By Ali Hassan, Contributing Writer
“Asperger’s Are Us,” the new documentary from the comedy troupe of the same name, gives a frank but empathetic look at its autistic protagonists. Troupe members Noah, “New Michael,” Jack and Ethan are all on the autism spectrum. For them, humor is a universal language appreciated by anyone regardless of the way they see the world. Therefore, the boys joke to connect with people who are not on the spectrum and would not otherwise be able to relate to them.
They don’t design jokes that would cater to the largest number of people; as long as they themselves think a joke is funny, it is. But if they can make a few other people laugh as well, then everyone wins.
The troupe formed when the four met at a summer camp around 10 years ago. There, they became close after it became clear that they had similar senses of humor. Since then, they have been regularly performing together, and a large part of the documentary shows the boys preparing for a new and possibly final show.
The reason their future together is uncertain is because Jack has been accepted to study at the University of Oxford and will probably not see the others for a year — or as Noah, who is level-headed but amusingly pessimistic, comments, “[Jack] could get killed in England, which is unlikely but possible.”
The others are also quite funny. New Michael, who picked his name because it “comes from the heart,” is fascinated by Elton John and recorded a number of videos in which he gives safety advice while imitating the singer’s voice. Ethan seems to understand documentary tropes, as evidenced by the following question to the director Alexandre Lehmann: “So do you want to do a part in this documentary where we all just talk shit about each other?”
While the film is certainly affected by its subjects’ presence on the autism spectrum, Lehmann never makes it feel like it is forcing viewers to sympathize with the four, nor does he provide a medical lesson on the spectrum. Instead, he shows his subjects as individuals who enjoy comedy and also happen to be on the spectrum.
He does justice to his subjects, a group of talented individuals who don’t need anyone’s pity. When Lehmann infrequently delves into the social challenges faced by those on the spectrum, he does so well. For example, seeing New Michael’s relationship with his father is very interesting. Despite the fact that New Michael loves his father and vice versa, a gap still exists between them because New Michael incorrectly — but understandably — assumes that his father sees him as a disappointment, when his father is actually proud of him.
“Asperger’s Are Us” will not be helpful for those who want to learn about the autism spectrum or the difficulties of overcoming being on it, but it is still enjoyable for those looking to see a group of talented comedians share their jokes with the world.
“Asperger’s Are Us” was released on Oct. 21, 2016.