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Hannah Gadsby says Netflix's 'Gender Agenda' is a comedy special for the gays

Hannah Gadsby said they wanted to humanize queer and transgender comedians on a platform where they’ve been “dehumanized.”
From left, Jes Tom, Chloe Petts, Asha Ward, Krishna Istha, Mx. Dahlia Belle, DeAnne Smith, ALOK and Hannah Gadsby at the Alexandra Palace in London.
From left, Jes Tom, Chloe Petts, Asha Ward, Krishna Istha, Mx. Dahlia Belle, DeAnne Smith, ALOK and Hannah Gadsby at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

Hannah Gadsby’s new Netflix special, “Gender Agenda,” is the direct result of what the comedian described as the “brouhaha” surrounding the streaming giant’s showcasing of Dave Chappelle, who has a history of making jokes about transgender people.

“Last time Netflix brought this many trans people together was for a protest,” Gadsby, who uses they/them pronouns, jokes at the start of the 75-minute show, referring to when hundreds of Netflix employees, many of them transgender, organized a work stoppage in October 2021 in opposition to Chappelle’s special “The Closer.” 

Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda
Hannah Gadsby at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

“Gender Agenda,” which premiered on March 5,  gives voice to seven genderqueer comedians from around the world: Oregon-based Mx. Dahlia Belle; New York-based Jes Tom and Asha Ward; Canada-based DeAnne Smith; and U.K.-based Chloe Petts and Krishna Istha. Gadsby, who has three other Netflix specials under their belt — “Nanette,” “Douglas” and “Something Special” — spearheaded  the show, which they also host.

“There are just so many transphobic comedians being platformed and ritually remunerated, and I wanted to humanize genderqueer and trans comics on the very platform where they’re being dehumanized,” Gadsby said in an interview with NBC News. 

Netflix declined to comment, and Chappelle did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda
Asha Ward at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

Chappelle, who has seven specials streaming on Netflix, said during “The Closer” that the trans community wants him “dead” for his past jokes, which have included referring to a trans woman in a derisive way. After facing criticism, Chappelle said he would meet with trans employees at Netflix, but only if they watched all of the special. In his 2023 special, “The Dreamer,” Chappelle continued to talk about trans people and joked that he would say he identifies as a woman if he ever went to jail in California.

Gadsby says in “Gender Agenda” that they purposefully didn’t get involved in the controversy surrounding “The Closer,” but then their name “got brought into the muck.”

In response to the backlash, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos sent out an internal memo touting the company’s diverse content, in which he named Gadsby, Variety reported at the time. 

Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda
ALOK at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

Gadsby responded with a blistering post on Instagram.

“You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted,” Gadsby said at the time. “F--- you and your amoral algorithm cult… I do s---- with more backbone than you.” 

Netflix didn’t respond to Gadsby’s post.

Looking back on their response, Gadsby said they had caused “a bit of a fuss” on social media, but wanted to create something constructive. So, they said, they worked with Netflix to find genderqueer comedians from around the world and give them the space to talk about what they wanted to talk about.

“You can’t just talk in opposition to people who are bringing hateful chat to the table, because they’re setting the tone,” Gadsby told NBC News. They want “Gender Agenda” to “recenter the conversation” around queer and trans comedians, “and even if that is just content for us and our community, I think that’s enough. We may not change anyone’s mind, we may solidify their hatred toward us, but we need content too.”

Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda
Mx. Dahlia Belle at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

Gadsby notes during the special that one show dedicated to trans and queer comics “won’t fix it, it’s not enough.” 

“You don’t raze the Amazon and plant a tree,” Gadsby jokes. “This is the carbon offset show.”

During the special, the seven comedians joke about everything from being competitive at the bouquet toss at weddings to the idea that the word cisgender, which refers to someone who is not transgender, is a slur. Gadsby, who introduces each comedian during the special, at one point jokes about the debate over trans inclusion in sports.

They said the special is on Netflix — the very platform that also hosts Chappelle’s specials — because that is where the conversations affecting LGBTQ people are happening. 

Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda
Jes Tom at the Alexandra Palace in London.Matt Crossick / Netflix

They said one of the key things they hope people take away from the special is “just the diversity of experience of being genderqueer.” 

“Gender is such a fundamental to every human’s identity,” Gadsby said. “When we meet someone, we categorize their gender. So this is an incredibly difficult thing to disrupt. And it could be playful, but it’s not, it’s become politicized and it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to walk around in a genderqueer body. That’s always been, to a certain extent, quite true. But now we’re trying to sort of be visible in ways that we haven’t previously. And so I just wanted to show a humanized representation of genderqueer comics.”