Hannah Gadsby: There is life after trauma

Hannah Gadsby on comedy and tragedy
Hannah Gadsby on comedy and tragedy 07:18

Hannah Gadsby's comedy, and her way of moving through the world, defy easy description: 

"I love being mistaken for a man, because just for a few moments, life gets a hell of a lot easier! I'm top-shelf normal, king of the humans, I'm a straight white man!"

As she stated in her acclaimed standup appearance, "Hannah Gadsby: Nanette," "I'm clearly gender-not-normal, but I don't think even lesbian is the right identity for me. I might as well come out now: I identify as tired."

But it's exactly that unique perspective that had fans in L.A. lining up for her new live show, titled "Douglas."

Siouxzan Perry said, "She comes at you with comedy so you're all loosened up and then boom! She hits you with the reality of it and you're, like, you're crying. I mean, I'm crying just thinking about it!"

Gadsby told correspondent Luke Burbank, "I'm incredibly proud, and really humbled. To have such resonance is incredible, and I'm so glad!"

Australian writer and comedian Hannah Gadsby. CBS News

Now, if you haven't heard of Hannah Gadsby, that's understandable because she was largely unknown outside of her native Australia until just last year, when her Netflix comedy special "Nanette" became an international sensation. "I'm in this weird 'fame world' at the moment, where famous people, who I don't always know, are coming up to me wanting to meet me. So that is a weird flip!"

From "Nanette":
"I'm from Tasmania. Lovely place. Famous for a lot of things. Potatoes. And our frighteningly small gene pool. I wish I was joking."

The jokes are funny, but the parts where Gadsby explored the pain and trauma of her life riveted the world.

"He said, 'Oh, no, I get it. You're a lady faggot. I'm allowed to beat the s*** out of you,' and he did! He beat the s*** out of me and nobody stopped him."

Gadsby said, "I was certainly in a dark place in the year or two before I wrote 'Nanette,' and even though my career was great, I'm like, 'This doesn't make sense. I have success. And my ability to cope with life is getting worse.' How about saying what I really think, and see how that flies?

"I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, that's what I've built my career on, and I don't want to do that anymore. Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It's not humility, it's humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself, or anybody who identifies with me. And if that means that my comedy career is over, so be it."

The response to her honesty was immense. And her career didn't just take off, it rocketed into the stratosphere. On stage presenting an award at last year's Emmys ceremony, Gadsby noted, "This is not normal. The world's gone a bit crazy. I mean, for somebody like me, a nobody from nowhere, gets this sweet gig – free suit, new boots – just because I don't like men! That's a joke, of course. Just jokes, fellas. Calm down!"

Burbank asked Gadsby, "How is your life different now?

"I mean, it is all odd, this is odd, this is not real, is it?"

There's no sign of things normalizing anytime soon. Last week, Gadsby was nominated for two Emmy Awards for "Nanette." And this week "Douglas" (also her dog's name) opens in New York.

A long way from tiny Smithton, Tasmania where Gadsby grew up, the youngest of five children. "There wasn't a live comedy scene in Tasmania when I was growing up," she said. "If it was on the television, a comedian that came on, they generally represented two things my mum hated most, and that's men who shouted, and men who think they're funny.

"And so, she'd just go, 'I've got news for them,' and switch it off. (LAUGHS) That was my introduction to comedy."

Maybe that's why she waited until her late twenties to even try standup.

"My name is Hannah, it's a palindrome. My whole family have palindromic names: Got Mum, Dad, Nan, Bob, and my brother, Kayak!"

"I really felt comfortable straight away. As soon as I got my first laugh, I'm like, 'I get this.' I'm much better at that than I am at this, you know, or even just normal chat with just normal people who I know."

We'd love to show you clips from Gadsby's new special, "Douglas," but Netflix has it under lock and key. So, we got the next best thing: an on-stage look at how she does it. "I walk on stage, people are clapping like idiots. So I move the microphone over here. A bit further, but generally. And then I take it out and then that's my stage."

"That's fascinating, I would have never known you were doing that last night," said correspondent Luke Burbank.

"Yeah. then you'll notice I have a cup on there and I pat it a lot for some reason."

"Are you checking the temperature of the tea?"

"No. It's got a picture of my dog on it. So I'm just like, 'Hey,' just giving a pat. (LAUGHS) Literally. That's a scoop!"

"Is that emotionally regulating for you in some ways?"

"Yeah, yeah."

One of the revelations from her new show is that Gatsby is on the autism spectrum. "This is 'Welcome to my brain.' This is how I see the world, and that's why the world can be really difficult for me to navigate, because every day is a new day, every room I walk into is a new room, even if it's the same room, because I notice all the different things."

Burbank asked, "Was that something you didn't talk about publicly until this show, did I just miss this information?"

"No, I didn't talk about this before," she said. "Saying this publicly, you know, like this, in the industry that I am doing it in does make me quite vulnerable. And so that's why I was careful not to really push it out in the world too much."

And, for those who might think Hannah Gadsby's comedy is a too serious, she said, "I've written a show that is really joyful for me to perform. I really am having a very fun time on stage.  There is life after trauma. And it is rich. And it can be joyful."

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Story produced by Mary Lou Teel