Gigs Reviews

REVIEW: Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Donkey’

Words by: Darcie Boelen
Image credit: hannahgadsbycomedy


Last Friday night, I went to see Hannah Gadsby perform live at UWA’s Octagon Theatre. It’s not the first time I’ve seen her perform, she’s been present in my television life for several years with appearances on Adam Hills Tonight, Spicks and Specks, Good News Week – unfortunately, all great shows that have ceased production. So I felt it was time to reacquaint myself with Hannah.

For those who aren’t familiar with Australian talk shows of the late noughties, you might have seen her more recently at various comedy galas or on the small screen alongside Josh Thomas in Please Like Me playing Hannah, a depressed lesbian. “Taking method acting to a whole new level,” she said. “It’s called not acting.”

Her critically acclaimed stand-up show Donkey went for an hour and a bit, with no warm-up starting support act, no encore and no interval. It sounds a bit full-on, but seeing Gadsby live is less like a roller-coaster comedic experience and more like catching up with an old friend. A really funny old friend, that is. She’s very comfortable on the stage for someone who claims to not be able to cross the street without a dilemma.

She doesn’t necessarily control the audience, or engage us in conversation. She certainly doesn’t do observational comedy, as she pointed out rather firmly at the beginning of her act. Nor does she engage in hateful, angry humour. If you’re going to a Gadsby show, it’s not really a show for hecklers. Or for homophobes, but that should have been pretty obvious, really.

Her comedic style is rather unique in that she can make you laugh without doing it at the expense of anyone – other than herself, that is. Her self-deprecating humour is highly relatable, entertaining and actually rather emotional. Aside from anything else, she’s a fantastic story-teller, and takes the awful and shitty things going on in her life and spins them to show you the funny side.

Donkey takes you on a wild journey through the inner workings of her mind – a mind recently diagnosed with ADHD, which she is rather unhappy about (claiming that she’d founded a career on being depressed, and now she has to find new material).

She speaks about having a real relationship with another person, about how stressful it is to fill in forms, about how frustrating it is to have a conversation with a slightly racist mother. These are things I can relate to easily, and they don’t surprise me. But I was also able to relate, or at least empathise and understand, issues to do with being homosexual, with being a step-mother, with mental health, things I really wouldn’t be able to understand unless I’d been there myself.

What I’m trying to say is that after having seen Hannah Gadbsy live, I am connected to her. Like I am not in any way connected to anyone other than my cats, but she just gets these issues and makes them easily accessible to her audience. Gadbsy is able to use comedy to talk about bigger issues in life, things we wouldn’t usually be comfortable talking about.

She’s emotive to the point of no return, which is difficult to believe considering her blunt, sarcastic demeanour. Gadsby made it easy for me to understand what made her happy or sad, frustrated, nervous, anxious, excited or otherwise. Topics included filing cabinets, socks, unicorns, worm farms, hipster baristas and milk crates, pufferfish, Tasmanians, eggs, dishes and airplane tickets, which all sounds rather jumbled up coming from me, but when she tells the stories it all just makes sense.

For some reason, she makes it work. I don’t know whether she threw it all together haphazardly, or sat down and figured out for hours the way the show had to run to get it all weaving together perfectly. Either way, she’s a talented woman and I’d see her again in a heartbeat.

You can see what she’s up to over on her website.