Review: Hannah Gadsby @ Melbourne International Comedy Festival @ Arts Centre Melbourne

Hannah Gadsby is performing her new show 'Woof!' at 2024 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Bron is a Melbourne-based science journalist who loves to return 'home' to a band room any chance she gets. She has 25 years' experience and has worked for Rolling Stone, Blunt, The Sydney Morning Herald, JUICE and many more.

One of the big drawcards of this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival is a homegrown talent, but it's easy to forget Hannah Gadsby calls regional Victoria home, given their star has risen well and truly on a global stage.

Gadsby's rise was, of course, largely due to their breakthrough stand-up-storytelling special 'Nanette', which grabbed a worldwide audience that went far beyond comedy fans. As such, it opened the artist up to a broad platform and its opportunities.

It also made the comedian far more visible (who can forget the ire of New York art critics they attracted with 2023's 'It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According To Hannah Gadsby' exhibit – which is worthy of analysis and commentary in itself).

However, it's this blurring of the lines, as well as coming to terms with privilege, imposter syndrome, identity, anxiety and how success does not fix everything that strikes at the heart of Gadsby's MICF show 'Woof!' – a title that reveals its meaning in the final minutes of the show.

A near-full room at Melbourne Arts Centre's Playhouse (4 April) was abuzz as Gadsby walked onstage to Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' – but not to start their set, to introduce their support, young and promising Indian comedian Urooj Ashfaq, who delivered a solid warm-up slot to a respectful audience that was clearly there for the main act.

Gadsby has said previously that 'Woof!' was an entirely different show, until they realised they didn't want to do it, and ripped it apart for this emerging one. It's raw, imperfect and understated – and very good.

Much of what makes 'Woof!' good is, of course, Gadsby's approach. Having received an ADHD and autism diagnosis around seven years ago, the comedian sees and processes the world, and themselves, through that neurodivergent lens; it's not a focus, by any means, but it can't help but be ever-present (particularly if you, like myself, also have a spicy neurodivergent brain).

It's also why Gadsby, even as they do this show night after night this week, can connect with the audience in such an authentic, honest and meaningful way.

'Woof!' is, naturally, very funny. From pondering about where all the Cabbage Patch Kids have gone, to their fear of being cancelled by Swifties for trying but not 'getting' Taylor Swift, to pronouns, panic attacks and what jumping an income bracket has really meant, Gadsby deftly delivers a feast of funny asides and pertinent observations, of lines being blurred and, on the flip side, of wrestling with labels – and their audience hangs off every word.

"Do you remember when news was nightly?" Gadsby ponders early in the set, with simple, candid observation about collective anxieties and unrest fuelled by 24-7 exposure to the worst of the world around us.

The comedian mixes commentary (such as Roe v. Wade) with humour, not to mention a very visceral tale of motel-room surprise Tim Tams that will pose more questions than it answers. (And, trust us, as Gadsby themselves delighted in, you can't 'unsee' this one).

A fascinating undercurrent of 'Woof!' though, is Gadsby reconciling the fact success doesn't magically 'fix' everything; for them, it simply switched up the triggers for the anxiety.

Gadsby said one thing that doesn't cause worry is stepping out in front of a big audience and talking to a darkened room of strangers.

In fact, they even spent the final few minutes of time fielding a mixed bag of audience questions (one that evoked a rather amusing story about Tom Gleeson). It was a fitting, candid and funny end to the set that left the cheering and applauding audience wanting more.

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