Abby McEnany’s new comedy series Work in Progress (Showtime) and Hannah Gadsby’s recent standup specials Nanette and Douglas (Netflix) evoke “butch middlebrow,” a contemporary aesthetic and affective sensibility distinguished by the cozy reception it enjoys among straight, white, liberal viewers and critics. McEnany’s and Gadsby’s works have occasioned praise from cosmopolitan gatekeepers like the New York Times and the New Yorker for their self-aware brands of comedy rooted in unvarnished portrayals of butch trauma. Critics ritually insist on the implausibility of Gadsby’s and McEnany’s success, but the popularity of these queer creators’ offerings is not as unlikely as so often presumed. Indeed, the middlebrow butch’s alleged improbability does not render her cultural accolades improbable; it may even ensure them, allowing a new canon of butch respectability to emerge in the light shed by the beacons of aspirational culture.

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