Asperger’s Are Us comedians explore the spectrum of humor in HBO series
When Asperger’s Are Us agrees to an interview with the Globe ahead of the debut of their HBO docuseries, the locally grown comedy troupe already has a location in mind: the Ether Dome.
A historic amphitheater in Massachusetts General Hospital where anesthetic was first administered, it’s not the first place you’d envision playing host to a dynamic quartet of sketch comics.
But then again, Asperger’s Are Us — composed of Noah Britton, New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan, and Jack Hanke, all from the North Shore area — hasn’t gotten this far by catering to expectations.
Their six-part HBO series, “On Tour With Asperger’s Are Us” — which premiered this week on HBO and reairs Tuesday and Wednesday from 4-5:30 p.m. — follows the group as it navigates logistical and personal obstacles while touring coast to coast in a ramshackle RV. Along the way, they play to crowds of all sizes in venues small and large.
The Ether Dome is exactly the kind of weird, under-the-radar spot the troupe has gravitated toward while touring the United States these past nine years, Ingemi says. Britton, interjecting, cites the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum as another. (Indeed, that Midwest attraction, which he calls “the dullest place in the world,” is so obscure that Asperger’s Are Us contributed its Wikipedia photo; it was closed when they tried to visit so they simply posed by the sign.)
Maybe, Finlan adds, they just have an affinity for places “that are dedicated to putting you to sleep.”
Hanke offers a different explanation. “[Finlan] feels more comfortable being around a dead body,” he says, gesturing to an Egyptian sarcophagus and a teaching skeleton on display a few feet away. “It makes him feel better about himself.”
As the four talk about “On Tour With Asperger’s Are Us,” the conversation pinwheels from ether to dead cats to the “LA Todgers,” a cheeky amalgam of the baseball team and a British slang term for male genitalia that Britton seems thrilled to have printed on a baseball cap.
And why not? The troupe’s comedic style is darkly absurdist and often intensely deadpan, with influences ranging from Monty Python to fake yo-yo champion Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser. Their puns are rapid-fire, precisely worded, and often delivered so straight it takes a second to register the silliness of what’s been said.
“There are a lot of things we’re going to tell you today, and you may not know what’s true and what’s not true,” Britton acknowledges. “And for that reason, I’ll tell you I had my first orgasm ever at the Natick Mall.”
It may be necessary to take Britton at his word there, but the history of Asperger’s Are Us is a little easier to fact-check. The four first intersected at a summer camp in 2005, where Britton — who’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s — was serving as a counselor. The other three members, 10 years younger, were campers. A little more than four years later, they started a troupe, keen to share with others their comedic chops and penchant for clever wordplay.
“We got instant publicity from the moment we did our first article,” Britton recalls.
This was both a blessing and a curse; much of the press fixated on the fact that, as indicated by their name, they were the first comedy troupe consisting wholly of performers on the autism spectrum.
Ingemi says this frame, which erroneously presented them as an autism awareness group, put the four under great pressure from the start, when the members (save Britton) were in their early teens.
“I would have liked to have started when I was 27, to have a chance to make it on my own merits and virtues,” Ingemi says.
“You still will,” Britton responds, encouragingly, “if you ever acquire any.”
But over a decade of writing and performing setups and punch lines together — and doing more than 100 shows in nine countries (as well as a Netflix documentary) — they’ve established themselves as talented comedians who just happen to have Asperger’s, de-emphasizing the diagnosis. It’s taken time but, gradually, this approach is working.
They’re bracing for a wave of “how quaint” e-mails and condescending Facebook messages in response to their HBO series. But, especially at live shows — their next is at Beverly’s Larcom Theatre on May 10 — it increasingly feels as if they’re being acclaimed for their humor alone.
“To an extent, more and more people are like, ‘I don’t care about any of that. I just love you guys because you’re very funny,’ ” Britton says.
Still, they have a response ready the next time someone takes a patronizing approach to their comedy.
“Next time someone in the audience says it’s so inspiring what we’re doing, overcoming challenges, I’m going to ask, ‘What do you do?,’ ” Britton says. “Then I’ll say, ‘It’s really inspiring that you have that job, period, rather than that you’re bad or good at it. I won’t comment on that, just that it’s inspiring that you go to work as a secretary.’ Hopefully, then, they’ll sit down.”