People who go out for a night of laughter at a comedy club normally don’t expect to be moved to tears, but that’s exactly what local comedy blogger Marty Younge anticipates will happen to her Wednesday evening.
Younge, who has a sequence-based learning disorder, is going to a show by the group Asperger’s Are Us at The Social Capital on Danforth Avenue just east of Broadview.
The four comedians say they’re the first comedy group made up of people on the autism spectrum and Younge says their work is an inspiration.
“When you’re not a neuro-typical person, there can be a lot of pain; you encounter a lot of ignorance. There is confusion on your own part, there is confusion on other people’s part — and I like how this troupe sees the immense comedic potential in all of those things,” she explained.
“If you begin to laugh at things that oppress you, you can start to heal,” Younge said.
Relatability and comedy go together like condescension and special ed. teachers
But the group, made up of Noah Britton, Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi and Jack Hanke, say they aren’t looking to make people “feel good.”
“We hope you’re coming for the comedy and not the hallmark card,” Noah Britton told CBC Toronto in an interview.
The comedian described the group’s show as “an absurdist and occasionally satirical, dark, wordplay-filled jaunt through hilarity.”
The four met 13 years ago at a comedy camp for people on the autism spectrum. “Being together and being funny is what put the seed in our head to do comedy,” said Finlan.
But Britton’s story of how the group started is a bit different.
“I was bitten by a radioactive spider when I was in high school,” he quipped. “And my uncle Ben was murdered, and so I decided with great power comes great comedy — and so here we are, making people laugh as much as we can.”
The troupe began in 2010 and have been together ever since.
“We were friends before the troupe, maybe not after — we’ll see,” joked Britton.
The comedian says their name, Asperger’s Are Us, sometimes sends the wrong message. They didn’t set out to be poster children for people with autism.
“I wish sometimes we could change our name to the four very funny absurdist comedians who happen to have Asperger’s, but that’s a bit long,” said Britton.
Nonetheless, they say the jokes they tell often appeal to people with Asperger’s.
Changing the culture of comedy
“Wordplay is something aspies excel at and we do a lot of that in the show,” said Britton. “And also, we do absurdism that ignores social norms and is funny because it doesn’t concern itself with reality. That’s something aspies understand pretty well.”
He included a caveat however: “Of course, not all of them — some of them like awful, predictable comedy and we aren’t here for them.”
Finlan says he is happy if people on the autism spectrum happen to see them perform and feel better about themselves, but that’s not their motivation. Rather, they are more focused on changing the culture of comedy.
“If anything, we set out to make stuff that goes beyond this really awful social convention that comedy comes through embarrassment,” said Britton.
He points to the U.S. TV situation comedy The Big Bang Theory as the kind of humour the troupe wants to avoid. The main character, Sheldon Cooper, is often likened to a person with autism. His awkward social interactions are the comedic focus of the show.
“Watching The Big Bang Theory is as pleasant to me as watching a human centipede,” Britton said. “How dare you make more money than anyone ever on television by taking an entire group of people and belittling them?”
This is the first time Asperger’s Are Us are coming to Toronto.
“We’ve heard everyone there has wings,” Britton joked. “I’m really excited to go to a place that spawned the Kids in the Hall, Mike Meyers, Nathan Fielder, Tom Green and all these people I’ve looked up to my whole life.”