Originally posted Tuesday, May 21, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us - known for its aburdist Monty Pythonesque humor - has been the focus of a 2016 Netflix documentary and a current HBO docuseries.
These four friends from Boston who are on the autism spectrum have leveraged their notoriety to do tours all over the country. They are coming to Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage on Wednesday for a third time. (Tickets for $18.50 available here.)
For Westminster graduate Noah Britton, it’s always fun to come home.
“If it weren’t totally necessary to drive, I’d live there all the time,” said Britton in an interview from Boston, where he was taking the train to work as an associate psychology professor at a community college.
He’s an “anti-driver,” hates its environmental impact, so he said he’s limited to living in cities with stronger transit systems. Boston fits the bill, though he said the people and the weather are far nicer in Atlanta.
His mom Ru, a retired headhunter, still lives in metro Atlanta. But her attendance at his shows no longer fazes him. “My parents are no longer authority figure gods,” he said. “They’re just old people who need help. I’m not needing to impress them anymore.”
The group did disband last year but got back together for the HBO series. “We’ll just keep doing shows as long as they give us a ton of money,” he said.
And while Britton appreciated the notoriety the Netflix film gave him, he felt like it was more a “Hallmark card” version of their lives. The HBO series, he said, is more about their comedy and shows a more nuanced view of their lives.
“The Netflix movie portrayed us as sort of a stereotyped inspirational story,” Britton said, comparing it to the film “Rudy.” “Some think it’s a sweet story of overcoming the odds. We hate that.”
“We’re all murderers,” Britton added, tongue clearly in cheek. “They left that out of the movie!”
But even the HBO series has limits in terms of conveying their humor on stage. “You’re watching the audience watching us,” he said. “You’re less apt to laugh than think about whether the audience is enjoying this.” So he said seeing them live is the best experience possible.
Matt Terrell, communications director for Dad’s Garage, said they filmed the HBO docuseries at Dad’s but it went smoothly, it was hardly featured.
Terrell said it was a no brainer to bring the troupe back.
“I think a lot of people who are on the spectrum have a hard time finding theatrical experiences that they’ll enjoy and this is just another way for us to serve broad audiences,” Terrell said.
Britton said their humor is deadpan, dry and focused on wordplay, with nods to Steven Wright, Emo Phillips and Andy Kaufman. “It’s not based on social awkwardness or accents or energy,” he said. “It’s pure cerebral absurdism and bizarre situations.”
Some people come to shows thinking all the humor would revolve around autism. It isn’t. It’s just strange and some people find that off putting, he said. Others roll with it and ultimately embrace their style.
For instance, in the video below, they tackle the Trolley Problem using a bucket of water and helpless ants instead of a train and innocent people. And if that makes no sense, just watch:
Britton laments as he gets deeper into his 30s, his thinking is no longer as wacky and out of the box as it used to be. (His troupe mates are all about a decade younger and, he feels, at their creative peak.)
“In our defense,” he said, “we have a brand new show. No repetition from stuff we’ve done in the past. It’s funny. I’m really excited.”
Over time, he said he’s become more the straight man as opposed to the dude coming up with the silliest material.
“I’m at an age where I watch ‘Drunk History’ for the educational value,” Britton said.
The name of their group is now officially outdated, Britton noted, because Asperger’s is no longer called that. In 1994, it was first listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as mild or highly functioning autism. By 2013, it was taken off the DSM because it was too vague. At the same time, people hear the word autism, he said, and picture the worst cases as opposed to those who can hold jobs and relationships.
After the summer tour is over, he said, Asperger’s Are Us may change their name. Or break up. He isn’t sure.
He hopes eventually that “we’ll just all hate each other and never talk to each other - like Styx. And we’re not very good. Like Styx.”
If he goes solo, he wants to do more conceptual art, which he notes, isn’t always funny. “I like it weird and disconcerting,” he said. “[Fellow troupe member] New Michael [Ingemi] hates it when it’s not funny.”
Britton is not about all types of comedy: “I hate sitcoms. I hate observational humor. I hate political comedy.” (Sorry Jerry Seinfeld.) But he likes “Impractical Jokers” because they are so intense, so creative and so committed to the jokes.
By the way, their comically primitive website is on geocities, which strikes me as a very Aspie joke. “The bad web design is also a joke,” he said. But it’s also a case of frugality: “it’s a free unlimited ad-free host!”
And over our 45-minute conversation, he lauded his favorite Atlanta band (Smoke), his first venue he ever played in (The Earl in East Atlanta) and his elementary school’s gifted program at Spalding Drive Elementary. He trashed Sandy Springs Middle School for its chaotic environment and Freaknik for keeping him from his extracurricular science class back in the mid-1990s.
Asperger’s Are Us,
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
569 Ezzerd Street, Atlanta
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