I just finished reading two memoirs by Australian comedians concurrently: Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Ten Steps to Nanette’ and ‘Challenge Accepted’ by Celeste Barber. The parallels and differences between each were, in a word, fascinating, so that is why I am reviewing both together.
Gadsby’s tone throughout was dire. She recounted the damage and traumas she’s endured over a lifetime – from her sexuality, her neural diversity, her physical appearance, and her family relationships… she has been through the ringer. She is diagnosed as autistic, has been assaulted in every way, and yet has delivered one of the most-watched comedy specials in Netflix history. The retelling of her life and the Australian political issues that were arising almost in tandem with her coming of age, gave a depressing view of recent history. The abysmal treatment of homosexuals in Australia (particularly in her home state of Tasmania) were particularly upsetting. She details her complex but loving feelings towards her family and her love of art history, along with her trauma. It was a thoughtful and revealing read, that was as moving as you would expect if you’d seen any one of her stand up or television appearances. She has a wry wit that propels the story and engaged me throughout.
In contrast, Barber’s tone was mostly jovial. She recounted her experiences from childhood bullying, her neural diversity, her physical appearance, and her family relationships. She hasn’t exactly been ‘through the ringer’ in the same way as Gadsby, but she has not not suffered. She is diagnosed as having ADHD, has had her share of #MeToo experiences (sadly, this seems ubiquitous), and yet has delivered one of the most-followed Instagram accounts in the world. She details funny family memories, her love of the Body Positivity movement and her #HotHusband, along with the challenges of being a public figure. It was a funny and revealing read, that balanced its moments of intensity with levity and self-depreciating humour.
Ultimately, I felt that both memoirs were about the same thing: healing and acceptance.
I guess where I would leave you on this review is: though different, both Australian comedians are sharp of wit and smart as hell. They don’t just tell jokes, they stand for something important and want to use their status for good. It was a genuine pleasure to read their memoirs and learn more about each of these remarkable women.
Five Standing Ovations out of Five.