There’s a moment near the end of Hannah Gadsby’s latest Netflix special, Douglas, when the comedian really comes alive. She’s delivering a barn-burner of a tirade against anti-vaxxers, suggesting that they “get a pet rock” instead of having kids and “delete [their] f*cking blog.” The audience howls and Gadsby pauses to revel in it, brushing specks of imaginary dirt off her shoulder. She acknowledges that the rant will likely open her up to a whole world of hate from anti-vaxxers. “It doesn’t bother me, just don’t worry about it — I snack on it,” she says, imitating shoveling food into her mouth, loudly munching on their vitriol.
Hate has always been an omnipresent force in Gadsby’s life. It’s a subject she explored in her breakthrough 2018 comedy special Nanette, a meditation on the trauma she’s experienced as a queer woman. Douglas, too, centers on the hatred Gadsby’s been subject to, but this time the overnight celebrity has a newfound agency. Whether she’s condemning anti-vaxxers, power abusers, or the male comedians who disavow her confessional, not always humorous, style of comedy — in Douglas, Gadsby gladly wields her power to dish it right back.
Ahead of Douglas’ release on Netflix, Bustle spoke with Gadsby about the concept of hate itself. Below, she explores her early memories of hatred, how she overcame her hate for Tom Hanks, and why she still can’t get down with mushrooms.
You've said that you are "fascinated by the anatomy of hate." What does hate mean to you?
Since my autism diagnosis, I've stripped away what I assumed was hate. What I was feeling was frustration and distress and I was searching for some kind of external narrative. Some kind of like, "Oh, this happened, therefore, I feel like this. Therefore these people are dickheads." Which they probably are, but ultimately what it was was [that] I was living my life in such a way that was deeply distressing for me.
"If you hate it so much, actually create something in response to that. That's what Nanette was. It was a creation in response to something."
What were some of your formative experiences with hatred?
It was witnessing hatred [toward homosexuality] in Tasmania in the '90s. I was witnessing the hatred of a group of people that I wasn't quite aware that I belonged to. So it was like forcing yourself into your own closet. Not just to other people but to yourself. You're deflecting the hatred, but you're absorbing it on an oblique level. I was also witnessing it unfold and then in some way, participating in it. Like, "Yeah, yeah. They're terrible people," because that's what closeted people do. Ask a few Republicans.
After Nanette dropped you amassed a lot of “haters,” particularly men in the comedy community. Did their criticisms ever weigh on you?
No, no. They just seemed silly to me, because I didn't take any of their audience away. Most of the people who responded to my special [weren’t] comedy fans for the very reasons that I pointed out in the special. And if you hate it so much, actually create something in response to that. That's what Nanette was. It was a creation in response to something.
How are you able to deflect their hate?
Well, I've been through incredible trauma. These people don't represent anything even close to what I've had to negotiate. That's very easy to put it into perspective. It's quite telling that people who get frothy at the mouth about Nanette [haven’t] actually experienced actual trauma if a comedy special can whip them up into a frenzy. They are actual snowflakes.
There’s a moment in the special where you describe “snacking” on the hate you receive, particularly from anti-vaxxers. Is there something you enjoy about pissing people off?
I don't like pissing people off. [It’s that] a lack of logic makes me uncomfortable. Anti-vaxxers [are] completely irrational and emotional, which is fine. But I still do not understand how you can deny actual factual things and say, "I feel these things, so therefore they're correct." It's like, I feel like mushrooms are gross and they grow in sh*t, but I can't deny the fact that they have nutritional value! If I had to eat mushrooms because it was good for the world, I'd eat mushrooms. [So anti-vaxxers] just don't make any sense to me. It's not that I want to piss people off. I want them to know that they pissed me off.
So in a sense, you like to troll the trolls?
Well, I'm in a position to do that without getting hurt. What's the worst thing that's going to happen to me? I lose my comedy career? Ultimately, that's not that important when you think of how trolls go after vulnerable teenagers, they go after grieving families. They go after all sorts of genuinely vulnerable people. If I can take the heat off, sure.
"It's not that I want to piss people off. I want them to know that they pissed me off."
Is there anything you find fun to hate?
When I don't like something I try and understand why I don't like it. I've been on a Taylor Swift bender for years just going, "Why do I feel irritation?" I haven't gotten to the bottom of it, but I'm enjoying trying to find out. Every year, I'll try mushrooms. I still don't like them, but every year I'm open to it.
Have you ever successfully overcome feeling irritated by something?
I went through a spell where I just hated Tom Hanks. I looked into it. I said that to a friend and she said, "Did you just Google, 'Why do I hate Tom Hanks?'" I'm like, "No, no, no." I looked into it and you can't hate Tom Hanks. He's benign at worst. I think it's because in the '90s he was “the guy” in all the films; I think that's what I was irritated by. It was like, "Ugh, the stories are dull or [all with] that same guy." And that's not Tom Hanks' fault. I like Tom Hanks. G'day if you're reading, Tom. Is he a Bustle reader? He's a dark horse; we don't know.
There's also something I identify with in the character of Forrest Gump. It's a problematic film for many reasons, but there's [something] a little bit on the spectrum to Forrest Gump. And that just highlights the privilege of the straight white man. He's able to just float through life like that, but if you put that character in any other kind of body, he's dead before he can drink.
Do you think everyone is inherently capable of hate?
Yeah. I don't think hate is an emotion. I think it's a manifestation of a lot of little different things. It’s a defensive thing. You feel irritation and you project it outward.
What is impossible to hate?
The fact that people can hate themselves is proof that anything can be hated. That makes me the saddest of all because, ultimately, it doesn't make any sense to hate yourself.
Oftentimes as children, we're taught to never use the word hate. It’s as if it’s a swear word. Why are we so conditioned against this emotion?
It's destructive. It's self-destructive as much as it is externally destructive. To hate something seems like it's just an act toward the thing you hate, but it's also a self-defeating, self-destructive impulse. I give myself a day to hate a thing and then I have to get over it. This also comes from a position of privilege. I'm very mentally healthy at the moment. [So saying], "Give yourself a day to hate something and then you get over it," does not apply to people who are struggling with mental illness. But if you have the capacity to be well, you must foster that. I live by the rule of if you're having a good day, you should do your best to spread it. If you're having a bad day, you've got to do your best to contain it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.