Asperger’s Are Us Brings Its Unique Brand of Absurdist Comedy to SMDCAC

From left: New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan, Noah Britton, and Jack Hanke
From left: New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan, Noah Britton, and Jack Hanke Photo courtesy of Asperger’s Are Us
Asperger syndrome is often characterized by difficulty with social interactions and changes in environment, as well as sound sensitivity, unusual verbal tics, and limited emotional expression. Though touring nationally with a comedy troupe seems to necessitate so many of these things that people on the autism spectrum struggle with, the four guys in Massachusetts-based comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us use their neurological differences to create an original, hilarious show.

On Friday, July 30, the guys in Asperger’s Are Us will perform at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay.

 The troupe consists of Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi, Jack Hanke, and Noah Britton. The latter two spoke to New Times about their interests in comedy and their upcoming performance in Miami.

In true Asperger's — or “Aspie” — fashion, the guys spend much of the interview cracking jokes consistent with the deadpan yet frenetic humor they put forward in their live shows. When New Times inquires about influences for their comedy, Britton immediately asks if the reporter has ever seen a Garfield comic strip.

“It’s literally the worst comedy ever,” he says. “I hate it so much. Jim Davis wrote it to be as intentionally middle-of-the-road and unoffensive as possible. It makes me want to throw up. That’s how unfunny it is.”

“I will say, Garfield without Garfield has been a very minor comedic influence on me,” Hanke adds.

“I want to see Garfield without Garfield, Odie, or Jon. Just three blank squares,” Britton continues.

“I will say, Weird Al is a huge comedic and musical influence on me. Though I’m not a musician, I do all the music for the show,” Hanke retorts.

Britton and Hanke continue riffing on each other’s responses like most comedians are wont to do. But their comedy takes a lot of unexpected turns. On stage, the guys have used a cup of ants, a bucket of water, and audience participation to re-create the well-known and oft-memed philosophical conundrum of the trolley problem. (You can watch a low-quality recording here.) Even offstage and outside of interviews, the troupe makes consistent efforts to make life funnier.

“We’ve been slowly inserting ourselves into people’s Wikipedia pictures. It’s something I’m really proud of how subtly we’ve been able to do it,” Britton says. “Since there weren’t pictures of David Zucker, Jamie Loftus, nor the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum on Wikipedia before, we just submitted pictures, and it’s acceptable because they’re pictures of what the article is talking about. We just have to keep taking pictures of ourselves with slightly notable things of which there are no pictures on Wikipedia, and we’ll gradually take over.”

Sure enough, if you go on the Wikipedia pages for David Zucker, Jamie Loftus, and the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, you will see the top of Hanke’s head poking up above Zucker’s; the four guys spelling out “Jami” with their arms with Loftus herself at the end making an E; and a blurry, nighttime shot of Ingemi, Hanke, and Britton half-posing with the sign outside the Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, Kansas, which one Wikipedia user refers to as “the barbed wire capital of the world.”

Though it may come across in an interview as difficult to parse the guys’ roving responses to simple questions, their answers speak volumes as to what their influences are. Loftus does incredible work for Adult Swim, known for regular bizarre and cutting-edge comedic programming. Zucker wrote and directed Airplane! a cult-classic film often associated with its quick and original use of wordplay. Even the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum is such a silly and specific concept that it’s no wonder the guys in Asperger’s Are Us felt the need to check it out.

That said, for a troupe that makes such an avid point to be witty and lighthearted when speaking about their work, the guys have some pretty staunch ideas about what constitutes effective comedy.

“I’ve been analyzing comedy intently since I was a kid watching Comedy Central,” Britton explains. “So what is ethical comedy? You shouldn’t make fun of people sincerely because that’s just mean — but that eliminates like 90 percent of what people think of as comedy. Maybe you’re trying to do it in a way that doesn’t come off as mean, but it is. Like when people do impressions of [cult filmmaker] Tommy Wiseau. You’re just making fun of this guy who has serious mental problems. Absurdism and wordplay — these are the only two types of comedy where no one is getting made fun of, and the kind I’m ethically OK with.”

It seems more people are familiar with Asperger’s Are Us not through the troupe's live show, but rather its Netflix and HBO documentaries, which were both produced by the Duplass brothers and featured more of the group's real-life struggles and less of them actually presenting the material they’ve written. The camera acts as a fly on the wall in these presentations, capturing small spats between the guys in the troupe as they rehearse for upcoming shows. There are also interviews with family members detailing the struggles of raising autistic children.

“I’m always confused when people say they found the documentary funny. To me, there’s not much comedy in it,” Hanke says. “It’s mostly just a study of us, as people. I just had someone who has been my acquaintance for six years message me out of nowhere to tell me he just watched my movie, thought it was really funny, and laughed really hard. I was like, ‘Really? What were you laughing at?'"

In fact, the documentaries are informative and allow fans of the troupe to see what their lives are really like. While the exposure they've generated has proven helpful, their content is misrepresentative of what the guys are really trying to do.

“You have to let your children go,” Britton says. “Your parents give birth to you, expecting you to be awesome, then you turn out to suck, and they just have to say, ‘Well, hey, he’s my kid. I love him anyways.' That’s sort of how we have to look at the documentaries. We don’t have any control of them anymore. They’ve taken on a life of their own, so we’ll support them as best as we can, and they’ll give us publicity — just like children do for their parents.”

Asperger’s Are Us, though proudly autistic, make a point not to mention autism in their performances. Neurological conditions have clearly influenced the group's comedy, but it’s the troupe’s intention to simply put on a show and be funny once the show starts.

“The point of what we do is to entertain people with an Aspie sense of humor. So, if you like Monty Python and Airplane! you’ll like our show,” Britton says. “That’s why we named ourselves what we did. We were completely unprepared for this deluge of parents who are looking for answers about how to raise their kids. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to make our audience laugh.”

Asperger’s Are Us. 8 p.m. Friday, July 30, at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center Black Box Theater, 10950 SW 211st St., Cutler Bay; 786 573-5316; Tickets cost $5 to $15
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Jeremy David is a teacher, writer, and musician currently living in Miami Beach. He enjoys cooking and cats, though never cooking cats.
Contact: Jeremy David