MICF – Hannah Gadsby Woof!

by | Apr 8, 2024

By Jessica Taurins

Before Gadsby even strides onstage (well, they do, but very briefly), we are introduced to Urooj Ashfaq, a Mumbai-based comedian who talks at length about her parents’ divorce and the dichotomy between Indian and Australian audiences. She is a ton of charm in a tiny body and brings a fabulous sense of timing to the stage, deftly navigating the intricacies of Australian humour while staying dedicated to her roots. A real delight to see a smaller act being promoted alongside one of Australia’s greatest.

Hannah Gadsby as a comic needs no introduction. Their roots are small-town, but since the stratospheric rise of ‘Nanette’ (and even before) they were a staple of Melbourne International Comedy Festival stages, simultaneously charming and depressing people in a crazy-addictive way. ‘Nanette’, the Netflix wonder and reveal of Gadsby to the world proper, is the very height of charming and depressing. No matter your worldview, ‘Nanette’ smashed it and crumbled it into your eyes like tiny pieces of glass.

‘Woof!’, on the other hand, is a little different.

Gadsby themself is the same, in a way. ‘Woof!’ follows Gadsby’s thought process up to a mental breakdown in a small town, which isn’t too dissimilar from the stress and grief of their other shows. But also, ‘Woof!’ is a conscious dismissal of the right thing to do in comedy, and in life.

Gadsby claims that ‘Woof!’ was once another show. Prior to its first performance, it followed another storyline, but instead it morphed into this half-scripted half-wandering discussion on fear, stress, and a dead father. (Don’t tell them I told you about that, they wanted to tell you themself.) The show is a thoughtful-yet-dissonant list of all the things that contribute to stress in Gadsby’s life, up to and including the quality of their life itself.

You see, Gadsby is popular now, and that success has changed them. They stay in fancy hotels, but they still can’t sleep. They go to places where guests are expected to call for help instead of handling their own problems, and it makes them uncomfortable. The drive to remember their once-difficult life (where they were the cleaner, instead of the one asking for cleaning) is a stressor that ever-lingers at the back of their mind.

They’re also stressed about plastic, popular music, and whales.

‘Woof!’ is clearly refined, each step links to the next, but not in the familiar, snappy way Gadsby has presented before. Perhaps because the show was written late, or perhaps because it hits too close to home and brings a level of discomfort to perform, but ‘Woof!’ lacks that little snap that Gadsby usually has on the stage.

To round out the show is a Q&A session, as we’re told that the story is too personal to continue. It’s abrupt, in an almost disappointing way, with no real sense of ending. But ‘Woof!’ is intended to be without closure, regardless of how the audience feels about it, so in that Gadsby succeeded.

A Q&A session, audience work, improvisation, it can all be difficult to roll with, but Gadsby is quite astute in their responses, as expected. The audience aren’t exactly coming at them with hard hitting journalism, but Gadsby responds with expected snark to silly queries, and unexpected heartfelt answers when asked what they love about their so-called lady-spouse.

Overall ‘Woof!’ is a puzzler. Gadsby themself is stellar, as usual, they never hit a wrong note when performing on stage or on the screen. On the other hand, the show feels, intentionally or otherwise, unfinished. It leaves us wanting more vulnerability and more of an intimate view into Gadsby’s life, regardless of how we’re not entitled to everything we want.

‘Woof!’ is what it is, a story about a person, their brain, and the sound a dog makes, and perhaps that’s all it needs to be.

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