Everyone in the four-man sketch comedy troupe Asperger's Are Us is on the autism spectrum, but the group's material doesn't raise awareness of Asperger's syndrome. Nor do they self-deprecate or write what one member, Noah Britton, describes as "Hallmark cards"—maudlin sketches that resemble the sports-underdog film Rudy. The company's website shows Britton wearing a T-shirt that says I DON'T WANT YOUR PITY.
The members of Asperger's Are Us want to earn laughs from their work, not their condition. "We're not intentionally trying to buck stereotypes," Britton says. "Why would we waste our time serving the interest of people who walk around believing such garbage? But at the same time, we hope they leave our show realizing they were completely wrong."
Still, some audience members encounter Asperger's Are Us with some unfortunate assumptions. One woman approached the group after a show and shared her patronizing epiphany: that autistic people do, in fact, have a sense of humor. Online commenters have claimed the people in the troupe are faking their condition in order to attract sympathy.
The performers in Asperger's Are Us are Britton, Ethan Finlan, Jack Hanke, and "New Michael" Ingemi (his dad is "Old Michael"). Their alliance started at a Boston comedy camp for autistic kids in 2005. Finlan, Hanke, and Ingemi were 12, and Britton, then 22, was their counselor—he immediately jibed with these three campers. Six years later, while Finlan, Hanke, and Ingemi were finishing up high school, the foursome formed Asperger's Are Us. Last year Duplass Brothers Productions made a Netflix documentary titled after the group; its release increased the demand for shows from a few per year to a few per night.
Comedy-savvy audiences, like those in Chicago, understand that troupe names are usually nonsensical. But Asperger's Are Us are true to their moniker. "Asperger's [humor] is deadpan, absurd, pun-based," Britton says. "We produce situations that aren't just breaking social norms but are impossible." This aspect of the group's humor is demonstrated in one scene in which a woman shares news of her pregnancy with her husband, who admits that he's not a human being—he's bubble wrap.
The troupe's breezy rapport, based on experience and the members' shared condition, produces comedic twists. Yet it turns out artistic groups consisting of people with Asperger's aren't rare just in comedy circles, but all circles. "I looked up 'aspies' voluntarily interacting with each other, and the only thing I could find was us," Britton says. "Why wouldn't a bunch of aspies hang out and live in a world that makes sense to them?" v