When Monsters Call Back

Antoine Barres / Unsplash

Antoine Barres / Unsplash


A callback sounds like something you’d want after a date. Or at least, something you’d want after a date prior to the mid-2000s. Any time after this, you’d be hoping for an MSNback, a textback, or a Facebook Messengerback. God, sometimes even a Snapchatback would do the trick.

But after watching Nanette, the industry-changing comedy show by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, the term “callback” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Nanette, Gadsby’s solo stand up show at the Sydney Opera house last year, was released onto Netflix in June - sending ripples around the globe as it deconstructed how we watch and perform comedy (if you’re a comedian, that is).

Gadsby’s stand-up piece has been hailed the world over as not just commentary on Gadbsy’s own life, career, and comedy - but on all our lives. This global praise was summed up excellently by Stored reviewer Holly Tippler when she added the weight of international acclaim to her own.

Specifically, she quoted The New Yorker writer Moira Donegan’s observations on Gadsby’s use of the callback. In comedy terms, the callback at is a technique used by performers when a joke is retold later in the set to amplify its effect.

Donegan noted how Gadsby’s set was itself an example of that technique.

“You could consider the #MeToo moment itself as a kind of callback, a collective return to stories that women have been telling one way—to others, to themselves—with a new, emboldened understanding that those past tellings had been inadequate,” she wrote.

“Like Gadsby, many women have excluded or elided the difficult parts of their stories for the sake of a punch line, the sake of not upsetting the status quo, or the sake of the comfort of their listeners.”

Gadsby’s show is yet another example of women going back and re-telling their stories with the previously omitted pieces included. These callbacks feature the complicated, confusing parts of their stories which didn’t fit in with light-hearted - often humorous - tales of dates, sex, and relationships gone wrong.

More recently, two of these callback pieces were published on New York Magazine’s online home, The Cut. The first by writer Caragh Poh, and the second by a name you’re sure to recognise, Caitlin Moran.

These pieces are not necessarily about illegal acts - like Gadbsy’s attacks and the workplace sexual harassment of the #metoo movement - but about destructive behaviors which have never been given an opportunity - nor an audience - to be heard.

Until now.

In her piece, Poh revisits her dating resume after being prompted by an innocent question from her date when she compliments his desire to hold her jacket (“Of course I would hold your jacket. Why wouldn’t I? What kind of monsters did you used to date?”).

Her story is an answer to that question, but this time she includes all the details; the ones she usually leaves out.

A process which leaves her wondering:

“There are all kinds of monsters out there. We’re supposed to be scared of the ones who want us dead, or delight in hurting us, and we are. You learn through trial and error how to avoid them, for the most part. It’s harder to contend with the ones whose main focus is to not seem like a monster. They hide their fangs and read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They retract their claws and tell you they won’t fuck you the way you like to be fucked because they’re a feminist, and they make you believe that makes sense.

“They say you argue too much when you ask why they didn’t give you a Christmas present. Or an anniversary present. Or a Valentine’s Day present. You apologize, because you’ve been with monsters, man, so there’s no way this is a monster. If you’ve only found yourself romantically entwined with monsters, who is really to blame? What kind of monster am I?”

Moran’s piece, How to Tell the Bad Men From the Good Men, details her previous relationships with abusive men and how those behaviours were talked about - or not.

She questions how the women’s side of power imbalances of male and female relationships have been shrouded in secrecy, shame - and silence. How this silence means we only learn to tell the good men from the bad through trial and error.

Moran’s fast-paced-rock’n’roll-magazine-writing-in-the-90s life was fraught with these trials and the associated errors - and so were those of the women around her.

This, she writes, has not changed.

“Despite living in a world of every kind of niche pornography, strip clubs, Brazilians, sex toys, Fifty Shades of Grey, blow-job tips, sex education, contraception, anal-bleaching, designer vaginas, Viagra, pussy-grabbing scandals, and #MeToo; despite there being 6,500 spoken languages in the world allowed the infinite space of the internet; despite sex happening all the time, everywhere, we still — still! — haven’t found a way to talk about it that is truthful, open, informative, and not scaring the living daylights out of our young people.”

Like Moran, and Poh and Gadbsy and the brave women of #metoo have said: We need to keep calling back. And calling and calling. Until everyone gets the message.