Hannah Gadsby Goes Frothy and Feel-Good with Something SpecialPhoto courtesy of Netflix Comedy Reviews Hannah Gadsby
Aussie comic Hannah Gadsby initially rose to fame outside their homeland for mastering and popularizing a type of comedy that redefines the meaning of stand-up. Their acclaimed Netflix hour Nanette shattered the expectations that come along with a comedy special by centering their trauma. The follow-up, Douglas, focused on Gadsby’s adult autism diagnosis, while also being just a bit too much in conversation with Nanette and the myriad hot takes around it. In short, both specials they’ve released as an internationally famous comic have been fairly heavy.
Something Special is a happy show, though, as Gadsby repeatedly assures us throughout their new hour-plus. (Personally, I am over most major Netflix specials being around 75 minutes long now. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that.) “I believe I owe you one,” they explain from the stage of the Sydney Opera House.
And their new stand-up is indeed feel-good; Gadsby regales us with anecdotes about how they fell in love with their producer and now-wife, Jenney (or Jenno, as Gadsby affectionately calls her), their parents’ respective storytelling talents, their love of backgammon, and many other quirky, relatively carefree vignettes.
The result is a special that’s frothy, almost to a fault. The frequent twee-ness can be grating (we open with They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse in Your Soul”), but the jokes are funny enough to counteract the overly cutesy bits. There’s also a level of winking self-satisfaction that can detract from the special, much like in Douglas. Gadsby knows they’re preaching to the choir—an audience primarily made up of queer women and gender non-conforming people—and thus ends up resting on their laurels at moments and falling back on oft-repeated talking points that feel tired. “Before we kick off, I do want to acknowledge that the world is ending,” Gadsby says to preface the special in a moment that’s meant to be thoughtful, but ends up coming across like tacked-on lip service.
These are minor drawbacks, though. If you’re a Gadsby fan, you’re walking away satisfied and weak from laughter. They’re still a master storyteller—a trait they apparently get from their mother. Many of Something Special’s best bits involve Gadsby doing an impression of their mom making droll remarks and taking languorous drags from an imaginary cigarette. They also have a running joke about sex with straight men that, while not always hitting right, is a fun, goofy through line.
Where Gadsby really sticks the landing, though, is their stellar ending. There’s a real craftsmanship to the structure of Something Special, which for the most part feels loosey goosey until everything comes together exquisitely at the close. Gadsby proves in their new hour that they can do a breezy, feel-good show with aplomb.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.