As an autistic comedian I am often met with people talking about how I am not supposed to understand jokes.
I thought I would take a moment to unpack that, because that’s a really unfair application of a stereotype.
I grew up watching sneaky reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus with my Dad as a tween. I look back at this now, and yes, some of their material hasn’t aged well. It’s important to remember it was written by straight white men with largely good intentions. But it was, like most past comedy work, a reflection of the time it was made, even though still a quite subversive comedy force.
My Dad seemed to laugh for different reasons than I did. I laughed because the costumes and silliness in faces and movements (which were overt enough for me to process) made me laugh. Dad laughed at different times.
We all do have different senses of humour, but I noticed Dad repeating the words that made him laugh. My love of word play began, because I wanted to make my Dad laugh.
I’ve pictured here a politician character I’ve wanted to do more with – Bronwin Budget-Slap. I became a huge fan of British series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister in my 20’s.
If you saw my solo show Labelled, I talked about being literal. I talked about when Mum said “between a rock and a hard place” and me wondering where the rock was.
I literally studied language and power and propaganda as a focus throughout my anthropology career – to work out what was going on around me. I still look at communication as a series of linguistic devices. I have formulas for helping me process gossip for instance.
People think I speak well, but they are not entirely aware how much work is going on in my brain to be able to. This is why I spend long periods not talking to anyone (and live alone) – to be able to reset.
I find I am often perceived as blunt or very to the point and that this is disconcerting for some people. So I’ve learned to couch that in humour and I really can thank reruns of Lucille Ball for my range of outrageous facial expressions that I find really good for breaking the tension.
When I do improv comedy – I just let myself out and my “inappropriateness” rules, as such I enjoy improv or theatre games.
I laugh at silliness in stories and physical comedy (for example Billy Connelly, Lucille Ball, Sammy J) because to me funny is good story with exaggerated physicality. So, yes, I get jokes, it’s just I have a different sense of humour. I think punchlines are a bit passe and the obtusely intellectual makes me laugh out loud.
So I repeat, I get jokes. I just don’t really think punchline based jokes are that funny. It’s called “one of the many ways senses of humour manifest”. This, my friends, is why there are so many genres of comedy and why you find some comedians funny and others not funny.
In a day job context, I hate meetings without agendas, I hate surprise phone calls from bureaucrats, I often find myself just going along with things because I haven’t had time to work it all out. I have strategies and stalling communication scripts to make things easier in these instances, but you will often find me wanting an agenda or a ‘heads up’ before a discussion.
Some close friends will tell you I sometimes don’t get their jokes, or I take a while to process them, but that will because they like ‘boom boom tish’ punchline based jokes. I don’t laugh at my own comedy, I find it amusing though, that the things I talk about on stage are just my takes on the world, and that is found to be funny.
When I write satire about a policy or political event, I reverse engineer it. I think about the policy, it’s implications (intentional or unintentional) and I write it in reverse, stressing the ridiculous things in the actual policy. They are usually just my commentary on how ridiculous I think the world is. But channeling that into political satire has become a passion.
I also like to “take the piss” out of large scale systems, politicians and people in power, because I don’t want to mock any marginalised person or group.
I performed a piece at Melbourne Fringe 2019 called “The Intersectional Traffic Report” which looked at the May 2019 Federal Election like traffic to Parliament. I took political commentary on each party and some individual politicians and turned them into traffic incidents. Why? Because every reporter was calling it “a race to the election” and I decided to take a literal take on what that might have looked like…
For example, speaking of the reported failings of the Australian Labor Party in the lead up to the election I reported:
“At the starting blocks to the election race, neo-liberal bottlenecks were “Shortened” by the labor team. And when I say Labor, I mean a fleet of over-confidently manufactured V8’s cruising towards the voter oblivion off ramp. Fortunately, their failure to follow public warning signs was t-boned by a couple of highly organized Green hybrid energy policy vehicles heading them off into the senate car park…”
If I had the budget and some actors, I think we would have acted the whole thing out as I stood there delivering it like a weather/traffic report with cardboard boxes for cars wrapped around the actors dressed as caricatures of key political figures.
So I suppose, with my passion for social justice and politics, political satire is most suited to me!
COVID-19 has well and truly buggered up all my plans for comedy this year. I’ve had to battle significant mental health issues since a workplace injury late last year as well and those issues have been ongoing, but I am making progress now. Comedy was going to be therapeutic to that recovery, but instead it’s been disheartening to have that stripped away and shifting to online and video formats from live. But…I have written heaps of satire!
So, I decided I would start writing scripts for Bronwin to return…so stay tuned. Be on the lookout for the Alt-News desk featuring Bronwin and investigative journalist guests at https://www.facebook.com/JacciPillar/