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Saturday, March 16, 2024

Autistic Comedians

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss depictions of ASD in popular culture.  

Rachel Aroesti at The Guardian:
In fact, autism seems to be significantly overrepresented among professional standups. (It is estimated – perhaps conservatively – that about 1% of the world’s population are autistic.) Earlier this year, the Scottish comic Fern Brady won the inaugural Nero nonfiction award for her memoir Strong Female Character, a chronicle of the struggles that led to her autism diagnosis. Hannah Gadsby, who rose to fame with the multi-award-winning 2017 show Nanette, also received a diagnosis of autism as an adult, while other comedians who have said they are autistic include Jim Jefferies and Bethany Black, alongside a clutch of up-and-coming standups who discuss their diagnosis in their work (Larry Dean, Ashley Storrie).

Autism is not the only form of neurodivergence that is prevalent in standup according to [Pierre] Novellie; he says he knows many comedians with ADHD. However, he and Wells both believe some autistic traits are especially useful when it comes to creating and performing live comedy. In order to finesse a routine, the standup must tell the same jokes over and over again, which means “you need to be obsessive and enjoy repeating things”, says Novellie (intense interests and repetitive behaviour are common autistic traits). Joke-writing itself is also a more scientific enterprise than it might appear. Wells describes it as a “systemising way of writing: you can rearrange a sentence and then it will be funnier. Many autistic brains are more suited to that sort of problem-solving.”

One conclusion Novellie came to is that “a lot of being autistic seems to be to do with excess sensitivity. And that is always a boon when it comes to observing for observational comedy.” He believes autistic comedians are often noticing the same things as neurotypical people, only more so, leading to “this fun little ‘Oh yeah – that is what it’s like!’ moment for people because [most of the time] they’re busy being not hypersensitive to their environment.”