Those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome are generally known for their intense, narrowly focused interests and their difficulty processing social cues, but they're not so well known for their sense of humor. Indeed, their reputation as detached, android-like people usually precludes them, but Asperger's Are Us, a sketch comedy group from the North Shore comprising four young men with Asperger's, wants to change that.
"We'd like to invite everyone to come to the show so we can prove to them that we don't understand sarcasm or irony," says founder Noah Britton, 29.
Britton met the other troupe members when he mentored them at a summer acting program for Asperger's kids in 2010. Ethan Finlan, Jack Hanke and "New" Michael Ingemi are all 19. The group's shared sense of humor revels in a blunt sense of the absurd. In one sketch, a girlfriend tells her boyfriend that she's pregnant, only for him to reveal that he's a piece of bubble wrap. Such a literal-minded deconstruction of language and form is a talent of the Asperger's mind, according to Britton.
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"I've read that the brain processes jokes based on meaning in a different location than jokes based on wording, like puns,"?he says. "My guess is that the latter brain area is hyperdeveloped in Aspies, whereas the former area is hyperdeveloped in most of us."
Asperger's Are Us is not afraid of exploiting these brain differences, and the awkwardness they often cause, for amusement. One sketch, titled "Blind Man," satirizes the inevitable feelings of guilt and political incorrectness in their neurotypical, or non-Asperger's, audience. At the same time, Britton's not afraid to admit when the joke's on them.
"Some things we're really not aware of until they're pointed out to us," he says, "like the fact that we need to pause for laughs because they're stepping on the jokes."
Asperger's Are Us' eldest member, Noah Britton, is a professor of psychology, and he's found this field of study immensely valuable in coming to terms with the differences between his way of thinking and that of neurotypical people.
"[Neurotypicals] have an underlying assumption that societal conformity is both good and necessary," he explains. "Aspies actively fight against, ignore, are unaware of this idea; and, as a result, are constantly punished without explanation, leading to intense confusion. If every Aspie took four years of psych in high school, we'd have a lot fewer kids in social skills programs."
If you go
Asperger's Are Us
Friday, 8 p.m.
MIT, EG and G Education
Center, Room 34-101
50 Vassar St., Cambridge