Hannah Gadsby: Woof! | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review
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Hannah Gadsby: Woof!

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

It’s easier to define Hannah Gadsby’s latest show by what it isn’t, rather than by what it is.

That may be because the comic lost faith in what they were planning at the last minute – and advisedly so, if their description of the Barbra Streisand-obsessed hour is anything to go by – and is now left with a looser collection of routines, orbiting around the comedian’s anxieties.

Woof! is not a laser-focussed, gut-wrench of a show like Nanette. How could it be? Nor is it a late entrant to the ‘dead dad’ genre, even though Gadsby did lose their father, they don’t feel ready to go down that route. Is it an examination of the comedian’s often troubled state of mind? Well sometimes.

‘I want to talk about panic attacks,’ Gadsby says. But first, it’s hummus…

In fact, placing limits on what they are prepared to talk about on stage is one of the themes – showing the comic’s usual stubborn defiance when it comes to what’s expected of them – and why the show is missing the ending. The planned anxiety dump, piling on all the triggers, proved too emotionally gruelling, so instead we get an anticlimactic Q&A.

Yet even an incomplete Gadsby show knocks the socks off many of their contemporaries, and Woof! offers a stingingly funny assembly of typically smart, opinionated and iconoclastic routines about all the things preying on the comic’s mind, which may or may not have contributed to the aforementioned panic attack at an ice-cream shack.

Even the simple nostalgia comedy of ‘whatever happened to Cabbage Patch Dolls?’ becomes a source of anxiety, as the comic considers what happened to all that non-biodegradable plastic. 

Speaking of which, their disdain for the Barbie film, putting rampant commercialism in a feminist wrapping, is to be expected, though more controversial is confessing to not getting the appeal of Taylor Swift. Should that be another worry? Getting cancelled by the Swifties?

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Gadsby’s analogy dismissing Swift was oddly specific and devastatingly accurate, showing the comic’s writing to be as sharp and defiant as ever, but occasionally poetic, too – as evidenced in the description of the quiet country town where they had that anxiety attack.

The political state of the world, ever-present thanks to  always-on news coverage – is also enough to induce mental trauma, and Gadsby’s blunt in addressing America’s strangulation of abortion rights, and dismissive of the ‘moral panic’ about pronouns. That said, they’re not comfortable with the term ‘non-binary’ either – with smart and irrefutable logic as to why – preferring ‘genderqueer’ for themselves.

Yet sometimes Gadsby isn’t sure of their own self. Having ‘tired’ as part of the comedy brand, it came as a surprise to realise it was all down to sleep apnea and easily fixed. Microdosing testosterone is another change – and an excuse for a few digs at men, as if excuse were needed.

Is change another excuse for anxiety? Gadsby fears their newfound success could go to their head – but comfort has got to be better than their pre-comedy life cleaning hotel rooms – as a graphically gross anecdote about Tim-Tams illustrates.

For all these possible anxiety triggers, Gadsby says the one thing they can take in their stride is talking to a roomful of strangers. And indeed, their ease on stage and the candour in their stand-up forges a strong connection with their audience, only heightening the response to their distinctive material in another impressive show, which will only get better once it’s finished.

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Review date: 5 Apr 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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