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Strange Tales From Comedy Troupe Asperger's Are Us

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Left to right: Noah Britton, Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi and Ethan Finlan - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Left to right: Noah Britton, Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi and Ethan Finlan

Toward the end of Asperger's Are Us, the Netflix documentary about the sketch comedy troupe of the same name, AAU cofounder New Michael Ingemi tells the camera his hope for his future Wikipedia page.

"I can imagine the opening paragraph," says Ingemi, who changed his name to New Michael to distinguish himself from his father, "old" Michael. "Maybe it would say, 'New Michael the comedian.' Maybe someday it would also say, 'New Michael the entrepreneur, comedian, writer, director.' Who knows?" He continues, "Then maybe the last sentence would say something like, 'and also was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.'"

AAU is the world's first — and likely still only — comedy group composed of comedians on the autism spectrum. The documentary, produced by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, chronicles the quartet's preparation for one final, ambitious show before an extended hiatus. As it examines the group's interpersonal dynamics and sometimes strained relationships with members' families, the film is by turns touching and funny — though perhaps not quite the laugh riot the absurdist sketch troupe might wish. Still, the 82-minute doc is at least as interesting, enlightening and entertaining as anything else you'll find on Netflix this year.

After reams of positive publicity following the film's 2016 release, AAU is back together and touring more extensively than ever. It performs on Sunday, September 17, at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington. Seven Days recently spoke with AAU's Noah Britton and Jack Hanke by phone from Boston — Ingemi and Ethan Finlan were also present, tossing out one-liners in the background. Fair warning: It got wacky.

SEVEN DAYS: Hey, how's it going?

JACK HANKE: Not so good. I was just in a drag race with this guy.

SD: OK ... so I take it you lost?

JH: Yeah. But the other guy crashed into a concrete wall. So, in the big picture, I guess I won.

SD: What was the other guy driving?

JH: He was going pretty fast, so I didn't get a good look. It was kind of like a blind-date drag-racing sort of thing. Come to think of it, maybe he was blind.

SD: Switching gears, so to speak, what was it like watching the documentary and seeing your lives on screen? Was it surreal?

JH: Uh, no. Mr. Real was not knighted. Oddly, though, Mr. Real has been diagnosed with Asperger's, and his life is pretty similar to ours. We are the only autistic comedy troupe ever, we're pretty sure. But he's sort of a jack-of-all-trades. He does some comedy and he's autistic, so he's a decent parallel, honestly.

NOAH BRITTON: No, he's too real. He's just not funny.

SD: Riiight...

NB: Honestly, the documentary is not funny enough for our tastes. We're glad it's gotten us more publicity, though. It's kind of like Forrest Gump: It's gotten a lot of publicity; it's just not very funny.

SD: Why do you think that is?

NB: I blame Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. They were OK with the script; it just didn't have a lot of humor in it. But their film made a lot of money. They tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and a lot of others, too.

SD: Uh, I was actually talking about the doc. It's certainly helped your careers.

NB: Yeah. We have larger crowds now, and we can tour other places, like Europe.

SD: How has your comedy evolved since the doc was filmed?

NB: We've gotten worse.

SD: You know people are gonna read this, right?

JH: We've gotten better!

NB: Seriously, I do think we've gotten better. One thing the documentary has been good for is realizing how people perceive us, which you never know until you see it from their perspective. So, we're a lot more careful about stuff that might seem like it has a message or is a parody, when in reality almost none of our material does. It's just silly, and you shouldn't overthink it.

SD: Do you feel any added pressure with the increased attention?

NB: Not so much — though the touring schedule is tough, for sure. We've done nothing but think about driving, sleeping and doing press for the last 10 weeks. And our laundry, shaving, going to the toilet — these things are now luxuries.

SD: That does sound stressful.

NB: Really, we blame Alex [Lehmann], the director, for creating all of this extra work for us.

SD: That's a good problem to have, though. I'm sure a lot of comedians would love to be working that much.

NB: There's a cliché that it beats coal mining. And because of that we started a coal-mining troupe, Coal Miners Are Us, that just does coal miner-based humor. But they lost their jobs just like all of the other coal miners.

SD: Did Coal Miners Are Us vote for Donald Trump, since he promised to bring back all the coal-mining jobs?

NB: No, we don't vote. That's East Coast elitist stuff. We're just here to tell some jokes. And coal miners are all too young to vote, anyway.

SD: Shit. Did Trump roll back child-labor laws, too?

NB: Did you know there is a little-known provision in the [U.S.] Constitution that sets an age limit on voting? It's 100,000. If you're 100,000, you are too old to vote.

SD: I did not.

NB: Nicolas Cage discovered it on the back of the Constitution in National Treasure.

SD: Just so I'm clear, the people on your shit list are Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Nic Cage?

NB: Oh, I don't hate him. People say I look like him, but I don't blame him for that. I blame everyone else.

JH: Also, Ed Sheeran, because of his piracy and bad behavior on the high seas.

NB: Yeah, we're starting a rumor that Ed Sheeran is a 19th-century pirate. So please spread this as much as possible. I wrote, like, 20 tweets last night blaming him for getting us into the Barbary Wars.

SD: I'll make that my headline.

JH: We'd appreciate it. People need to know this. A lot of people just admire him for his sea shanties and don't realize that the only admirable thing about him is that he can be so successful, despite only having a hook for a hand.

NB: And a peg for a leg. And a parrot that's on his shoulder yelling all the time while he sings. Say, when does the interview start?


The original print version of this article was headlined "Ed Sheeran Is a 19th-Century Pirate"

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