Hannah Gadsby: Celebrity Stand Up, Trauma, and the Meta Theatrics of Persona Construction


  • Mary Luckhurst University of Bristol, UK




mask, live performance, audience, meta-persona, gay politics, mental health


This essay examines the work of stand-up performer Hannah Gadsby in relation to persona, extending the conventional reach of persona studies to the realm of live performance and comedy. The author analyses Hannah Gadsby’s risky decision to kill off her widely adored comic persona in her 2017 show Nanette, replacing it with a persona that shot her to global celebrity and changed the power dynamics with her audiences. The essay investigates Gadsby’s contention that stand-up is bad for her mental health and is predicated on an abusive relationship with audiences. It considers her strategies of comic unmaking and remaking in the contexts of women working in a sexist industry within misogynist societies. It also interrogates Gadsby’s dramaturgies of foregrounding persona creation and the performative dialogic of ‘face’ or ‘mask.’ Gadsby’s postmodern deconstruction of her own comic artistry and her exposure of the limits of stand-up as a form are examined through a new concept of meta-persona.


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Author Biography

  • Mary Luckhurst, University of Bristol, UK

    Mary Luckhurst is a Professor of Theatre and Performance and Head of the School of Arts at the University of Bristol, UK. From 2014-2018 she was Associate Director of Research at the University of Melbourne and in 2017 was the TORCH Visiting Professor in the Humanities at Oxford University. In 2007 she co-founded the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York. She has authored many books and essays on acting and actors, including On Acting (2001), Theatre and Celebrity (2005), Playing for Real (2010), and Caryl Churchill (2015). She has recently guest edited a special issue of The Australasian Drama Studies Journal (2019), Actresses in the 21st Century, which includes her essay ‘Nicole Kidman: Transformation and the Business of Acting’. She has also published ‘Great British Dames: Mature Actresses and their Negotiation of Celebrity in the 21st Century’ in The Palgrave Handbook to the History of Women on Stage (2019).


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How to Cite

Hannah Gadsby: Celebrity Stand Up, Trauma, and the Meta Theatrics of Persona Construction. (2020). Persona Studies, 5(2), 53-66. https://doi.org/10.21153/psj2019vol5no2art916

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