Hannah Gadsby’s Something Special, now on Netflix, is the feel-good follow-up to Nanette and Douglas. Where Nanette covered heavy topics like sexual assault, and Douglas was about Gadsby coming to terms with their autism, Something Special is lighter and more optimistic. Except this is Hannah Gadsby, so even with the joyful opening line “I got married!”, there’s going to be a twist.
In Something Special, Gadsby gradually reveals how they proposed to now-wife Jenney Shamash. And let’s just say it wasn’t the sort of proposal seemingly common in the cis-hetero world, or in romantic comedies.
Gadsby, we discover, doesn’t like romantic comedies. Something which proves a little awkward when they meet Richard Curtis, writer of such classics of the genre as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. Why, he asks, don’t they like romantic comedies? It’s the sound of the kissing, Gadsby replies. Which is funny, and true, yet not necessarily the sort of thought that a non-autistic person would have.
Gadsby’s autism, and how it makes it difficult for them to navigate the world, is a major theme of Something Special. When Jodie Foster gives Gadsby a birthday present, Gadsby responds in a way that they later realise is a bit rude. Similarly, playing Guess Who with Jenney turns out to be a nightmare, as Gadsby comprehends faces differently to neuro-normative people, and can’t understand what a smile is.
Making self-deprecating jokes about their bumblings through the world seems to contract Gadsby’s famous statement in Nanette about doing these kinds of jokes:
I have built a career out of self-deprecating humour and I don’t want to do that anymore. Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it come from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility, it’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself or anybody who identifies with me. If that means that my comedy career is over, then, so be it.
Except, the act of doing another show after Nanette contradicted that too. And does it even matter?
The important thing is that Gadsby’s firmly in charge of the jokes they’re doing about themselves. Gadsby isn’t a fool or an idiot, they’re a person with autism doing their best in a world they find a bit strange – and they’re triumphing. Sometimes.
The denouement of Something Special, in which Gadsby acts in a loving but seemingly brutal way, results in the best possible outcome: marriage to Jenney. Equally special is Gadsby’s acknowledgement of how important, loving and needed Jenney is.
After Nanette, in which Gadsby painted a bleak picture of the world – especially bleak if you bought that they were quitting comedy – Something Special is a lovely breath of fresh air. And a reminder that autism isn’t a problem, or a curse, but something very special indeed.