Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Asperger's Are Us comedy troupe plays off their disability

Jack Hanke, 18, arrived at rehearsal wearing a giant sombrero and green kimono. Noah Britton, 29, took off his pants mid-practice, explaining that they still stank from last night's concert. He ran through the rest of his comedy troupe's practice wearing boxers, and the group's signature T-shirt, which reads: "I don't want your pity."

Britton, Hanke and the other two members of Asperger's Are Us don't care who thinks they're weird. Or even funny. They think they're hilarious. And if others don't, who's the one with the disability?

Many traits the public has long found engaging or amusing have their roots — perhaps surprisingly — in Asperger's. The absurdity of Monty Python, the flat demeanor of Star Trek's Mr. Spock and the awkwardness of Andy Kaufman, are all common Aspergian traits. Dr. Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory gets laughs for those characteristics, too.

"In the last few years, Asperger's has become recognized as a foundation for some elements of comedy," said John Elder Robison, a nationally renowned Asperger's advocate, and author of Be Different. "All of a sudden there is a broad public awareness that the reason for behavioral differences in those characters would probably be called Asperger's."

Common traits of Asperger’s and their consequences:
Intense focus – can limit ability to multitask, as well as enable expertise.

Hypersensitivity to sensory input, change and human interactions – can lead to being overwhelmed by sights, sounds and stresses, as well new observations, insights

Inwardly directed – often fail to notice the impact of their behavior on others; capable of being extremely insightful.

Don’t conform to social norms , often because they can’t understand them – can lead to social isolation, as well as creativity, originality

Linear, literal thinking – can lead to confusion about metaphors and sarcasm, and difficulty learning without ordered instruction, as well as bluntness, an inability to lie, and desire for fairness.

That growing recognition helps groups such as the Boston-based Asperger's Are Us, which is getting gigs right now because it's Autism Awareness Month. They're grateful for that, but as their shirts suggest, the men aren't seeking compassion.

We'd much rather (the audience) appreciate us as comedians than as people who've overcome adversity," said Britton, the group's informal leader since he was the others' camp counselor seven summers ago.

Asperger's, which is defined by social awkwardness and repetitive behaviors, is part of the broader "Autism Spectrum," of related disorders.

Members of Asperger's Are Us revel in absurdist humor, like Kaufman's and Monty Python's. Some of their own jokes get laughs because their delivery is so dead-pan, some because they offer insights into male adolescence, and some because they're just plain wacky, like a skit in which one member says another has gotten him pregnant and the other replies, "You can't be pregnant, I'm bubble-wrap."

Read more of Karen Weintraub's USA Today article HERE.
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