Tuesday, April 12, 2016

To Tell a Joke

At a school presentation recently I was asked a question I could not answer. This is odd because I’ve wiggled myself out of some tough spots when questions have been a little off base, but this one? This one had me stumped.

I love presenting to student bodies as it is the most dynamic and intimidating audience to present to. To be an effective presenter at this level one has to have absolutely no shame in self-deprecating humor and to have a confidence which doesn’t appear to be confidence. It’s hard to explain, but this, whatever it is, allows for a dialogue to happen in the questions and the final question of this presentation was the one that had me stumped.

It had been going great as of the nearly 500 students I had more than several dozen hands up wanting to ask a question. The principal gave me the notice that it was final question time and this 8th grader asked, “Yeah Aaron, you seem to be a hilarious guy and I was wondering if you could tell us a joke?” I froze, I stumbled, and I stared at him expressionless because I had no idea what to say and my brain was scrambling trying to tie a question a teacher had asked earlier.

Earlier in the presentation a question was asked about humor and if it’s possible that either A. a person on the autism can be funny or/and B. a person on the autism spectrum can understand or can give sarcasm? I gave a long answer to this essentially saying that, “if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism” but I also mentioned that more and more actors are stating they are on the autism spectrum. I finished by saying humor often is a one-way street meaning I can state something and know that I meant it in a joking way but if someone I don’t know that well were to try the same thing it may not have the same effect. Bottom line is that expressive can be more than not better than receptive.

Okay, thinking about that wasn’t helping me answer this 8th grader’s question. The question at hand was to tell a joke. How hard could it be? I mean, I do tell plenty of jokes during my presentation but here’s another thing about being a good presenter; if one is scripted one must make seem as if it isn’t scripted. I think I do a great job at this (a script is going to form naturally when one has presented as many times as I have) but all my witty lines are in response to a story. I can have the proper voice inflection to stress a funny moment, or to make something go from funny to hilarious, but to just tell a joke? Where does one begin?

It was the final question which usually means I need to give an answer quickly but I remained there, silent, staring at the crowd. Dead air isn’t a good thing but I had nothing and then I realized that nothing was the answer. I finally had my answer and I thanked him for thinking that I was hilarious, but I then pointed out that all my witty comments had been story based because those things actually happened. Now, when it comes to a traditional joke, it’s abstract to me. I can tell a story that has a potentially funny outcome depending on how one looks at it but when it comes to chickens crossing a road or any other joke setup line I don’t know any nor do I think I could learn that skill set. And besides that, as I finished that answer, I don’t find traditional jokes to be funny at all but then I once again mentioned that the next person on the autism spectrum may be an excellent joke teller but as for me, well, my humor will remain in the realm of dry wit and reality.


  1. Um, jokes on demand?

    And humour can be a one-way street.

    Knowing the person and the audience helps.

    "Here's another thing about being a good presenter; if one is scripted one must make [it] seem as if it isn't scripted".

    Scripts do form naturally with repeated attempts.

    "Dead air isn't a good thing but I had nothing and then I realised that nothing was the answer".

    "All my witty comments had been story based because those things actually happened".

    Dry wit and reality. And observational comedy. That's my humour too, Aaron.

    Maybe the real joke-teller in the audience can stand up.

    Also jokes are mutual feeling and electricity.

  2. THANK YOU! Temple Grandin is an amazing forerunner for Aspergers & still would be probably not able for American to be diagnosed without her input. Saw her in person in 2009, wonderful experience.

    But Aaron...you have it the nail, in fact many nails on the head! Although the When you've met one kid...is readily known by the ASD community...it needs to be "the Official Directions for Autism" to be Universal as you would put it.

    When my son got Diagnosed at 6 (now 12 in 7th grade) with ASD leaning towards Aspergers, I asked his Psychologist how he can get a true diagnosis, he gave me a referral & after tons of questionnaires & meeting with him for 30 minutes she came out with the findings. She told me...ma'am...hits 2 out of 3 markers. I was like,"okay, what's the one he didn't hit?" Her response, "He has a personality & humor." I wanted to shake her! In my mind I was screaming...'Have you met me!? some things ARE nurture vs nature!' Being a single mom with no fight left I just said okay & left.

    When the saying "IF you've met ONE person with Autism...you've met Only One" it was music to my ears. If only it was more universally known...people wouldn't instantly judged. When mentioning my son's diagnosis to other parents I get 1 of 2 responses a visual response of discontent or a verbal response, "Really? He's so talkative." lol He sure is...but if you pay close attention it's 98% about Cars or Video Games. He'll occasionally something witty but it's usually something he heard from a YouTube Gamer he follows, rarely an original thought will pop out.

    It's very difficult even as parents when our kids don't fit the mold or look or talk or act like the Diagnosis suggests. For many parents Autism or ASD or Aspergers is the worst news they ever heard. For me? A Godsend! My son was always in trouble at school. He put his school on Lock-down bc he, a 6yo 2nd grader, told his teacher he was going to "electrocute" her. Similar to your 18yo being pulled over story. Threats come out to go to the principal etc. No avail. After everything, I get there and ask what he meant...he said, "I was going electrocute her by rubbing my feet on the carpet & touch her." See LOGIC in an emotional world! I pulled him out & put him in a behavioral program that medicated him & gave him a diagnosis, after a 5min interview of PDD-NOS, ADHD, & ODD.

    Upon being discharged I was talking to his family counselor (not the diagnostician) asking about Aspergers. As she was nodding YES...she told me she cannot give a different diagnosis but I needed to take him to a new psychiatrist, where he got his ASD/Aspergers diagnosis. After I got the diagnosis, I went back to the principal & presented it to her...she read it...I saw the light bulb turn on..."this makes so much sense now."

    Although the last 6yrs haven't been easy at school bc he doesn't "look" or "act" autistic. It at least gives us a ground & a 504 to help with behavior issues.

    So to parents that just got their child's diagnosis...it's not the end of the world! It is a tool to use for their learning & their future! Use it wisely.