Autistic people are fucking funny: One Autistic woman’s review of Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

 

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Pictured: Hannah Gadsby. Also DOUGLAS, clearly an excellent boi

Last weekend I saw the Auckland showing of Hannah Gadsby’s comedy show Douglas at the Civic. Here are a bunch of thoughts about it, but feel free to ignore them and make your own when the show comes out on Netflix later this year

At the beginning of her show Hannah Gadsby wonders why the hell anyone would be there if they hadn’t seen her previous show, Nanette. Somewhat guiltily, I remember that show is still languishing about ten minutes in on my Netflix ‘continue watching’ list and has been for over a year, when I’d heard amazing things about it but was just a bit too much in the throes of a depressive episode to deal with watching the entire thing. So I’m that mysterious audience member, but no, I haven’t just wandered into the wrong building, or thought I was seeing a set by that cool cop chick from Wellington Paranormal. I know exactly why I’m there, same as the two friends I’ve come with (though they have actually watched Nanette): Because I’d heard Douglas was a show that dealt with autism, by an autistic woman, and it was super fucking funny.

One of the annoyingly persistent stereotypes about autistic people is that they don’t understand humour. One article traces this back to scientist and Nazi collaborator Hans Asperger, who showed autistic kids a bunch of cartoons and concluded that their lack of mirth showed they lacked any sense of humour. I feel Hannah Gadsby would have something to say about some dude declaring an entire group of people don’t understand humour because they didn’t laugh at his jokes. Nevertheless, as many other things that some dude decide to go and say, the idea persisted.

Hannah Gadsby doesn’t mention this idea of autistic people being seen as humourless in her show, and in many ways it probably is better she doesn’t draw attention to the idea. There’s a lot of other issues and a lot of other jokes she does spotlight, and I don’t see how any of them would be especially improved if she was discussing them through a lens that doubted she could make jokes in the first place. Gadsby was a comedian before she knew she had autism, and as much as many of her detractors would disagree, she doesn’t need to prove she’s funny. She is, and the audience spends a lot of the show in stitches.

I still feel the need to talk about that stereotype though, even if maybe it would be better to just collectively never mention it again. I’ve heard it enough times that it sinks into my psyche and pisses me off, and on my worst days it does make me doubt my own competency. It’s amazing seeing a whole theatre full of people cracking up as an autistic woman makes jokes, many of them about her diagnosis. Hannah Gadsby always punches up, and it’s empowering to be able to laugh along with people at jokes where autism is the topic, but not the target.

Autism isn’t a side note in Douglas, even if it’s a side note in a lot of reviews I’ve read that seem wanting largely to keep discussing Nanette. But it is one of a number of threads along with history and art and feminism that all tie up into a show that’s just really damn good. I haven’t said much about the show’s content in this post, and that’s partially because everyone should watch it for themselves when it comes out on Netflix later this year, and partially because reviews are kind of weird and I don’t know how to write them. 

If you have autism, watch Douglas, it’s amazing and empowering and really, really, funny. If you don’t have autism, watch it anyway, it’s still hilarious. If you hate feminism, watch it, because you’ll get mad and you probably deserve to be mad.

 

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