LIFE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM: ONLY WHEN I DON'T LAUGH

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 19, 2011 (San Diego) – I was at a movie theater recently when a friend of the projectionist asked me if I knew any jokes. I leafed through the “books” of my mental library trying to find one but I couldn’t. I was content to let him rattle off a series of jokes and listen. Later that day I remembered a few jokes that I found funny. But even then I wouldn’t have told them.

 

When I was in fourth grade I watched my older sister perform at my elementary school’s annual talent show. After seeing her on stage with her two friends and garnering applause, I made it my mission to get into next year’s show.

 

I decided to try stand-up comedy. I don’t recall what inspired that decision. All I remember is telling my classmates my intent to do it. I was semi-popular, so the kids were eager to see me on stage.

 

On paper it was a wonderful idea. I didn’t want to go on stage for an ego boost. I wanted to make people laugh.

 

Then I began writing the jokes and it was here that I ran into trouble.

 

I rattled off a couple of them to my mother. She swiftly told me they weren’t funny in the least (an assessment that, even as a fifth grader, I concurred with). She in effect discouraged me from trying stand-up. For that I’m grateful.

 

I have difficulty telling jokes. In film school I wrote and directed a few short offbeat comedies that made people laugh. Verbally telling a joke is a whole different beast. I get only one shot, not to mention the added trouble of thinking, timing and speaking.

 

Speaking is hard enough when I’m serious. It’s like trying to get the words through the world’s most grueling obstacle course. In the end, only a few of them make it.

 

Now try telling a joke. In order for any joke to be funny, there has to be just the right timing. And there is no one size fits all here; every joke has its own unique timing. When I stumble or lose some of the words, the timing is already compromised. Consequently the chances of getting a laugh are now slim to none.

 

Then there’s the way I speak. During normal conversation I speak in a borderline monotone voice. When I’m on the phone or speaking with important people I adapt the best I can. This works maybe a little when I conduct work-related matters but adjusting my voice for jokes is another matter. If I’m not speaking in monotone my voice wavers in-between light-heartedness and seriousness, even within the same sentence. It doesn’t sound appealing.

 

That’s not to say I’m completely incapable of making people laugh. At my mother’s Rosary my sisters and I spoke about her. I talked about my Autism, my mother never giving up on me, and how when I was little everybody thought Autistic people isolated themselves, didn’t speak at all, and only got their boxer shorts at Kmart. That got a bunch of laughs during a solemn time.

 

I wasn’t trying to be funny; I said it straight with no emotion. It’s called deadpan humor. There’s something in my brain that makes every emotion, facial expression, and speaking voice neutral and serious. That’s why it’s only fitting that deadpan humor works for me. Many people concentrate on the negative aspects of Autism and not enough time on the positives. This is a classic example of taking what could be a weakness of Autism and turning it into strength.

 

Brian Lafferty can be reached at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.