Jack Hanke ’17: Confidence Through Comedy

This article was first published in the spring 2018 issue of STILLPOINT magazine

After appearing in a Netflix documentary, life has been busy for Jack Hanke ’17. His comedy troupe of four openly autistic friends, Asperger’s Are Us, has traveled the U.S., Canada and Europe with their absurdist sketches—but, as their tagline goes, they don’t want your pity.

“We’re not interested in being advocates,” Jack says. “We’re interested in producing comedy for its own sake.”

After cracking a quick joke, Jack recounts when the group met at summer camp as kids and developed a strong bond through their common senses of humor. Friends since then and fellow performers since 2010, ears perked when their one-of-a-kind group started performing comedy as “Asperger’s Are Us.”

Local and international press coverage led to an eponymous documentary directed by Alexandre Lehmann and produced by the Duplass brothers, which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2016.

“A few strangers have recognized me, which is kind of weird,” says the Newburyport, MA, native, whose other claim to fame is editing Wikipedia’s “FBI’s Most Wanted” page to reflect the fact that Osama bin Laden was dead. In the immediate wake of the documentary’s appearance on Netflix, the buzz was big. Fan mail started to pour in from viewers who resonated with the story.

“It’s excellent if people see our show and as a result realize that autistic people are capable of being hilarious,” Jack says, “but ideally that’s something that they would have known already.”

Though he wishes the documentary had focused more on the art of comedy than on the friends’ journey with Asperger’s, Jack does not make light of the situation—besides his jokes about being an “Aspie.” For the English and political science grad whose Gordon experience included studying abroad in Oxford, the College community helped to affirm his larger-than-life character, and overcome insecurities.

“I think Gordon gave me the confidence I needed . . . because I felt so loved and accepted and appreciated for who I was here,” he says. “You need confidence to be a good performer—as well to overcome speech impediments, which Gordon also helped me do—and I think that’s been crucial for my development as a performer.”

Being able to call himself a professional comedian has caused Jack to re-examine his self-image. “I’ve always seen it as more of a hobby than a passion, really,” he says. “I never expected it to get this big—I don’t see myself as a performer or a businessman by vocation at all . . . but whenever I’m feeling bad about myself I can think about how many people have said they’ve been touched and inspired by this over the years.”

While recognizing and appreciating Asperger’s Are Us’ role in breaking barriers, for Jack and his colleagues, it all comes down to comedy. “I guess being a Christian,” he says, “is about making good art in every sphere of life.”