This isn't a comedy show, it's raw storytelling. I've never left a stand-up hour needing to go and have a private little cry in the venue toilet before, but Gadsby leaves you feeling overwhelmed, humbled, and very, very angry.
Go see Gadsby while you can
It doesn't start off like this though. For the first thirty minutes or so, Gadsby talks about herself, her upbringing, and her career. She is unaffected and effortlessly interesting, and tells us without apology that this is her last ever comedy show. The script goes on to interweave her explanation for leaving (and with her success, it certainly is choosing to leave, not ‘quitting’) with tangential sets, including material on un-nannyish nans, social media rants, and bald babies. The audience warms to her candid and wry self-analysis, and she receives unreserved laughs whenever she asks for them.
But Gadsby is not there to simply jerk our laughter reflexes. She is an angry philosopher, thinking deeply about the purpose of comedy and aware of its shortcomings even as she displays a knack for executing it's mechanics.
Gadsby knows about the power of stories on our everyday lives, on our relationships, and on the way we understand our personal identities. A set about studying history of art is witty and inventive, but it is more a homily than a vehicle for gags. She flows between sets with conversational effortlessness, but by the conclusion of the hour we come to realise how tightly crafted her ideas are.
Jokes, she tells us, are not a useful vehicle for storytelling: they don't have a beginning, middle, and end, just a set up and a punchline. To Gadsby a ‘punch’ line is analogous to trauma - trying to have the most impact in the least time, but not allowing space for healing, or catharsis, or scars. It's not healthy or useful for her story – a story we should all hear. As a comic, one must ‘artificially inseminate’ ideas with tension, in order to resolve that tension and make the room laugh. You can't laugh at a story if you haven't set up the tension and relief in the right way. Gadsby proves herself a master of creating this tension, and forcing us to hold it, to feel it, to be aware of it.
It's a powerful goodbye (or ‘fuck off’) to the comedy world; go see Gadsby while you can.