'We're comedians, not inspirational speakers' | The comedy troupe with Asperger's

'We're comedians, not inspirational speakers'

The comedy troupe with Asperger's

Stand-ups often seem to share traits with some people who have autism - an inability to connect socially in ordinary situations, yet able to shine in front of a room full of strangers, talking at someone in a monologue that is supposed to be a conversation, seeing the world in a detached, different way from most people.

Now Asperger's Are Us – a group of young American comics – are touring Europe. They met at a summer camp and found that, as well as having a shared sense of humour, they all had Asperger’s.

Here they spoke to Dave Cohen about their latest show.

I get that's it all about the comedy, as you say in your publicity. So why Asperger’s in the title?

When we named ourselves, it didn’t really occur to us that people would interpret the name as meaning a) that we reference Asperger’s at all in our sketches or are acting as an advocacy group, b) that we make a bunch of bad self-deprecating jokes about being socially awkward or c) don’t have Asperger’s and are making fun of people who do. 

We are Jack, Noah, New Michael and Ethan – a troupe of Aspies who do comedy. Aspies tend to enjoy and be good at wordplay, absurdism, and dark satire. We're not the first Aspie comedians, but we do aim to, one day, be the funniest living Aspie comedians. 

Do you see yourselves on a mission to demystify Asperger’s?

Not at all, in part because we’re not sure why anyone would consider Asperger’s mysterious, but more importantly because our sole purpose is making people laugh doing awesome shows, in a style of humour that appeals to Aspies. 

Now, if incidentally people are able to overcome misconceptions about Asperger’s or autism, we’re very happy about that, as long as our audience comes for the comedy. 

There's a small section on our website that explains some of the more esoteric stuff about autism. Noah's TEDx talk also covers a lot for the lay person. 

But we're comedians, not teachers or inspirational speakers or failures to be pitied. 

We’re failed car thieves who deserve disdain.

Have you noticed much difference in how your material goes down in Europe?

The main difference is our interpretation of how the material goes down. There are always a few people in an audience who never seem to laugh. In Germany and Denmark we got to assume those people just didn't understand English well enough to get the jokes. 

Do you often find something you guys think is really funny isn't laughed at by the audience?

Sometimes the stuff we love is too subtle and deadpan for the audience to pick up on, like the time we booked a real CPR demonstration to open for us at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. 

Not only did the audience not laugh during it, but they took it so seriously that they were much less responsive to our set, as well. 

There are so so many funny parts in the show that it's OK if no one laughs at some, the show still usually goes very well. We're really excited to perform in the UK, who genuinely intimidate us with their history of deadpan hilarity. 

What would you like to do in the future?

Pass away. 

• Asperger's Are Us are currently touring the UK. Here are their dates.

Published: 30 Jun 2017

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