PORTLAND, Maine — Connor McGrath, a stand up comedian from Deering Center, has Asperger’s syndrome but it’s no handicap. In fact, it’s part of his act and the crowd loves it.
“I don’t think it’s a disability,” said McGrath. “It’s like being left handed. It’s a way of looking at the world. I think it works out well for stand-up comedy because stand-up comedy is all about not getting social cues and misinterpreting the everyday interactions in life.”
According to the Autism Society, Asperger’s syndrome falls under the general umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s often marked by trouble understanding social norms, making eye contact or showing slightly obsessive interest in certain subjects.
Performing a recent spot at Lincolns in Portland, McGrath brought up his Asperger’s right off the bat.
“Recently, after a show, another comedian told me, ‘You should never open up with your joke about having Asperger’s syndrome because it makes audiences feel awkward and uncomfortable,’” he told the crowd. “And I told him, you know what feels awkward and uncomfortable? Having Asperger’s syndrome.”
The crowd howled with laughter in response.
He went on to tell them that, contrary to popular belief, he’s not obsessed with European train timetables, classical music or the international court in the Hague.
“I know more about Greyhound bus lines, who was in every intercontinental title match at every WWE Wrestlemania and the Insane Clown Posse,” McGrath said to the giggling throng. “I have what you call low-class, high-functioning autism.”
More applause, hoots, whistles and cackling followed.
It wasn’t always this easy for him, he said. In grade school, he’d sometimes get in trouble, finding something funny without understanding the social implications.
“It wasn’t always a time for laughter,” he said, standing in front of his old elementary school on Deering Avenue.
He remembers getting several detentions and silent lunches.
College was awkward, too, he said. But he credits a supportive family and positive attitude for getting through the rough times. Now, as a 28-year-old, with a steady day job and blossoming stand-up career. He’s quite comfortable just being himself.
“I’ve gotten to a space in life where I am who I am,” he said. “This is what I do and you can take it or leave it.”
McGrath’s act isn’t only about his condition, either. He’s cracks wise about sex, food and country music, too.
“I don’t really want to be known as the ‘Asperger’s Comedian,’” he said. “I don’t want to be known as just that.”
He has weekly gigs at Lincolns and Blue in Portland and at Banded Horn Brewing in Saco. He’s performed in the midwest and recently in Montreal. Currently, he’s applying to comedy festivals, hoping to break in. Readers of the Portland Phoenix recently named him the city’s best comedian.
“I’m in a good patch now. Hopefully I don’t get hit by a bus tomorrow,” he said, laughing.