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In it for the laughs: Asperger's Are Us returns with absurdist brand of comedy

Gloucester Daily Times - 4/25/2019

April 24-- Apr. 24--The Asperger's Are Us comedy train is roaring back with an expanded spring tour and a six-part HBO series that goes beyond the sketches to reveal the foursome who form this unique troupe.

The men behind Asperger's Are Us -- 26-year-olds Jack Hanke of Newburyport, New Michael Ingemi of Beverly and Ethan Finlan of Rockport and 36-year-old Noah Britton of Boston, who formerly lived in Beverly and Salem -- describe themselves as the first comedy troupe composed of people diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

"Our name reflects our Aspie-style of humor, which focuses on dark absurdism and wordplay, which Aspies seem to enjoy a lot. We don't mention autism in our shows, we don't make self-deprecating jokes, and we're not out to educate anyone. We want to make you (and us) laugh," they share on Facebook.

They'll share plenty more about themselves in "On Tour With Asperger's Are Us," their docu-series that premieres on Monday, April 29, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York before airing on HBO from Tuesday, April 30, through Thursday, May 2.

The series follows the group on a six-week, multi-city tour from Boston to Los Angeles. Over the course of six, 30-minute episodes, the filmmakers spotlight the performers as they travel the country in a beat-up RV playing venues large and small.

On May 10, they'll bring their original brand of sketch comedy -- a cross between Monty Python and "Saturday Night Live" -- to Beverly'sLarcom Theatre.

"One of the rare things we agree on is we love Monty Python," Britton said.

On the road again

The comedic quartet, who met at a summer camp in 2005, have been performing together since 2010, traveling to more than 30 states from coast to coast. Their U.S. tour stops have included venues from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to stages in the nation's heartland, with a European tour that brought them to England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark and Germany.

After a hiatus in 2018, they're back performing together again. They'll spend May crisscrossing the U.S. before returning to Europe in June.

Norm Laviolette, owner of Improv Asylum in Boston and now New York City, is a fan of Asperger's Are Us. He's hosted them multiple times, most recently in February.

"They're great guys and great comedians, and we are glad to get them out to the greater world," he said.

Laviolette said that Asperger's Are Us initially approached Improv Asylum's Boston venue with the concept for its show, and the pitch resonated.

"We don't do a lot of outside productions because we are so busy, so for me to bring on someone from the outside is rare," Laviolette said. "It has to be truly original and different in terms of its thinking or the artists presenting it, and certainly, Asperger's Are Us piqued my interest."

First and foremost, Laviolette said, Asperger's Are Us performs a really funny show.

"Ultimately, as professional entertainment and comedy producers, that's what I need," he said. "You can also sell gimmicks, usually once and maybe twice, whereas a really good show has legs and you can bring that back."

And that he did, bringing the foursome back for more sold-out shows in Boston and booking them for Friday, May 17, at the New York City venue, which opened last fall.

"We're very excited to see how they are received there," Laviolette said.

Inside their comedy

What an audience should expect from an Asperger's Are Us show is the unexpected. Take, for example, its February show at Improv Asylum, where Britton asked if there was a hairstylist in the crowd. He ended up getting his hair cut onstage during intermission after someone produced a pair of scissors.

The group's comedy sketches touch on both timeless topics, like parenting, as well as timely subjects, like immigration and border crossings, in addition to other diverse and quirky themes.

One of the more absurdist sketches at the February show featured a son who comes home to tell his father that he got a tattoo.

"Aw, why did you have to go and get a tattoo?" Finlan asked, in the role of the father.

"But Dad, you just don't understand youth culture," Britton replied, in the role of the son.

As the sketch continued, it was revealed that the tattoo is of Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield in 1881. The son, it turns out, was drawn to Guiteau's insane writing. As the skit played out, the pair tried to navigate the circuitous route of communication between two generations.

The skit about crossing borders showcased a disheveled Ingemi, pushing a plastic wash tub with cleaning supplies like a janitor, along with a cardboard case of empty Budweiser cans, showing up at the Canadian border wanting to get out of America. From there, the fun ensued as Ingemi verbally faced off with the less-than-impressed border agent.

This skit became interactive when Ingemi asked if there were any foreigners in the audience, to which some English visitors nodded. Little did they suspect that one of their passports would become part of the skit, to the delight of the crowd.

Matt Languedoc, who was in the audience, wished the show was longer and was eager to check out more of the group's work after seeing them live for the first time.

"I went into the show completely cold and didn't know what to expect," said Languedoc, of Boston. "I loved the surreal humor, the deadpan delivery of the performers, the audience interaction and the improvisational tone of the show. These guys are incredibly unique and creative. It's inspiring to see a group of guys being themselves and not being afraid to show off onstage."

Even with their success, the members of Asperger's Are Us agree that one of their worst fears is that no one will turn out for their shows.

"The only time I get nervous is if no one is coming," Britton said. "But that hasn't happened."

IF YOU GO

What: Asperger's Are Us -- Live!

When: Friday, May 10, 8 p.m.

Where: Larcom Theatre, 13 Wallis St., Beverly

How much: $19-$27

More information: www.thelarcom.org or 978-922-6313

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(c)2019 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)

Visit the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) at www.gloucestertimes.com

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