Dr. May said, “Just because you or I might find things funny, it doesn’t mean we have more or less of a sense of humor.”
Despite our different tastes, laughter is a powerful tool that can bring us together. In the world of autism, where people struggle with personal connections, humor unites. I see it with my son when he does standup. He seems to interact effortlessly with the audience and people who approach him after the show.
“It does help with socialization,” Dr. Frazier said. “Teaching comedy techniques is a great way to overcome social issues. And getting someone — anyone, someone with A.S.D. or neurotypicals — to get up in front of an audience can be scary. What if you bomb? Many people on the spectrum have a deep determination to succeed. So, if they don’t get a million laughs the first time, they’ll try it again and again.”
Once they’re on stage they can talk about their disorder or focus on what they find funny. My son usually sticks to puns, but he recently opened with: “I have autism. I also have O.C.D., O.D.D., A.D.H.D. and A.D.D., and I’m the most normal comic you’re going to see on stage tonight.”
The members of Asperger’s Are Us also sometimes joke about their diagnoses, as when a member known as New Michael Ingemi (his dad is “Old Michael”) said, “If we’re not funny, blame it on Ethan’s disability,” referring to another member, Ethan Finlan.
Jack Hanke, who just turned 26, prefers to go by the group’s total age; that’s all four of them together, making him 114 years young. He likes to keep his diagnosis and his comedy career as separate as possible.
“Since our name is Asperger’s Are Us, it’s impossible for us ever to perform without people knowing our diagnosis,” he said. “I do think it’s important for people with Asperger’s — and this really applies to most groups of people, not just Aspies — to realize that, while they don’t necessarily owe society an explanation about anything, society also can’t be blamed for failing to understand them if they don’t share their own perspective on issues that affect them.”