This article originally appeared in spring 2016.
By Langdon Kessner
Jack Hanke, senior at Gordon College, accomplished something most people normally don’t. He got to be in a movie that premiered in one of the most famous culture festivals, South By Southwest, and now it is headed for Netflix.
The movie is called Asperger’s Are Us, directed by Alex Lehmann, and is a documentary about a sketch comedy troupe also called “Asperger’s Are Us.” Much like Sweaty-Toothed Madmen, they do comedy. Unlike the Sweaty Tooth, however, all members are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
In an interview with Tartan, Hanke said, “All of us are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning type of autism, and our name is obviously a play on that. As far as we know, we’re the first comedy troupe ever to be composed entirely of people on the autism spectrum.”
Back in 2010, Hanke, Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi,and Noah Britton formed the comedy troupe. Over the years, “Asperger’s Are Us” has performed in Austin, New York City, Philadelphia, Vermont, at MIT and all around Massachusetts. The group performed at Gordon in collaboration with Sweaty Tooth. Their sketches can also be found on their own YouTube channel, and “some of the articles that were written about us got a lot of traction, to the point where we were eventually featured in USA Today,” Hanke said.
So how did a documentary of them get made?
Hanke said: “In 2013, a guy named Alex Lehmann who works in the Hollywood scene was Googling for an interesting thing to do a documentary on and stumbled across those things, and he found us so hilarious and interesting that, after meeting up with us and talking to us, he decided to do a full-length movie about our troupe.” This is also Lehmann’s first film as well. He worked as a camera operator and cinematographer before Asperger’s Are Us.
Hanke and the group were on board with the decision.
“The movie was shot mostly in 2013 (some of it at Gordon), with some bits from 2015, and after the filming ended we weren’t very involved in how the movie turned out, aside from giving some editorial input”. Thankfully, all four members are very happy with the film turned out, and had a blast at the film festival where it premiered.
The film was first shown on March 12 at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. Hanke described the experience as “really loud and bright and crowded. We spent most of the time hanging out at the house we were staying in, or attending interviews, photo-shoots or overly energetic after-parties.”
“Watching the movie with a live audience was a lot better than I expected. Like most people, we all hate listening to ourselves speak, and having hundreds of people listening at the same time was intimidating, but I think we were all surprised by how great the final product turned out. I was barely embarrassed of myself by the end of it, which is saying a lot.”
But perhaps the most surprising part of it all is that Netflix acquired license to stream it. “We were hoping that Netflix would pick it up, because it’s the kind of movie that has a large potential audience but not a very geographically concentrated one. It couldn’t possibly have been commercially successful in the pre-Internet age, I suspec,” Hanke said.
The plan was always to “pitch it to a range of different distributors, including Netflix, but Netflix was always near the top of our list, maybe at the very top.”
Hanke does not know when the film will be available, but he assumes it will be toward the end of the summer or beginning of the fall.
Starring in a Netflix movie was certainly an unexpected path for Hanke. His majors are English Language Literature and Political Science, neither of which have much to do with sketch comedy. His life “went in a completely different direction than I thought it would, but that’s fine, because God is way smarter than I am and is much better at figuring out where I should go. You don’t have to be afraid in the face of uncertainty, because the very unpredictability of life is what makes possible many of the biggest blessings we’ll ever have. This is especially poignant for me because people on the autism spectrum tend to have a particularly strong fear of the unknown, and this is a great reminder that the unknown is a source of blessings as well as one of pain and danger.”
As of right now, Hanke is finishing up school and looking to start a job.. He might spend the summer doing one last round of shows before starting work in the fall. And while he can’t reveal anything yet, “something really cool could be on the horizon!”
It seems like that could be anything.