Criticism of




stand up

Roxana Kreimer




In her stand up presented by Netflix, Hannah Gadsby tells how she grew in Tasmania, an island that is in southern Australia, being lesbian and with a masculine aspect. She was born in 1979 and points out that 70% of people in Tasmania thought during her childhood and adolescence that homosexuality should be penalized. In fact only in 1997 it stopped being considered a crime.

Questioning the ideas of a humorous show is problematic because humor is not a direct discourse but a creation around certain ideas that may not have a literal meaning. However, it also tends to have a serious background, so criticism around some of the ideas implicit in this show may be relevant.

The first part contains quite good humorous strategies that highlight the misfortunes that Gadsby endured in that conservative context not only being a lesbian but - fundamentally - by her masculine appearance. She even points out a respectable criticism of gay pride parades, which are curiously similar to those raised by Michel Foucault: they put sexual orientation in a leading role of identity, when for many gays and lesbians it´s just another element that defines who they are( Gadsby says she spends more time in the kitchen doing "chef things" than doing "lesbian things", and that she would like to be known as "the chef comedian").

In the second part, the show acquires a very different feature. The comedian announces that she will stop making humor because it´s not good for the marginalized to laugh at themselves. But this is one of the good reasons to make humor: laughing at oneself is not opposed to social criticism nor to the mockery of those who discriminate. Otherwise, one of the most inspired styles of humor in the world, the Jewish humor, would have never existed, when its peculiar element is precisely self-criticism. The announcement of the end of humor is very clear  when political correctness limits comedy, and I don´t say this because I believe that humor shouldn´t have limits, but because if those limits are too narrow,there will be no more humor. An example of this is that stand up comedians no longer want to go to American universities because political correctness limits them too much.

Gadsby´s stand up has many elements of corporate feminism: victimhood, homophobia, presupposition without evidence that there is an unequal pay for the same work done by men and women (wage gap), discrimination against men , sociological reductionism, anger and denial of humor. Gadsby wonders why we separate children into "opposing teams", "why don´t we give them six or seven years to consider whether or not they are on the same side" (48'51''). The answer is: because children prefer it and there is no evidence that this predisposes them negatively with respect to the opposite sex. The tendency to associate with others of the same sex begins at an early age and there are good reasons to suppose that it is a biological predisposition (Lippa, 2005, Maccoby, 1998).

Gadsby complains that we underline that men and women are very different, but while it is true that they aren´t from different planets, these differences exist, are significant and, contrary to all available evidence, are denied by the hegemonic feminism based mainly on two authors, Janet Hyde (2016) and Daphna Joel (2018), who omit all reference to sexual selection theory, as if the evolution of our species had stopped in the neck.

Gadsby then points out that the life of white and heterosexual males is much easier than that of females (44'39 '') and as evidence she holds that  males "receive good services without making any effort" (?), and they use both armrests in a shared seat (?), suggesting by means of a gesture that they also do manspreading. To consider that men have, unlike us, something between their legs, may be less relevant in this case than to remember that there are other areas in which women usually occupy more space than men: the bathroom cabinet, the closet and public transport, where we travel with bags and several packages. Of course they will say that patriarchy is what forces them to have five pairs of shoes, packages and six colors of rouge, as if they were fragile creatures without autonomy nor decision power. Gadsby could find renewed inspiration in "Self Made Man: One Women's Year Disguised As A Man", the book in which Norah Vincent tells her experience when she decided to spend some time disguised as a man. She no longer received attention or so many gestures of courtesy, she had to suffer the rudeness and cruelty of women in the dating market and enjoyed the hospitality of groups of men who played bowling with her ("he" actually). Hardly something like this will appear in the stand up of Gadsby, since a basic principle of every feminist opinion-maker is that of never criticizing another woman, so the only one that is criticized in the show is herself, and only because of her physical appearance ("fat and ugly", although she has a beautiful face).

What Gadsby says about males would be considered discriminatory if it would be referred to women and was said by a man. She says she feels sorry for men, and in particular for "heterosexual white men". It´s a joke, of course. Would the same "joke" be tolerated if it would be referred to women? What if instead of saying "heterosexual" the word was "homosexual"? She admits that questioning "homosexual white men" might be considered sexism. But to defend herself against that accusation she says "You -men- wrote the rules, read them", an argument that becomes an "ad hominem tu quoque" fallacy, which pretends  to justify an unacceptable behavior only because other person or group developed it.

Gadsby repeats that she doesn´t hate men, but immediately she calls them "fucking arrogants" and fearful people. How can such a statement be less shocking? She then tells how she came out of the closet, how as a child she was sexually abused, a man hit her in the street when she was seventeen and two men raped her when she was twenty.

In the end she shouts to the public, gets angry and keeps screaming for a while. Afterwards she formulates a critique of anger and a praise of love, and as a corollary, says "the damage that men did to me will never let me flourish as a human being and I must quit comedy". I wonder if she is serious, but in the show humor had abandoned her about half an hour earlier.