Hannah Gadsby and Taylor Swift may seem like a strange combination. But the comedian’s latest show, Dogmatic, is inspired by the mega pop star’s record-breaking 1989 World Tour complete with costume changes, fancy lighting, a dance routine and videos of her adorable dog, Doug. At the beginning of Dogmatic, Hannah claims this show is the equivalent to disposable pop music: you’ll enjoy it in the moment, but forget about it the next day. However, anyone who has ever seen a Hannah Gadsby show will know that’s unlikely to be the case. True to form, Dogmatic is funny and humane, but it’s also smart, subversive – and it sticks. Shake It Off? No chance…
The audience at the Belvoir shows are not your normal comedy crowd. Does it feel different to be performing your show in a theatre?
I have a really weird mix of fans. Sometimes I look out and think, ‘Gosh you wouldn’t be friends’. I guess I’m the glue. There’s a real range of people – really young people, which I am not anymore, and really old, white-haired people, which I will be, but I’m not yet. I even get blokes who think I’m alright. It’s a strange mix of people, which is nice because I’m strange-ish. At a comedy festival, you tend to pump the jokes out, but this show has become a little more theatrical. Being in the theatre brings it out.
In the show, you talk about the fact that you wanted to ditch the ‘depression comedy’ you’re known and loved for. Performing that brutally honest material night after night must take a toll on you.
That’s it. I mention in the routine that there was a review for my last show with a Lifeline number to call at the bottom, and that prompted me to do this ‘no-woe show’, but it’s really that the last couple of years, I’ve done those type of shows. They’re fine, but night after night, it does wear you down. I’m not a trained performer so I don’t know how to protect myself. I understand that’s a thing – maybe I should get some help! But with comedy, half the charm is that authenticity and being open as well. That’s the difference essentially between comedy and theatre.
There’s still some woe that seeps in at the sides, but how did you find writing and performing a lighter show?
I really enjoyed it. It’s sort of half-assed. It’s not a half-assed show, it’s very polished! But the performance is a lot cheekier than I would normally make it. Doing short stories was nice. I might keep that in my repertoire because normally I tell really long stories that feed and loop and interchange and it’s a lot of work. Dogmatic is lo-fi. It’s clear that I’m not anal about production values. I shot the video stuff myself, but it’s not polished. That seems to be how I go through life. Big ideas – great! Yeah, it’s looking good. Uh, it doesn’t matter if the lights don’t work.
What was your first experience with Taylor Swift and how did she inspire Dogmatic?
It was because my ex-girlfriend had kids and the girl was really into Taylor Swift so I made a real effort to get into her. I didn’t want to be that adult that’s like, ‘Nah, I don’t like music’. So I tried really hard and I quite enjoyed the music – it’s fun and light. But it fell off for me because she tries to be a cultural figure. You’ve got to be better than that if you want to be a cultural figure, but maybe you don’t. She’s fine.
That was something really great about the show – that tension between ‘Taylor’s great’ and ‘Good for her’ and this underlying rage toward her. Is that how you feel?
Yeah [laughs]. She’s a feminist so you don’t want to tear down women. But then she needs to be better. She’s pretty powerful; she’s got a lot of influence. But what is she? I’m confused by her. She’s very controlled and in that control is a brittleness. I would feel terrible if she wasn’t okay, but she’s going to be okay you know?
How much fun did you have exploring her lyrics for certain “gems” you could spotlight in the show?
I had to cut out a lot of them! They’re dreadful. Pop is not where you go for poetry, but it’s grim. And there’s so much rain, she needs a new metaphor.
Despite the focus on Taylor Swift and your own singing and dancing routines, your dog Doug ends up stealing much of the show.
I wanted to tour with him because I thought that will make the road less lonely, but he was just a pup when it started and it would have been stressful. He’s a boisterous little guy. I did do one gig with him and he just barked every time people laughed so he’s not a good stage dog yet. But I know I’m deliberately and emotionally manipulating audiences to enjoy the show because it features a cute dog. You’re going to love it.
Hannah Gadsby – Dogmatic is playing in the Upstairs theatre until May 29.