Hannah Gadsby’s show Donkey has nothing to do with donkeys. It’s a deeply personal show about her mental health – a common theme through her shows (that I’ve seen at least). For years she believed she had depression. Much of her comedic material was based on this. But then, with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) age 37, she worried that her career would be thrown out by this new diagnosis. Alas! There’s plenty more material for future shows, she said! She is so clever – while admitting to a life of disorganisation, she’s created a beautuful, thought provoking and courageous show without writing a single word down.
In her usual self deprecating yet humorous style, she talked the audience through what was the breaking point for taking control of her mental health, and the sense of relief when she received the ADHD diagnosis. Everything made sense – this diagnosis was the explanation for her behaviour.
At times, I felt sympathy and empathy – I wanted to extend a hug upon hearing stories of. There was a point in the show where she discussed self harm, and while she made light of it, she also depicted the brutality of mental illness. It was an uncomfortable watch for a moment.
I’ve realised and rejoiced in the sense of identity, relief and belonging that comes with a diagnosis. Hannah explored this throughout her show. She doesn’t believe her illness should be classed as a disorder, and said that everyone is on the spectrum in some way – much like the comments from this specialist on World Autism Day.
And the most poignant line of the show for me was “We’ve built a world that only celebrates one kind of brain – sociopath” – the same could apply to one kind of body – highlighting the difficulty of the ‘normal’ ideal.
I give credit to Barnie Duncan for performing all of his show Calyspo Nights in a thick Spanish accent. He spoke in Spanish for a third of the show – acting as a Venezuelan DJ. It was great acting. Barnie is a New Zealand actor who’s appeared in Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune, the Power Rangers and Xena, to name a few.
Adam and I, plus a group of friends, went to see Emma J Hawkins last night. We’ve come to know Emma through Quippings, where we’ve both performed.
Her comedy festival show was the most theatrical of the three I’ve seen – it was a lavish production of music, comedy and dancing. She warns the audience that the show features “a short statured person defying stereotypes”.
Emma challenged the stereotypes of disability – talking about her morning routine and many of the assumptions people make about her (she can have sex, she is not funny eating a banana, and you can call her Emma). She used a unicorn as a metaphor for disability superbly – addressing the way people with disability are typecast as inspirational, brave, stupid and for the public’s voyeuristic gaze. I especially enjoyed (and related to) her account of the rude questions people have asked her – the punch coming from when a narrator (a ‘normal’, picked from the audience) set those stereotypes straight.
I said to Emma after the show, I hope the people who need to hear these messages about disability attend the show.
Emma is a versatile performer. She is funny, candid, swears like a sailor and is a brilliant booty shaker.
Buy tickets to all shows via the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.