So... Last year I watched a documentary called Asperger's Are Us. You can find it on Netflix, but I think we stumbled across it first on iTunes.
As the dad of someone with autism, the title stood out to me for reasons that should be obvious. It told the story of the world's first comedy troupe formed by people on the autistic spectrum, as they prepared for what the documentary led us to believe would be their final ever show.
I really enjoyed it, and though the film - as edited and subtly emotionally and narratively manipulative as documentaries often are - focused on the personalities, it was the comedy which really intrigued me. Or, at least, the tiny hints of it which the documentary deigned to show.
It revealed that the Asperger's Are Us guys were fans of deadpan comedian and actor Mark Proksch - check out his K-Strass videos on YouTube - so I figured there was a degree of crossover in terms of our sense of humour. However, it wasn't until I sought out some of their sketches online that I realised the documentary might've done them a disservice by focusing on - in their own words - "The Hallmark stuff".
References to an Elton John routine and something called "The Safety Album" led me to a brilliantly bizarre sketch set at an Elton John concert, in which a gravel-voiced "Elton" comes on stage and starts hammering tunelessly on a piano while shouting out safety tips.
"Stay close to an adult!"
But still, the documentary stayed with me. It helped in my ongoing attempt to better understand autism. It was also inspiring and heartwarming, but I figured Asperger's Are Us were a done deal. I'd love to have seen them live, but the sense I got was that they were all heading in their own directions.
Therefore, when I was contacted by Asperger's Are Us via Twitter, inviting me to come and see them on their UK tour - while quoting an old Man's Daddy joke back at me to boot - I was left reeling.
During Sunday and Monday I exchanged messages back and forth with troupe member Noah Britton, who runs the Asperger's Are Us Twitter account. We set up a plan for me to see their show at Colchester Arts Centre on Tuesday evening, and do some filming for Found Footage beforehand.
My other half sometimes tells me I have a surreal life... and I suppose I do objectively, but subjectively it never feels that surreal. This was one of the few occasions when - yes - I'm happy to admit that I was in the midst of something which felt a bit beyond your average day-to-day happenings.
It only got weirder from there. We met the guys - Noah, Ethan Finlan, Jack Hanke and New Michael Ingemi (his father being Old Michael, see) on Tuesday this week - and they played me a video of them falling about laughing as Man's Daddy jokes were read out.
How was that remotely possible?
There have been Man's Daddy jokes on this site in recent years, but I recognised these as old jokes from the original run of Digi. Obviously, America never even had teletext - let alone Digitiser. How were they fans?! It made no sense.
Except... it turns out that 13 years ago, somebody posted a bunch of Man's Daddy jokes on a message board, where they were seen by Noah. He tried to find out more, discovered the Super Page 58 tribute site, and it went from there. Somehow, despite all living in the Boston area of New England, despite having never seen teletext, Asperger's Are Us became Digitiser fans.
Indeed, Jack is now banned by the others from repeating the KLOKK!!! joke, because he has told it so many times.
Suffice to say, I knew nothing of this while watching the documentary about them. It's like watching Planet Earth, then, I dunno, walking down the street and having David Attenborough drive past and shout "Moc-moc-a-moc" at me.
Something I realised pretty swiftly after meeting them is that the Asperger's Are Us documentary doesn't really do the guys justice.
They're incredibly likeable, incredibly smart, and incredibly funny. They don't beat you around the head with their autism, they don't use it as an excuse or a way to elicit pity. They're just getting on with life. I mean, Noah is a professor of psychology for pity's sake.
They've even organised and funded the European tour entirely themselves - barring a modest crowd-funding campaign to pay for their flights - including all promotion. These are four people who might've been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, but aren't defined by it. They don't wear it like a badge of pride. They don't play the victim card. It even feels like doing them a disservice by mentioning it here (although, I accept that it's hard not to given their name).
I'm banging the drum because it's rare for me to laugh at anything as hard as I laughed at the Asperger's Are Us live show. I want other people to enjoy them as much as I did, and I want the guys to be known for their comedy, rather than the misleading documentary.
They deserve to be hugely successful in their own right, and I think people who enjoyed Digitiser would enjoy them as much as I did.
In a way, the documentary is a bit of a catch-22. On the one hand, it has allowed Asperger's Are Us to tour Europe, and certainly raised their profile... on the other, it sets up expectations of them which are false. They're not about autism. They don't preach. They don't do comedy around autism - barring an opening sketch which references it only obliquely.
Their material skilfully straddles the line between all-out absurdism - Homer's The Odyssey sung to the tune of the Pokemon theme, repeated ad infinitum as a link between sketches - with jokes that are beautifully structured. Oh, and a sketch about cleaning fecal matter out of a swimming pool. They couldn't be more me.
Their material is 12-A; the mix of wordplay, silly voices, and smart ideas, features just enough nudge-nudge wink-wink to appeal to anyone. They partly define what they do as "aspie" comedy - but it's so similar to what I'm trying to do in Found Footage, what I've tried to do in the weirder moments of Digi, and it's so good, that I'm humbled by the fact they'd consider themselves fans of anything I might've done.
Their philosophy is to make themselves laugh first, and if anybody else enjoys it then that's merely a bonus. I can relate to that. It might also be why I'm eternally surprised when anybody ever says they like the stuff I've done.
They're just a really funny, really talented, group of performers and writers who - if they weren't known as the world's first all-autistic comedy group - I'd have just thought were a really funny, really talented, group of performers and writers. I mean, to be honest I know plenty of people who've never been diagnosed who would probably score pretty highly on the spectrum.
They gave me a shout-out on stage last night - something which has never happened to me before - and Jack was given permission to tell the KLOKK!!! joke one more time.
As ridiculous as it is... I teared up at it. Yes: at a Man's Daddy Joke I probably wrote 20 years ago.
So. Yeah. Alright. That was really bloody surreal.
Asperger's Are Us have only a few more dates remaining in the UK before they head back to the States, though we're going to try to do some more filming with them for Found Footage before they leave.
Try to see them if you can, and check out their amusingly retro website for more details. KLOKKK!!!
July 12: ADC Theatre, Corpus Playroom, Cambridge, UK. 19:00 & 21:30. 8 GBP each.
July 15: Hackney Attic at Hackney Picturehouse, London, UK. W/Darren Walsh. 19:00. 9GBP. 7 GBP/student.
July 16: The Cavendish Arms, London, UK. 8:30 PM. 10 GBP.
July 18: Boys' School at Smock Alley, Dublin, Ireland. With Conor O'Toole. 6 & 8 PM. 10 EURO each.
July 20: Queen's University Students' Union, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 7 PM. 18+ (sorry!). 10GBP.
July 22: Webster's Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland. 8 PM. 12-15 GBP.