The Power of Story

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is the work of a unique talent who understands the power of story and now understands herstory. If you haven’t seen it, do.

I had the privilege of front-row seats at the 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival live show, where it won the Barry Award for Best Comedy.

I write about this now, in response to a question stemming from a previous blog: How to start a memoir, where I wrote,

“Step 1 – Have a life. It doesn’t have to be a long or totally fabulous life, but it does need to have been interesting, and not just according to your good self.

(Unless you’re writing for therapy. In this case, you’re not writing a memoir, you’re writing a journal, taking notes, exploring your thoughts and feelings, etc. (And that’s a big etcetera!)”)

A reader responded with, ‘But what about Nanette?’

Indeed, what about Nanette?

The reader said Nanette was an outpouring of raw emotion, unbridled by worry about seeming too angry or not being funny enough. Wasn’t this just like ‘writing for therapy’?


Yes, Nanette was an outpouring of raw emotion. From a metre away, I could feel the effort pouring off Hannah as she told the stories she hadn’t told in her decade of comedy. She did this night after night and Netflix is now doing it for her.

But, no, it wasn’t unbridled. Her story telling was sublime. Her craft and structure were perfect.

At first she entered the room in standard story-telling stand-up mode. A few jokes here. An observation there. Laid the threads for a story or two. She made the audience comfortable. As always, we were relaxed in her company.

She went on to say that she had to leave comedy, though. That comedy wasn’t doing her any good, explaining that self-deprecation wasn’t helpful for someone with depression. She took her time in the telling. She built and alleviated tension with calls to action and humour respectively.

Gently, but without diminishing the impact she needed us to feel, she took us where comedy had not allowed her to go. Her voice quavered with the sheer tension of telling.

It was one of the most profound live performances I have experienced.

Her point was clear. The structure led us straight there. She crafted the story so tightly, yet so naturally that the audience went with her every heartbeat of the way.

Ann Boch, A Story To Tell

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