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Why Hannah Gadsby's New Comedy Special Means So Much to Me as an Autistic Woman

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“Douglas” is an hour-long comedy special on Netflix starring Hannah Gadsby. A follow-up performance to her 2018 award-winning special, “Nanette,” this special is a delightful romp touching on everything from the patriarchy to a very graphic description of how her dog got his name.

The main focus, however, is autism, specifically Hannah’s autism perceptions and experiences.

The way she set up the show was very refreshing. Getting a run-down of where the show was going and what to expect felt almost like a wonderful accommodation. I also loved when she said the line, “Why would I start off being a bit unlikable? Because this is a show about autism. And people with autism rarely make a good first impression. And most people tend to write us off because of that.” She then says that the ones who persevere will be rewarded. This is a great way to view autism. The people in my life have had to dig through a lot to get to know me the way they do, but I know that I’m worth it.

I have never felt this represented in entertainment before. My sense of humor is something that I can get very “pufferfish” about, just like Hannah and her views on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have people all the time tell me I don’t have a sense of humor, to which I promptly respond, “Maybe you’re not that funny.” My humor is very dry, witty and slightly inappropriate. I am also a big believer in seeing the humor in my autism. To see someone up there telling jokes in a way that made sense to me was something I never thought I would get to experience.

One of my favorite parts of the show were the lectures. My absolute favorite thing about autistics is our ability to talk about our self-interests with passion. I love listening to an autistic person give me an hour monologue about their favorite video game or superhero. Hannah knew she had a captive audience and she indulged that. I learned more about the Italian High Renaissance than I thought I would, but that is the beauty of autistic conversation. You never know what factual tidbits you’ll walk away with.

I got to watch the special with my family, which just added another layer of amusement. Any time an autism joke especially tickled them, it made me happy because I knew they were thinking, “Hey, Molly does that!” It has taken me a long time to see my autism as a positive, at least some of the aspects. Seeing that my family views it positively as well made me feel validated.

There were a couple of lines that really stood out to me. The first one was, “I’m not here to collect your pity. I’m here to disrupt your confidence.” This is exactly what I set out to do with my advocacy work. Neurotypicals have gotten to decide what the world is like and if you don’t fit in, too bad. I make people very uncomfortable when I question the neurotypical way of doing things. A simple question of “why” can completely derail a person’s thoughts. I don’t want pity that I can’t fit in. I want to disrupt the confidence that the way they built the world is correct.

The second line that really struck a chord with me was, “What this show is, is a metaphorical preposition that explains the relationship between what you think you think you see me think and what I’m genuinely able to think.”

To most people, that sounds like gibberish. To me, it makes perfect sense. People judge me all the time by the way I present myself. They think that by looking at my face, they are able to see directly into my innermost thoughts. Like Hannah, however, I like to keep my face in neutral. If I am forced to smile, rather than actually smiling, it feels like masking, so I tend to not have any facial expression unless necessary. This causes people to automatically assume I’m upset or angry. Now, the next time someone thinks they can see what I’m thinking, I have a new phrase to throw at them.

Honestly, this was the best comedy special I have ever watched. I truly felt connected to Hannah. My face hurt from laughing at the end. This is a very refreshing view on what it is like to live with autism. We need more positive representation of autism in the media and this is an amazing place to start.

Screenshot via Netflix

Originally published: May 29, 2020
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