Nanette | Hannah GadsbyIf Nanette had been more interesting, Hannah Gadsby's new show might have turned out completely differently.

Instead the cranky, "four by four"-shaped cafe lady lent only her name and disdainful attitude to the show, which Gadsby announces as her retirement swan-song.

"I'm just too serious to be a comedian; it's just not funny," she explains.

Since winning the Triple J raw comedy challenge in 2006, her highly acclaimed shows have covered her coming out, the terror of growing up gay in rural Tasmania, her battle with depression and other cheerful stuff. As with many class clowns who have used comedy as a method of self defence – survival, even – she's always been able to make light of the darkest situations, even if it is gallows humour.

Now she has this final show before she bows out and there's some unfinished business she needs to attend to.

Much of it involves tension. As she explains: "A joke is a question artificially inseminated with tension; the punchline is the cure but it's not like I don't know I just infected you with the disease in the first place."

It's bad enough going around having to inject tension into situations to create the joke, but what if you are the cause of the tension in the first place, she asks. She's referring, of course, to the ongoing debate about same-sex marriage, lifestyle, rights, education and even existence that permeates Australian society. It might be an interesting ethics debate or policy matter for our politicians and religious leaders but for a sizeable chunk of the population it's everyday harassment and even life or death.

There are sections of this show that are brutal and shocking, even deeply disturbing, but Gadsby knows that to affect the change she wants she has make people laugh too, and she controls the atmosphere in the room like a maestro.

For the most part, Gadsby's incisive view of the world and no-bullshit attitude is enough to offer up a million much-needed laughs to lighten the mood, but on a couple of occasions she deliberately allows the tension to hover and settle, unbroken like a silent force-field over the audience.

"Who wants to hear a fucking joke now?" she roars, and the room gratefully relaxes. It's harsh but cathartic and uplifting.

Gadsby says she's not a good rep for "my people" but I think she's one of the best.

Go and see this work wherever you can, not just because it's her last show but because it's her masterpiece and a story or 10 that needs hearing. On opening night it received a standing ovation for good reason.

Then Our Hannah can go home and enjoy a nap and her favourite sound – a tea cup gently finding a saucer.

 
A Token Event
Nanette
Hannah Gadsby
 
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall | corner Swanston and Collins streets, Melbourne VIC
Dates: Until 23 April 2017 (no Mondays)
Times: Tuesday to Saturday 7pm; Sunday's 6pm
Tickets: $35 – $42
Bookings: comedyfestival.com.au