GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 24, 2013

Filmmaker following Rockporter, fellow troupers

Rockport Rambles
Ann Reily

---- — While working on comedy shows in Los Angeles, cinematographer Alex Lehmann started to notice that he was hearing a lot of humor based on autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

“People like to make jokes about things they don’t quite understand,” Lehmann said.

Eager to understand more himself, Lehmann began researching comedy and autism on the Internet. That’s when he came across Asperger’s Are Us, the North Shore-based comedy troupe featuring four men with Asperger’s syndrome.

Lehmann reached out to the group and has been filming them for the past two months for a documentary with the working title “Don’t Overthink It.”

“It relates to some of the absurdist comedy the guys do,” Lehmann said. “They’ve been teaching me a lot about Asperger’s and autism, a little bit through their comedy and just who they are.”

“The guys” are Ethan Finlan of Rockport, Jack Hanke of Newburyport, Noah Britton of Salem, and New Michael Ingemi of Beverly.

A big part of the documentary is focused on the writing and production of the troupe’s show today at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. The performance is sort of a farewell for the group, which will be taking a nine-month hiatus while Hanke studies at Oxford University in England.

The four members of Asperger’s Are Us met eight years ago when Hanke, Ingemi and Finlan were 12-year-olds attending a local camp for children with Asperger’s, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. Britton, who is now 30, was their counselor.

They have been performing together for about three years, during which their popularity has grown significantly. Asperger’s Are Us has presented shows in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont and last year was featured in the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Texas.

This weekend’s show will be the biggest they’ve ever done, with “dozens and dozens of characters,” a number of costume changes, and special effects, Hanke said. Most material will be new to fans of the troupe.

Lehmann will be there to shoot the show, and he will also be there on Monday, when Hanke departs for England. That is likely where the documentary will end, with a glimpse at what’s next for the four men.

Once he finishes the editing, Lehmann will take the film to festivals and look for a distributor to put in theaters and/or online.

“To me, it’s not just about Asperger’s, it’s about getting to know these guys as individuals,” he said. “It’s also about adolescence, and a lot happens in your life in a short amount of time at that age.”

“I just hope that as people watch the documentary, they start to realize that being on the autism spectrum is not by any means a disability,” Hanke said. “I hope it will widen people’s perspective.”

Ann Reily may be contacted at areily@gloucestertimes.com. Rockport reporter James Niedzinski returns Monday. If you have a news tip or an item for Rambles, please contact him at 978-283-7000 x3455, or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.

If you go What: Asperger's Are Us comedy show. When: Today, from 1 to 3 p.m. Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport. How: $10, available at the door, by calling 978-462-7336 or online at www.firehouse.org. Show may be inappropriate for young children.