Three ideas. Three contradictions. Or not. | Hannah Gadsby
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Three ideas. Three contradictions. Or not. | Hannah Gadsby


My name is Hannah. And that is a palindrome. That is a word you can spell
the same forwards and backwards, if you can spell. But the thing is — (Laughter) my entire family have palindromic names. It’s a bit of a tradition. We’ve got Mum, Dad — (Laughter) Nan, Pop. (Laughter) And my brother, Kayak. (Laughter) There you go. That’s just a bit a joke, there. (Laughter) I like to kick things off with a joke
because I’m a comedian. Now there’s two things
you know about me already: my name’s Hannah and I’m a comedian. I’m wasting no time. Here’s a third thing
you can know about me: I don’t think I’m qualified
to speak my own mind. Bold way to begin a talk, yes, but it’s true. I’ve always had a great deal of difficulty turning my thinking into the talking. So it seems a bit
of a contradiction, then, that someone like me,
who is so bad at the chat, could be something like
a stand-up comedian. But there you go. There you go. It’s what it is. I first tried my hand at stand-up
comedi — comedie … See? See? See? (Laughter) I first tried my hand at stand-up comedy in my late 20s, and despite being a pathologically shy
virtual mute with low self-esteem who’d never held a microphone before, I knew as soon as I walked
and stood in front of the audience, I knew, before I’d even
landed my first joke, I knew that I really liked stand-up, and stand-up really liked me. But for the life of me,
I couldn’t work out why. Why is it I could be so good
at doing something I was so bad at? (Laughter) I just couldn’t work it out,
I could not understand it. That is, until I could. Now, before I explain to you why it is that I can be good
at something I’m so bad at, let me throw another spanner
of contradiction into the work by telling you that not long after
I worked out why that was, I decided to quit comedy. And before I explain
that little oppositional cat I just threw amongst the thinking pigeons, let me also tell you this: quitting launched my comedy career. (Laughter) Like, really launched it, to the point
where after quitting comedy, I became the most talked-about
comedian on the planet, because apparently, I’m even worse
at making retirement plans than I am at speaking my own mind. Now, all I’ve done up until this point apart from giving over a spattering
of biographical detail is to tell you indirectly
that I have three ideas that I want to share with you today. And I’ve done that by way of sharing
three contradictions: one, I am bad at talking,
I am good at talking; I quit, I did not quit. Three ideas, three contradictions. Now, if you’re wondering
why there’s only two things on my so-called list of three — (Laughter) I remind you it is literally
a list of contradictions. Keep up. (Laughter) Now, the folks at TED advised me
that with a talk of this length, it’s best to stick
with just sharing one idea. I said no. (Laughter) What would they know? To explain why I have chosen to ignore
what is clearly very good advice, I want to take you back
to the beginning of this talk, specifically, my palindrome joke. Now that joke uses my favorite trick
of the comedian trade, the rule of three, whereby you make a statement and then back that statement up with a list. My entire family have palindromic names: Mum, Dad, Nan, Pop. The first two ideas on that list
create a pattern, and that pattern creates expectation. And then the third thing — bam! —
Kayak. What? That’s the rule of three. One, two, surprise! Ha ha. (Laughter) Now, the rule of three is not only
fundamental to the way I do my craft, it is also fundamental
to the way I communicate. So I won’t be changing
anything for nobody, not even TED, which, I will point out,
stands for three ideas: technology, entertainment and dickheads. (Laughter) Works every time, doesn’t it? But you need more than just jokes to be able to cut it
as a professional comedian. You need to be able to walk
that fine line between being charming and disarming. And I discovered the most effective way
to generate the amount of charm I needed to offset my disarming personality was through not jokes but stories. So my stand-up routines
are filled with stories: stories about growing up,
my coming out story, stories about the abuse I’ve copped
for being not only a woman but a big woman
and a masculine-of-center woman. If you watch my work online,
check the comments out below for examples of abuse. (Laughter) It’s that time in the talk
where I shift into second gear, and I’m going to tell you a story
about everything I’ve just said. In the last few days of her life, my grandma was surrounded by people, a lot of people, because my grandma
was the loving matriarch of a large and loving family. Now, if you haven’t made
the connection already, I am a member of that family. I was lucky enough to be able
to say goodbye to my grandma on the day she died. But as she was already
cocooned within herself by then, it was something of a one-sided goodbye. So I thought about a lot of things, things I hadn’t thought about
in a long time, like the letters I used
to write to my grandma when I first started university, letters I filled with funny
stories and anecdotes that I embellished for her amusement. And I remembered how I couldn’t articulate the anxiety and fear that filled me
as I tried to carve my tiny little life into a world that felt far too big for me. But I remembered finding
comfort in those letters, because I wrote them
with my grandma in mind. But as the world got
more and more overwhelming and my ability to negotiate it
got worse, not better, I stopped writing those letters. I just didn’t think I had the life
that Grandma would want to read about. Grandma did not know I was gay, and about six months before she died, out of nowhere, she asked me
if I had a boyfriend. Now, I remember making
a conscious decision in that moment not to come out to my grandmother. And I did that because I knew her life
was drawing to an end, and my time with her was finite, and I did not want to talk about
the ways we were different. I wanted to talk about
the ways were we connected. So I changed the subject. And at the time, it felt
like the right decision. But as I sat witness
to my grandmother’s life as it tapered to its inevitable end, I couldn’t help but feel
I’d made a mistake not to share such a significant
part of my life. But I also knew that
I’d missed my opportunity, and as Grandma always used to say, “Ah, well, it’s all part of the soup. Too late to take the onions out now.” (Laughter) And I thought about that, and I thought about how
I had to deal with too many onions as a kid, growing up gay in a state
where homosexuality was illegal. And with that thought,
I could see how tightly wrapped in the tendrils of my own
internalized shame I was. And with that, I thought
about all my traumas: the violence, the abuse, my rape. And with all that cluster of thinking, a thought, a question,
kept popping into my mind to which I had no answer: What is the purpose of my human? Out of anyone in my family,
I felt the most akin to my grandmother. I mean, we share the most
traits in common. Not so much these days. Death really changes people. But that — (Laughter) is my grandmother’s sense of humor. But the person I felt
most akin to in the world was a mother, a grandmother,
a great-grandmother, a great-great-grandmother. Me? I represented the very end
of my branch of the family tree. And I wasn’t entirely sure
I was still connected to the trunk. What was the purpose of my human? The year after my grandmother’s death
was the most intensely creative of my life. And I suppose that’s because,
at an end, my thoughts gather more than they scatter. My thought process is not linear. I’m a visual thinker. I see my thoughts. I don’t have a photographic memory, and nor is my head a static gallery
of sensibly collected think pieces. It’s more that I’ve got this ever-evolving
language of hieroglyphics that I’ve developed and can understand fluently
and think deeply with. but I struggle to translate. I can’t paint, draw, sculpt,
or even haberdash, and as for the written word, I’m OK at it but it’s a tortuous
process of translation, and I don’t feel it does the job. And as far as speaking my own mind,
like I said, I’m not great at it. Speech has always felt
like an inadequate freeze-frame for the life inside of me. All this to say, I’ve always understood far more
than I’ve ever been able to communicate. Now, about a year before Grandma died, I was formally diagnosed with autism. Now for me, that was mostly good news. I always thought that I couldn’t
sort my life out like a normal person because I was depressed and anxious. But it turns out I was depressed and anxious because I couldn’t sort my life out
like a normal person, because I was not a normal person, and I didn’t know it. Now, this is not to say
I still don’t struggle. Every day is a bit of a struggle, to be honest. But at least now I know
what my struggle is, and getting to the starting line
of normal is not it. My struggle is not to escape the storm. My struggle is to find the eye
of the storm as best I can. Now, apart from the usual way
us spectrum types find our calm — repetitive behaviors, routine
and obsessive thinking — I have another surprising doorway
into the eye of the storm: stand-up comedy. And if you need any more proof
I’m neurodivergent, yes, I am calm doing a thing
that scares the hell out of most people. I’m almost dead inside up here. (Laughter) Diagnosis gave me a framework
on which to hang bits of me I could never understand. My misfit suddenly had a fit, and for a while, I got giddy
with a newfound confidence I had in my thinking. But after Grandma died,
that confidence took a dive, because thinking is how I grieve. And in that grief of thought, I could suddenly see with so much clarity just how profoundly isolated I was
and always had been. What was the purpose of my human? I began to think a lot about how autism
and PTSD have so much in common. And I started to worry, because I had both. Could I ever untangle them? I’d always been told
that the way out of trauma was through a cohesive narrative. I had a cohesive narrative, but I was still at the mercy
of my traumas. They’re all part of my soup,
but the onions still stung. And at that point, I realized that I’d been telling
my stories for laughs. I’d been trimming away the darkness,
cutting away the pain and holding on to my trauma
for the comfort of my audience. I was connecting
other people through laughs, yet I remained profoundly disconnected. What was the purpose of my human? I did not have an answer, but I had an idea. I had an idea to tell my truth, all of it, not to share laughs but to share
the literal, visceral pain of my trauma. And I thought the best way to do that
would be through a comedy show. And that is what I did. I wrote a comedy show
that did not respect the punchline, that line where comedians are expected
and trusted to pull their punches and turn them into tickles. I did not stop. I punched through that line into the metaphorical guts of my audience. I did not want to make them laugh. I wanted to take their breath away, to shock them, so they could listen to my story
and hold my pain as individuals, not
as a mindless, laughing mob. And that’s what I did,
and I called that show “Nanette.” Now, many — (Applause) Now, many have argued that “Nanette” is not a comedy show. And while I can agree “Nanette”
is definitely not a comedy show, those people are still wrong — (Laughter) because they have framed their argument as a way of saying I failed to do comedy. I did not fail to do comedy. I took everything I knew about comedy — all the tricks, the tools, the know-how — I took all that, and with it,
I broke comedy. You cannot break comedy with comedy if you fail at comedy. Flaccid be thy hammer. (Laughter) (Applause) That was not my point. The point was not simply to break comedy. The point was to break comedy
so I could rebuild it and reshape it, reform it into something
that could better hold everything I needed to share, and that is what I meant
when I said I quit comedy. Now, it’s probably at this point
where you’re going, “Yeah, cool, but what are the three ideas, exactly? It’s a bit vague.” I’m glad I pretended you asked. (Laughter) Now, I’m sure there’s quite a few of you
who have already identified three ideas. A smart crowd, by all accounts, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But you might be surprised to find out
that I don’t have three ideas. I told you I had three ideas,
and that was a lie. That was pure misdirection —
I’m very funny. What I’ve done instead is I’ve taken
whole handfuls of my ideas as seeds, and I’ve scattered them
all throughout my talk. And why did I do that? Well, apart from shits and giggles, it comes down to something
my grandma always used to say. “It’s not the garden,
it’s the gardening that counts.” And “Nanette” taught me
the truth to that truism. I fully expected by breaking
the contract of comedy and telling my story
in all its truth and pain that that would push me further
into the margins of both life and art. I expected that, and I was willing to pay
that cost in order to tell my truth. But that is not what happened. The world did not push me away.
It pulled me closer. Through an act of disconnection,
I found connection. And it took me a long time to understand that what is at the heart
of that contradiction is also at the heart of the contradiction as to why I can be so good
at something I am so bad at. You see, in the real world, I struggle to talk to people because my neurodiversity
makes it difficult for me to think, listen, speak and process new information all at the same time. But onstage, I don’t have to think. I prepare my thinks well in advance. I don’t have to listen. That is your job. (Laughter) And I don’t really have to talk, because, strictly speaking, I’m reciting. So all that is left is for me to do my best to make a genuine connection
with my audience. And if the experience of “Nanette”
taught me anything, it’s that connection depends
not just on me. You play a part. “Nanette” may have begun in me, but she now lives and grows
in a whole world of other minds, minds I do not share. But I trust I am connected. And in that, she is so much
bigger than me, just like the purpose of being human
is so much bigger than all of us. Make of that what you will. Thank you, and hello. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Three ideas. Three contradictions. Or not. | Hannah Gadsby

  1. this is the proper venue for her message. Instead of doing a ted talk and calling it a comedy special just do the ted talk. #nohate

  2. If you didn't get all the way through…her talk is about her experience of having autism. I have worked with people with Autism for many years. In the field we are always grateful to learn about the experience of autism. And of course speaking is difficult…..so perhaps watch this with that in mind. Yes she goes on, and it seems irrelevant, confusing, or boring. BUt if you give it patience you will be able to learn about people who live with this. I wish for a world of appreciation for everyone. And if you haven't watch "Nannette" on Netflix check it out. I just saw her show "Douglas" in NYC. I hope it gets filmed. She was an Art History major. The way she sees painting will blow you away!!!

  3. She reminds me of a motivational speaker with some humorous anecdotes. I do not think of this as traditional stand-up, but as society evolves, as does stand-up comedy, I suppose..

  4. I came here for a laugh and now I'm leaving with an itchy left nut. Did not laugh once. Don't know if she's a comedian or a sexually frustrated lesbian.

  5. thank you for Nanette. you helped me to understand perspectives that I wondered about and on a factual level understood, but never had the context needed to be able to empathize in a meaningful way. thank you again for helping me expand my "perspective bubble"… the work continues….

  6. Hannah Gadsby is such an inspiration! I love her work and the voice for the marginalised she has become is truly amazing 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  7. im so grateful for Hannah Gatsby she is an amazing inspiring woman!
    Nanette helped me in tuff time in life and she is a role model for me!
    I love how honest and powerful she is!

  8. "I don't think I'm qualified to speak my own mind. I've always had a great deal of difficulty turning my thinking into the talking. Despite being a pathologically shy, virtual mute with low self-esteem… I knew… why is it I could be so good at something I'm so bad at." Thank you Hannah for saying these (and many other) words that need to be said and heard yet almost weren't. I love this Hannah, thank you!

  9. I just watched Nannette and it made me extremely upset because it touched me in and to a depth I didn't know it existed. I teared up not because I was sad but because I was angry extremely extremely angry. I can't really say what it really was tho. I need time to materialize what I felt and be able to express it verbally.

  10. This is not comedy..I feel like me not being able to relate to anything she says being the reason..maybe because I'm a straight white male lol I'm not gonna hate though..I know some people do somehow find this woman funny it's just not for me ..I prefer brutal honestly and no sympathy with little to no empathy in my comedy …as much I think hannah is the most boring unfunny person ever I wont bash her ..I'm not liberal nor fascist so I can except things I disagree with and still be comfortable with myself without creating a false sense of being attacked …

  11. She said she's "so good at stand up comedy", to herself. How pretentious is that. She's not funny ffs open your god damn brainwashed eyes people. She's the result of people finding real comedy too "offensive", a sad result. This is sad to watch

  12. This is like if we were expected to take Michael Scott seriously. It's funny because it's so unintentionally unfunny.

  13. 4 mins in and still not laughing… oh look she said the d word… wow this audience must be high as kite to laugh at this…

  14. I'm reading the comments and it seems like only people that have autism, PTSD, or are lesbian seem to enjoy this…..
    I'm really not sure what this talk is about. Truthfully, I'm bored out of my mind sitting through this.
    I watched Nannette….it was not funny yet somehow it got a 100% critique score. Yet the audience score is only 22%…….
    Hmmmm….seems like critiques love it when an lgbt, anti male message is being pushed….
    So sad

  15. This is not comedy… and she is straight up crazy!

    Read her GQ article with Pharrell on the cover. You will see how she feels about masculinity and men.

    Like I said… she is crazy!

    Just my opinion

  16. “I really liked standup. Standup really liked me.”

    I’m afraid it was unrequited love. Nothing this fat teenage boy said was funny.

  17. Is this a woman trying to be a man or a man trying to be a woman? Regardless they are trying to be a comedian and are FAILING !!!!

  18. I tried to find her funny, I really did but she's not funny at all….It's like watching a sitcom with a laugh track.

  19. Traumatic events really changed the wiring of the brain and system. I can relate to how she perceives the world and being a visual thinker. I wasn't born this way or was I since I have no distinct memory of how I was growing up. However, these days when I finally able to get know myself deeply, I realized and in the way mastered the uniqueness of my being.

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