It seems to be a common theme of this year’s festival – comedians talking about growing up, becoming an adult, getting their own place. Hannah Gadsby’s Happiness is a Bedside Table is in this vein – Gadsby delights in having a safe place for her all-important glasses, in being ‘captain of the fridge’, and in the thrills of being alone in a moving vehicle now that she finally has her drivers’ license.

Gadsby’s show is a story about growing up, but it goes much deeper than the surface achievements like passing a driving test. The show’s guiding maxim is that ‘you don’t really become an adult until you regain the confidence you lost as an adolescent’.

And so Gadsby takes us through the inevitable loss of innocence and confidence that she experienced as a teenager, through those intervening years where confidence was still out of reach (the innocence remains lost forever), to the moving but funny stories that lead to regaining that confidence. Gadsby demonstrates with a surprise finale that her confidence really is back.

This is a very personal show – vulnerabilities of body, mind and relationships are all part of it – but Gadsby keeps the audience laughing. There are a couple of moments where there is almost too much reality and we are silent, but I don’t begrudge these moments. They make the laughs that follow all the more heartfelt.

It’s easy to think that comedians must be supremely confident if they are able to get up on stage at the mercy of an audience, but Gadsby shows that it can be quite the opposite – that comedy might perhaps grow out of low self-esteem, and one day be a vehicle towards eventually regaining some of the lost confidence of adolescence.

This is the story of a journey. Viewers who are afraid of confessional comedy might find it confronting, but Hannah Gadsby’s skills as a comedian make this both an inspiring and very funny experience.

Hannah Gadsby in Happiness is a Bedside Table is on at the Melbourne Town Supper Room, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.00pm and Sunday at 6.00pm until April 21.

Suzannah Marshall Macbeth blogs at equineocean. You can follow her on twitter @equineocean.

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