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25 May 2022

Hannah Gadsby’s Q&A: “My hero? There’s a tree in my yard that I’m quite fond of”

The comedian discusses having autism, long-haul flights and dealing with internet trolls.

By New Statesman

Hannah Gadsby was born in Tasmania in 1978. A comedian, writer and actor, she is best known for Nanette, a stand-up set and acclaimed Netflix comedy special that explores her experiences of homophobia, sexism and mental illness.

What’s your earliest memory?

Having chickenpox aged two. I was very itchy, which tracks. I remember feeling relieved for a brief moment, then it returned. I still have a scar between my eyebrows because I scratched this one spot so much. Now it looks like I’ve been thinking very hard for a very long time.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Sergeant June Ackland on The Bill. My adult hero is… well, there is a tree in my yard that I’m quite fond of. A thornless cockspur hawthorn. She’s a real steady babe.

What book last changed your thinking?

The memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I always thought I was going to run a marathon at some stage in my life, and then I read that book and thought “nah”.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

I’m sure I don’t understand enough about politics to think any of them are good.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

I have a lot of special interests. I have autism… hello! But a surprising one might be fabrics. I’m a closet haberdashery voyeur. My mum made all my clothes when I was a kid, so I am intimately familiar with the world of bolts and Buttericks.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I struggle on long-haul flights. Please don’t make me travel in both time and space.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m fine. I just don’t depend on it.

Who would paint your portrait?

Lucy Culliton. She usually does still lifes, but I don’t move much.

What’s your theme tune?

“The Boys Light Up” by Australian Crawl. It just makes me feel really seen. Nothing like a little harmonica from the early Eighties to drop a big helping of nostalgia on your current-day brain plate. It also makes me feel very unseen. Because it’s about the luminosity of boys. 

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A lot of people – most of them on the internet – have said, “Shut up.” I clearly have not followed that.

What’s currently bugging you?

People who think freedom of speech is saying things out loud and never being held accountable.

What single thing would make your life better?

A fully functioning left leg. Ever since breaking it in several places on a fjord in Iceland recently, it hasn’t been very supportive. I might get some couples’ counselling; my right leg is understandably tired of being the unpaid support.

When were you happiest?

When I was five. I didn’t have to do so much for myself. I had the same haircut I have now, but it wasn’t a statement. It was just the same bowl everyone got. 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A gardener. I’d love to spend all day mowing lawns and growing sweet peas. Seasonally dependent, of course.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely. Look at what we’ve done to the world. Look at who’s in charge. Look at all the little boys who still don’t want to relinquish power.

“Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation” by Hannah Gadsby is published by Atlantic

[See also: Putting the front garden front and centre]

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This article appears in the 25 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Out of Control