Hannah Gadsby Is Not Funny

Barry Humphries was funny. At times, screamingly so. Dame Edna and Sir Les are two great comedy creations. They are gone, and their creator, who was also responsible for much more than Edna and Les, deserves to be honoured, to be bade farewell in a proper manner. Which is not going smoothly.

It has been much reported that Humphries’ last laugh came at the expense of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Humphries displayed impeccable timing, arranging to die on the eve of the final day of this year’s MICF. That left the MICF organisers with two highly unappealing options: they could pay proper tribute to Humphries, and thus admit at least implicitly that they screwed up in 2019 when they renamed the Festival’s “Barry” award; or, they could barrel on, pretending their past treatment of Humphries was good and proper. So far, they’ve done a bit of one and a lot of the other.

In the background of all this is Hannah Gadsby, whose attack of Humphries, after having won the 2017 Barry, gave impetus to Humphries’ eventual cancelling. Of course Gadsby was perfectly entitled to say whatever she wanted about Humphries, and it is somewhat unfair that Gadbsy has been dragged into the current mess; the blame for Humphries’ cancelling lies squarely at the feet of the MICF. But there is one aspect that keeps Gadsby centre stage: Hannah Gadsby is not funny.

Beyond not funny. As Humphries could be screamingly funny, Gadsby is screamingly unfunny: she is preachy, pandering and obvious, utterly lacking in nuance and comic timing. To be clear, Gadsby seeks to extend humour or to reject humour, or something; she does not always try to be funny. But often enough she tries to be funny, and she never is. She may be other things. She may be a valuable performer. But Dave Chappelle was right: Hannah Gadsby is not funny.

This matters. Gadsby won the top award of one of the most prestigious comedy festivals, the purpose of which, one would presume, is to provide a platform and an audience for funny people. But Gadsby is not even in the ballpark of funny. And nothing can be understood about the Humphries debacle without understanding the disconnect between true comedy and the ICMF organisers, who are much more concerned to honour Worthy comedians than funny comedians.

21 Replies to “Hannah Gadsby Is Not Funny”

  1. In the flow of the marking season, this post compels me to get out the red pen: proof-by-repeated-assertion is not a valid proof. If the definition of someone being funny is that they make someone laugh, then Hannah Gadsby is funny: I checked her out just now, and she’s got me in stitches – existence proof by example. On the other hand, Dame Edna made me cringe back in the 1980s when all the adults were drunkenly (and somewhat mean-spiritedly) laughing at “her” skits, and the cringe only grew as I grew up. Different tastes and different cultures. Australia is sometimes brilliant at humour (Clarke and Dawson are still my favourites, with Juice Media and Natalie Tran are close seconds) but there’s been a lot of bullying-in-disguise-as-humour too, not funny to me.
    Anyway, thanks a lot for introducing me to the clever and hilarious Hannah Gadsby! 🙂

    1. What of Gadsby did you watch? I tried watching one of her stand up videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yxwbXeEJWA) and on the whole I found it unfunny, except for one joke in particular which I did laugh at (the madam joke). For what it’s worth, I don’t find Humphries particularly funny either, though I’m open to changing my mind for both of them.

    1. A lot. Especially now, because there is now an absolutely poisonous threat to cancel anybody who doesn’t toe the party line.

  2. Hi

    On a tangent what do you guys think of the
    Big Yin in his younger days?

    Personally I think his observational humour
    is exceptional with a no fear ability to touch
    taboo topics.

    Ability to offend and overuse of expletives is a drawback IMO

    Best seen live by thick skinned people

    Health warning if you don’t like jobbies on this one from 1982

    Steve R

    1. Yes he used to be a folk banjo player
      And welder after years of child abuse by his father…

      Married a rather funnier psychologist
      Called Pamela Stevenson of not the nine
      O’clock news on the BBC

      Steve R

        1. I never knew that HG was a banjo-wielding welder; I stand corrected. The Big Yin reminds me of a character from Father Ted (now that was a funny show – and who knew that Craggy Island had a Chinatown?). Actually, I’d wager that, for most people, any 30 second snippet of any Father Ted or Fawlty Towers episode (including the opening credits) is funnier than the entirety of HG’s career. I much preferred Max Gillies over Barry Humphries as a comedian, and Gary McDonald as the original ambush interviewer (aka the little Aussie bleeder) was sublime. And who could forget Mark Mitchell as Con The Fruiterer? The golden era of Australian comedy has passed. Sadly, we are now in the brown era – and have been for some time. But that’s just my opinion; each to their own (oh, and Rubbery Figures)!

          1. It’s not sufficient to say each to their own. There is taste, but there are also objective standards. Objectively, Gadsby is bad.

  3. HG = hongweibing (or “pimpled”, as in Central Europe)
    Barry H = “bourgeois”
    And all clear.

  4. Gadsby is in a predicament.
    Her awkwardness, anxiety and visual presentation leveraged her into being a somewhat social outcast. The moments she endured from such a social position informed and fuelled her comedy. Now that she’s milked that cow dry and is instead experiencing success and adoration she’s essentially an empty vessel with nothing left to riff off.

    1. I think she can milk it a while yet. Her fans adore her and, at least for now, are unaware of how unfunny she is or are simply willing to pretend otherwise. It can’t last, but it’s not over yet.

  5. Favorite Australian movies. There’s not that many I’ve seen, but possibly by filtration all were good.

    Strictly Ballroom

    Mad Max

    The Road Warrior

    Fastest Indian

    Coca Cola Kid

    Some movie with Hopkins as a consultant at a shoe factory

    Man from Snowy River and my buddy’s dad and uncle rode the horses down that hill

    Crocodil Dundee…OK it was silly but I did love the you call that a knife. And I met people in the sticks in QLD that mannerisms reminded me of Dundee

    Predestination ok being generous since they are playing Americans. But good flick. Like the south Africans playing Americans in Dredd.

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