OP-ED: Why Hannah Gadsby’s 'Nanette' deserves an Emmy

August 29, 2019

By Rich Kiamco

Hannah Gadsby begins her special Nanette as one of “the quiet gays,” secretly seating the audience on a surprise rollercoaster ride that removes the seatbelt to gender norms, sexuality, politics, straight white male privilege, and misogyny. With a grip of clarity and wit fueled with anger, Gadsby skewers Trump, and other prominent men that have abused their power, and reveals horrific moments of such violence against herself. Her battle cry not only speaks to the LGBTQ community, but to anyone of difference and without social status. An Emmy for Gadsby would not just be recognition of her brilliant craft, but of the aspirational paradigm of which she ushers: social responsibility in comedy. 

By tossing aside the traditional comedy format for her own storytelling technique, Gadsby does not rescue the audience from every moment of the world’s darkness and pain with a punchline. It’s a calculated risk, consciously using the very jokes she claims “[she has] to quit” to escape the trap that comedy perpetuates and move the audience deeper into this non-comedy dimension. Her investment in storytelling yields dividends unseen in a traditional comedy club.

As a queer survivor of sexual assault as an adult and molestation as a child, watching Gadsby confront rape, assault and shame was an incredible opportunity for me and millions of abuse survivors to see a triumph that many have dreamed, and few have achieved in such a vast public arena. She reveals her wounds; and although she petitions to “help me take care of my story,” she actually frees herself and the viewers by expressing her vulnerable truth and reclaiming her power.

Instead of being victims, we are invited to be heroes of our own story as she charges, “you all know there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.” It’s an unexpected fusion of comedy, psychodrama and art history used as evidence in her litigation against toxic masculinity and its legacy. 

As we witness her emerge from her heroin’s journey, she not only challenges straight white men to “pull up their socks,” but challenges us all to look at the stories we carry that we cannot quit. She is not only building a bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and the mainstream, but she has built a container for us all to confront if we too are trapped in repeat. It’s a glorious magic trick - she reaches to pull a rabbit out of a hat and instead pulls us out.

As a gay comedian and survivor, the Emmy would not only be an award for her talent, but a monument to all who dare to rise up and face brokenness. It’s a covenant to Gadsby’s mission with her alchemist’s finesse, combining elements of comedy, sadness, and a TED talk that is both therapeutic and a protest to the very pollution that wounds our collective psyche. 

When she claims she has to quit comedy, it is actually a device to get us to scream "encore, encore," and it works beautifully. It’s not that the audience does not want her to quit – it’s that we don’t want to quit on ourselves. As a queer non-conforming Filipino comedian, it is spectacular to witness her skill to metabolize trauma while squarely using the very shortcomings of stand-up comedy to escape its own trap. Nanette not only entertains and inspires - it ignites the very evolution Gadsby fears comedy prevents.


Rich Kiamco is a comedian and motivational speaker based in New York City. He is a member of The ManKind Project, an international nonprofit organization promoting healthy masculinity and supporting men’s emotional growth, accountability, and service.