselves.”
But it’s not self-pitying. “That was the hardest I’ve ever laughed,” she says. “Then the three of us were wet.” And that seems to be at the core of Gadsby’s comedy; it’s an awkward moment, yes, but it’s an awkward moment that brings people together.
So does talking through these memories on stage sooth the burn of the blush? “Absolutely. As I get older, I care less and less about things,” says Gadsby. “Now my biggest fear is that I’ll stop being embarrassed all together. Maybe I’ll become…”
There’s a pause.
“Perfect?” She audibly shudders and laughs the idea away.
The last few years have been crucial for stand up comedy, as a more personal and intellectual style of the form has become embraced the world over. The ego has replaced airplane food. The observations are still there, but nowadays, it’s likely turned inwards. It’s fair to say that as an internationally touring comic, Gadsby represents this confessional comedy for Australia. “You could also look at it this way: I technically don’t have a job,” she laughs. “I’m just treading water here, and hoping it all works out.”
If it’s the lack of a set nine-to-five that’s keeping Hannah Gadsby from feeling like an adult, it’s worth reminding her that she’s a university graduate and a job surely exists out there for her. “I have an art history degree. So, I could’ve been working in a shop,” she says. Despite her mockery, the art world has played a surprisingly large part in her stand-up career so far. The past four years have seen her give comedy art tours with the National Gallery of Victoria, as well as the odd bit of lecturing at open exhibitions. Her festival shows have even included artistic works as the lynchpin of the material.
So is there an ideal project out there that can combine both of these passions? “There’s a few bits and bobs that I’m working on,” she says. “But mainly I’m hoping that my knowledge of art will replace ‘humiliation’, when I finally become perfect.”
Until then, we can continue to enjoy her failures.
BY CAMERON JAMES