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'Asperger's Are Us': A documentary about comedy on the autism spectrum

Filmmaker Alex Lehmann, center, with the members of the sketch comedy group
Filmmaker Alex Lehmann, center, with the members of the sketch comedy group "Asberger's Are Us": from left, Jack Hanke, Ethan Finlan, Noah Britton and New Michael Ingemi.
Alex Lehmann

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"Asperger's Are Us" is the name of the first comedy troupe made up of openly autistic performers.

It's also the title of a new documentary which follows these young, comic comrades around Boston as they get ready for what could be their final show:

The film was directed by Alex Lehmann and produced by Mark Duplass. The two recently spoke with Take Two's Alex Cohen about the film.

Interview highlights:

On how to describe the 'Asberger's Are Us' style of comedy

Mark Duplass: 

"The first and easiest way, which is a bit reductive, is to describe it as extremely dry. And I think that's fair. And we understand dry humor as stuff that's a little bit subtle and you're not sure if they're kidding or not... but it's way beyond dry. Sometimes it is the comedy of discomfort, sometimes it is them specifically— even though they like you a lot— trying to derail any preconceptions you have about them to throw it off and get into that interesting energy. For whatever reason, there are a lot of puns in the comedy. It's a big wordplay thing."

Alex Lehmann:

"All of their comedy is victim-less. They don't ever make fun of specific individuals. They don't make fun of other groups or anything. That's something that they've always focused on, is making sure that there's no harm in their comedy. Which is why they end up focusing on puns, literal humor, and absurdity because those are a couple of the ways that you can make people laugh without hurting anyone."

On the troupe's struggle between being seen as spokespersons for Asperger's and just wanting to make people laugh

Alex Lehmann:

"There's a little bit of a paradox there for sure. They're honest, sweet performers and they're trying to validate their work by not just being spokespersons for autism. And you have to respect that because if they did embrace the spokesperson role too much, it would cheapen what they're doing. If they pursue being legitimate comedians and, by happenstance, other people look up to them for that, then they're doing the legitimate thing of being artists and being successful as comedians, instead of being successful as spokespersons. So I respect it, but it's really interesting to watch that struggle."

On what the film reveals about the similarities between people on the autism spectrum and people who are neurotypical

Mark Duplass: 

"As I watched the movie and spent more time with the guys off-screen, I guess what I realized is like, for me, there's a lot of things that I can relate to as just standard social anxiety stuff that I have here and there. You know, where you walk into a room and you feel like there's preconceptions of who you are, you feel like there's an expectation of how you're supposed to be, you find yourself performing to that. And the guys talk about that a lot— it's like 'We're not feeling certain things people are expecting us to feel, so we are taught to perform them for people.' And when I heard that I was like, 'Oh I do that all the time!' And that was a big connection point for me."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

"Asperger's Are Us" is currently playing at Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles and is available on iTunes.