clock menu more-arrow no yes

Hannah Gadsby on comedy, free speech, and living with autism

The comedian reflects on navigating a world that wasn’t built for her mind on The Ezra Klein Show.

Comedian Hannah Gadsby sitting onstage holding a microphone.
Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby won a 2019 Peabody award for her standup special Nanette.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix

Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby became a global star with her Netflix special Nanette. It’s a remarkable piece of work, and it does what great art is supposed to do: give you a sense, however fleeting, of what it is like to live inside another human’s experience. Gadsby’s new special, Douglas, takes that a step further: It explores her autism diagnosis and gives you a sense of what it is like to experience the world through another person’s mind.

The first half of my episode with Gadsby is about her experience moving through the world as a neurodiverse person. Gadsby didn’t receive her autism diagnosis until she was almost 40 years old, after decades of struggling to navigate systems, institutions, and norms that weren’t built for people like her. Her story of how she got to comedy — and how close she was to simply falling off the map — is searing, and it helped me see some of the capabilities and social conventions I take for granted in a new light. As in her shows, Gadsby, here, renders an experience few of us have had emotionally legible. It’s a powerful conversation.

Then we turn to the topics of free speech, safety, and cancel culture. For years, comedy has been undergoing many of the very same debates that have recently become front and center in the journalism world, and Gadsby has done some of the most powerful thinking I’ve heard on these issues. We discuss what it means for people in power to take responsibility for their speech, how to navigate the complex relationship between creator and audience members, why Twitter is a “bullying pulpit,” the role of recording technology, and the new skills those of us privileged with a platform are going to need to develop.

This is one of those conversations I’ve been thinking about since I had it. Don’t miss it.

You can listen to our discussion by streaming it here, or by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you get your podcasts.


Will you become our 20,000th supporter? When the economy took a downturn in the spring and we started asking readers for financial contributions, we weren’t sure how it would go. Today, we’re humbled to say that nearly 20,000 people have chipped in. The reason is both lovely and surprising: Readers told us that they contribute both because they value explanation and because they value that other people can access it, too. We have always believed that explanatory journalism is vital for a functioning democracy. That’s never been more important than today, during a public health crisis, racial justice protests, a recession, and a presidential election. But our distinctive explanatory journalism is expensive, and advertising alone won’t let us keep creating it at the quality and volume this moment requires. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will help keep Vox free for all. Contribute today from as little as $3.