Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Asperger's High: Video and Interview with Hipsters

I love when people find the funny in Asperger Syndrome.  Check out this parody of a teen drama by the Upright Citizens Brigade, directed by Jason Axinn, and written by Lesley Tsina and Ben Siemon.

Asperger's HighUCBcomedy.com
Watch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at UCBcomedy.com

After I saw that, I knew I need to stalk contact the writers of the film, Lesley and Ben.  Despite the fact that being interviewed on this blog will do absolutely nothing for their careers, they were totally cool about it.

Plus? They're total L.A. hipsters.  They deny it, but that's because they're so cool.  I know they're hip because they know what "NT" means and also, Lesley wears cool glasses.  So there you go.  I feel cooler just having them here on my blog.  But less cool because I'm gushing like a fangirl.

Here's my interview with Lesley and Ben.

What was the inspiration for Asperger's High? Do you have a personal connection with Asperger Syndrome?

Ben: We’re in a sketch group called Extreme Tambourine at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. I came up with the basic seed of the idea and pitched it to the group. When people responded to it, Lesley had a lot of great ideas for it and we built the sketch together from there. I think the root of the idea was seeing how Asperger’s was shown in the popular media, and wondering whether it was being exploited for entertainment, or shown to raise awareness and educate the public. Like we say in the video, we had heard that "Asperger’s" became the number one searched word on Google after Parenthood premiered on NBC. I think both of us liked the idea of what Hollywood might do to cash in on this public interest without really thinking about if it was appropriate or not.

Lesley: I’d read an article by the TV critic Alan Sepinwall about Parenthood and how TV represents characters who may or may not have Asperger’s. So it kind of seemed like Asperger’s was in the pop culture zeitgeist. And Ben really loves high school shows so we decided to make the Aspie version of 90210.

Did you do any research to prepare for writing Asperger's High?  If so, why didn't you include any references to Star Wars? Or is that just in my house?

Ben: Yes, we definitely did some internet research about some of the signs and behaviors of Aspergers. In sketch, we're always told that being specific is always more interesting. Because it was supposed to be a teen drama, we ended up watching videos where teens with Asperger's were explaining their syndrome on YouTube and talking about their lives.

Lesley: As for the absence of Star Wars references, we tried to make the obsessions in the lunch scene as different as possible and for the pop culture ones we just relied on things we knew or our friends knew. I have actually seen most of the movies J.T. Walsh is in. Sometimes the actor would just start saying the names of random movies toward the end of the take and after we’d call cut I’d say “Don’t say Toy Story 2.”

Your video finds the funny in a difficult subject. I thought it was hilarious, but then again, I'm probably brain damaged from being pregnant so many times. Did you get any negative feedback or was it a big love fest?

Lesley: We got some negative feedback, actually less than we expected. Some people commented that it wasn't an appropriate subject for comedy. I definitely was concerned about it being offensive or mean, and had to clarify certain jokes to make sure they played correctly. It partly a parody of the CW, which takes away some of the sting, but it is also about Asperger’s behaviors, some exaggerated, so it’s not surprising that some people would be offended. I basically think you’re either okay with it as a subject for comedy or you aren't and if you aren’t that’s totally valid.

Ben: Yes, happily most of the feedback has been really positive. I, like Lesley, was concerned that people would think we were just making fun of people with Asperger’s instead of Hollywood, but it seems like most people are in on the joke.

In the end, it seems like many people with Asperger’s have connected to seeing clichés of themselves represented, and families with a member who has Asperger's have found humor in identifying with some of the experiences they may have had.

People with Asperger are sometimes very literal. I saw a thread on an online forum for Aspies where some people thought it was a trailer for a real show. In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently with this video? Like maybe put the words "parody" or "satire" in big letters at the beginning?

Lesley: It’s weird, but pretty much every satirical video I can think of has a ton of comments of people asking if it’s real. Even if you include the keywords “parody” “comedy” and “sketch” and list the writers cast and crew in the blurb for the video most people just don’t look at that.

There were definitely things that were too hard to shoot within our lavish $200 budget and one-day filming schedule. We couldn’t shoot in an actual school so we didn’t have any classroom scenes. We shot most of the video in a park that had a recreation center that looked like a high school. All of the interiors were shot in my apartment. But I think our director, Jason Axinn, did a really good job working within those constraints. Yay no-budget filmmaking!

Ben: Yeah, we're pretty happy with how the video turned out. In some ways, anybody that thinks that it could be a real show is a compliment to the way it looks.

Did you know that there really is a high school in California for students with Asperger and other nonverbal learning disabilities?

Lesley: Yes! That’s one of the first things that comes up when you google “Asperger’s High” I wonder if anyone that goes there has seen the video?

Ben: I'm sure it's a much better and different than the school that we came up with!

With the success of the show Parenthood, and the slew of awards won by the Temple Grandin biopic with Clare Danes, autism seems to be hot in Hollywood. (It kind of reminds me of how lesbians were the hot topic in 2000.) Do you think there could be a show like Asperger's High in our future? If so, how do I go about getting myself cast as the snarky, caffeine-guzzling mom?

Ben: Ha ha. I don't think so! But you never know! I think Hollywood is always surprising us with the types of shows they produce and by what becomes popular. I don't think anyone would have predicted a show like Jersey Shore would become such a huge success. If any studios approach us to adapt the video into a show, we'll call you first!

As a mom, I'm pretty out of the loop, but even I can see that vampires and zombie unicorns are so five minutes ago. As L.A.-based hipsters, please tell me what the next big trend is. That way I can tell my readers they heard it here first.

Ben: Ha ha. Lesley and I are NOT cool people, we're total nerds, so you may be asking the wrong people. Gourmet food trucks are becoming really popular out here in LA, and also ramen noodle restaurants. But that's me thinking about food because I'm hungry right now. As far as entertainment goes, I usually stick with Entertainment Weekly to tell me what's cool.

Lesley: Puppets. Because Ben owns a lot of puppets.

For more funny, you can:


  1. Brilliant! I loved it and I love "Parenthood." Epic win.

  2. I stopped watching Parenthood after the pilot because the way they introduced the Aspergers storyline bugged the heck out of me. I guess my experience in getting my son's diagnosis was so far removed from the reaction of the parents on that show that I just couldn't relate at all.

    I would totally watch Asperger High, though! Too funny!

  3. That's pretty funny actually...

    My nephew does boy scouts, has aspergers and apparently all of the kids with aspergers also join boy scouts in his neck of the woods. We call it the asperger's support group. It's actually hilarious.

  4. That's hilarious! I would definitely watch "Aspergers High". Great post once again

  5. Loved the parody and the interview!

  6. You would make an awesome snarky caffeine guzzling Mom, you play one already ... this way you would be paid for it :)
    Love the soundtrack for Parenthood!

  7. Ok - If you get cast as a mom, I totally want to be cast as the PTA president. OMG I would rock that role! We could be on-screen rivals. I need an agent...


  8. That was hysterical! Loved the clip and the interview.

  9. the lunch scene is not much different than lunch with a bunch of engineers, is it?

  10. @Jennifer -- OMG, no kidding. The video is like being back at the office. : )

  11. Build A Bear now has Star Wars themed bears!!! Saw that link and rushed right over to tell you!

    (not a plug, just an OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG from another mommy in a similar looking boat)


  12. You know Down syndrome (our brand of super powers) is getting some prime time love these days too. Thanks, Glee. Or not. But, maybe we could combine forces and I could be the rockin cute music teacher. I would like that.

  13. So funny! Can I play the hawt OT?!! I'll bring "real" props to the IEP scenes!!

  14. I know a lot of people first heard the word Asperger's from "Parenthood," but the show "Boston Legal" had a great character with Aspergers. Yes, he was odd and quirky but he was an exceptional attorney and I liked that they showed his struggles but also his successes.

  15. since my AS husband sent this to me, I think it's because he thought it was funny, not insulting. I was sort of left dumbfounded, but then I am not very Hollywood savvy, so...I'll leave it to the AS Hollywood experts to judge. I just thought it was sort of obvious...except for the fact that AS people tend to be VERY loyal, and it would be highly unlikely for an AS gal to get PG with another boy, not her boyfriend, b/c that isn't AS typical...but other than that, lots of mildly humorous bits. As my husband might reply, "I recognize the humor in that."

  16. thank you! so so funny! My Aspie is 5, so we are still in a very "tantrum-y" phase... and he doesn't get all of our "5 minutes to Wapner" and "Pancakes are on Tuesday's" references.... thank you for helping keep a Mommy closer to sane 8^)

  17. Wow, this manages to funny without being offensive, even from the perspective of someone who actually does have AS.

  18. If someone has AS, they probably wouldn't be offended anyway since this wasn't intended as a serious video. It does remind me of myself in high school tho.

    Some of us do improve with age, we just don't ever become completely normal.

  19. I have Aspergers Syndrome, and I can comfortably say that you guys portrayed it perfectly. As much as this learning disability is a pain in the rear, sometimes I feel like I have overcome it, but after watching this, I feel like I definitely still have it.

    And no. I did not find this offensive at all. If this were 2 years ago, I'd probably be furious, but my fiance has helped me "get over all the special ed jokes".

  20. I have very light Aspergers, and I have never acted like this. I know many aspergers kids and they don't act like this either.

  21. living with two asd kids (and seeing myself in them) i have to admit that i found this video absolutely hilarious!!!

  22. Its not a literal representation of people with Asperger's, its an exaggeration, that's what parody is. That said, I have known six people with Asperger's and there are some (exaggerated) truths here that are portrayed in a sweet and funny way.

    One of my favorite things about people I've known with Asperger's is their appreciation of humor. Maybe its not the same interpretation I have of what and how things are funny, but just because someone has Asperger's does NOT mean they don't appreciate humor. They can laugh at themselves just like I can in my experience (that is, if the intention is fun and not mean). Its great to see more of our differences reflected in the media in playful ways.

  23. I am so disappointed that there is not an "actual" series in the offing! However, I suppose it could become tedious after a while. All my ASpie friends in NZ think this is hilarious, even some "non=aspies" got it!.

    For the person who has "mild" Aspergers, I would suggest that you are more aspie than you have yet realised. As I get older, I find my inner Aspie getting stronger, even though on the outside people think I am NT.

    I call myself a "hybrid" in that I have lived as an NT for most of my 64 years (not easily) and am therefore pretty well trained in NT thoughts and behaviour. It's as if I have two brains, which puts me in a good position to help other aspies with less ability to be insightful of the differences between Aspie and NT. I have therefore established a mentoring and coaching service in my city for adults with AS "from the inside out". There are practically no services in NZ of this nature and we are getting a good response.

  24. I'm 14 with Asperger's and I can say that this was very funny as I very often relate to it, especially when everyone instantly removes their eye-contact when they notice that you're making eye-contact back with them :)!

    I haven't read the interview as I'm not good with a lot of text, but I noticed people mentioning the program "parenthood" in the comments section.

    I do not particularly like the show, but it started here and I looked up from my computer instantly when I suddenly heard the word "Asperger's" being mentioned... I was very disappointed in the parent's reaction! My mother has handled it very well (in my opinion) but she certainly didn't show the mixture of what I think (Emotion cards would be very helpful in shows!) was disgust and shock that their boy had such a disorder.

    In a way I believe that it shows what society believes Asperger's is, but even after (what I assumed was an explanation) being "informed" of what it was, they still acted with unhappiness when they released the "news" to other people. They kind of treated their child as though he were to be a different person (in my opinion, once again), even though with such a diagnosis it should help them understand why he acts in such a way.

  25. i dont find this funny at all.
    this is absolutely terrible.

  26. I'm a bit confused and disgusted by how casual and this whole "Aspie" subculture seems to be. Having HF Autism, it's a subculture I can't even seem be a part of, or relate to having tried. Even when they are supposed to be most similar to me. When you spend a few decades of your life wondering why you always end up alone, why people unilaterally find you "weird" and why nothing about you is congruent to anyone's expectations, there is a point at which it's just not funny anymore. Especially when you check yourself, and do all you can to function and be independent, and appear less odd than you are so as not to frighten people. This whole online "aspie" culture seems like such a self-absorbed pretense at times. I don't even think half of these people, in being proudly "self-diagnosed" (WTF is that?) are even anything other than different people ironically finding community in their similar differences. Yes. But they don't have the long-term pathology that is followed by doctors their whole life. They think that identifying with some high-IQ 'syndrome' (Apparently "Einstein" had it. Bullshit.) they get to feel vindicated in their insistently child-like sensibilities. Generation Y and Z not wanting to grow up or conform in many ways, so obviously this notion naturally appeals to them. Once out of a relatively insulated school environment, it's not casual, it's not funny, there is little support. It may have been casual "so what if I'm different" when I was a teen. But not now. I would give anything not to have this. (The bigger irony here being yes, I have to talk about myself, to make this point. Oh, the irony.)

  27. People already think of me as a freak, wierdo, or whatever. This will (not) make things much easier for me, assholes. Why don't you make a show called Tourettes High where people twitch and yell obscene things all of the time? Or better yet, make a show called Cancer High and video tape people vomiting and losing their hair. Fuck You. I sincerely hate everyone behind this show, because it will make it even harder for me to try and live a normal life.

  28. oh, it's a joke. Now I feel retarded. God damn it, this is so hard to come to terms with. I wish that I had an easy button.

  29. I'm an Aspie. I avoided watching this until now (there are so many portrails that make me feel shit for the rest of the day) but this was hilarious. I though the face cards as homework were really funny. It's a joke about how we are portrayed, you're not going to get far with a thin skin.

  30. I think they put too much emphasis on the Aspergers lack of ability to make eye contact. We can, its just extremely uncomfortable. I've been able to do it for years now, I can hold it just long enough to seem genuinely attentive in a conversation; of course, I have to look away every so often, If I don't I get an almost suffocating feeling.

  31. I have Asperger's, and I love this!

  32. I feel lucky to live in an area with not just one but two (!) Asperger's High (Schools):

    Oak Hill School - http://www.theoakhillschool.org

    Anova School - http://www.anovaeducation.org

    There is also an awesome group that works with individuals who need help with Social Thinking http://www.sociallearningworks.com

    All in all, funny video and wonderful interview. I think the humor is spot on except as a previous commenter mentioned Aspies are loyal friends and are unlikely to get tangled in extra relational affairs. But then there are pulls of nature :) and it would be a very Aspie way to come out: matter-of-factly.

    1. Anova School is the one with the most Aspie principal... clearly. Anova = Analysis of Variance in Statistics. Since AS is a variance, and the school helps kids analyse stuff, the title sounds great! Oak Hill School just sounds like something reassuring for parents, but doesn't seem to "get it" when it comes to AS for that very reason.


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