Comedian Hannah Gadsby made headlines in 2018 with her hilarious and gut-wrenching Netflix special, “Nanette.” Now she’s back in the limelight with an interview in Variety where she talks about autism and sea-dwelling creatures, among other topics.
This may seem like an odd pairing, but for Gadsby, she learned to understand her world on the autism spectrum by comparing her experience to the sensitivity of the nine-brained octopus. During the interview, Gadsby highlighted she wears a small octopus pin to remind her to embrace her neurodiversity.
“I used to really be guarded about my brain thoughts but I realized that what’s interesting about me is my brain. That’s why I wear a little octopus,” she told Variety, reminding the interviewer octopi have nine brains. “I kind of feel like that with autism, because of my sensitivity to my environment. So I identify not only as ‘tired,’ but as ‘octopi.’”
Following her “Nanette” comedy special, Gadsby revealed she received an autism diagnosis as an adult. As is common for many women on the spectrum, she always felt like she struggled, especially in social situations, but didn’t consider autism because she didn’t think girls could be on the spectrum.
“I think sometimes people find me endearingly odd, and that’s fine,” she said. “But it is troubling when you don’t know what it is.”
Autism is underdiagnosed in girls because it presents differently compared to boys. For example, autistic girls may be able to adapt more in social situations by masking their autistic traits. Research is still catching up on these differences, and as a result, many autistic girls don’t get diagnosed until they are adults.
Gadsby said finally getting an autism diagnosis came as a relief and helped her realize there wasn’t anything wrong with her, she just experiences the world a little differently than neuro-typical people.
“I was formally diagnosed with autism. Now for me, that was mostly good news,” Gadsby said during a recent Ted Talk in Vancouver. She continued:
I always thought that I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person because I was depressed and anxious. But it turns out I was depressed and anxious because I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person, because I was not a normal person, and I didn’t know it. Now, this is not to say I still don’t struggle. Every day is a bit of a struggle, to be honest. But at least now I know what my struggle is, and getting to the starting line of normal is not it. My struggle is not to escape the storm. My struggle is to find the eye of the storm as best I can.
Gadsby shared learning she was on the spectrum helped her understand how to move through the world easier and take off the mask. Part of that is remembering the octopus, but in her Ted Talk, she also said stand-up comedy has been a big aspect of embracing her neurodiversity as well.
“Now, apart from the usual way us spectrum types find our calm — repetitive behaviors, routine and obsessive thinking — I have another surprising doorway into the eye of the storm: stand-up comedy,” Gadsby quipped. “And if you need any more proof I’m neurodivergent, yes, I am calm doing a thing that scares the hell out of most people.”
Gadsby set out on a new worldwide stand-up comedy tour called “Douglas” starting June 19. Check out her website to find when she will be coming to a city near you.