Hannah Gadsby: 'Nanette' Comedian on Activism, Performing Live - Rolling Stone
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The First Time: Hannah Gadsby

The comedian talks about palindromes, her struggle with homelessness, and the time she made an audience member throw up

Comedian Hannah Gadsby remembers her first on-stage performance, the time she made an audience member throw up, and how she became an accidental political activist (though she has no idea what she was protesting) in our latest installment of “The First Time.”

Gadsby has been a working comedian and actor for years (featured the in Australian TV series Please Like Me), but she became famous to a larger U.S. audience with her 2018 Netflix comedy special Nanette, which was praised by critics and referred to as “radical, transformative.” Although in Nanette she announced her desire to quit comedy, she’s kicking off a U.S. tour, titled Douglas (named after her dog), in March.

The seeds of her comedy career may very have been planted the first time she performed in front of a live audience, when she was six years old. “I was in a play my brother and I wrote,” Gadsby says in this exclusive interview. “I didn’t get any roles. I was a stagehand, and my side-of-stage name was Derek. The audience got sick of my brother and asked for Derek to please take center stage, and I did. I tripped and fell and hit my head on the coffee table.”

Her power as a storyteller, however, only truly became evident when she first started doing stand-up. “The first time really I saw my work impact someone was I was telling a story about how I rode my bicycle through a glass window. And there was a bit of blood and gore in the story, and someone in the front row threw up. So [I’m] quite the storyteller.”

During the interview, Gadsby also discusses her unplanned foray into the world of activism (“I’m not sure what we were protesting for, but I wanted to fit in. I hope it was for a good cause”), her brief struggle with homelessness, and her love for groan-inducing wordplay, inspired by the fact that her name, Hannah, is a palindrome. “I used to tell people that everyone in my family had palindromes for names, and they’d go, ‘Oh really, what?’ And I’d say, ‘You’ve got Mum, and Dad, and Nan. And then you’ve got my brother Kayak,'” she says. “It’s never not funny for me. I love a pun.”


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