Ian Lynam is bringing a fresh bout of comedy to the Edinburgh Fringe in the form of his latest show, Autistic License. Exploring his diagnosis, alongside themes of sexuality, relationships, and the history of autism, this piece is vital to see, as there is no doubt the voice of neurodiversity must be heard more. Striving to prove that he can break barriers in the world of being funny, Ian contradicts the myths, battles the anxieties, and overall creates a show to be enjoyed by autistic and non-autistic people alike.
In interview, you can read a little about his autistic journey, and how sharing this has come to light.
What made you want to create a show like Autistic License?
I’ve always been interested in comedy shows that tell a story. It might be due to my ADHD, but I found an hour of disconnected jokes really hard to follow. I’ve seen some great narrative shows over the years like Barry Ferns’ Barry Loves You, Olga Koch’s Fight, Joanne McNally’s Bite Me and of course, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Most of these themes deftly weave a series of jokes around an overarching theme or story. I was performing on and off since starting college in 2012 but never had the nerve to try something because I didn’t feel like I had any interesting enough experiences to offer. I’d never disclosed my diagnosis on stage. Not because I worried about any potential stigma; more because I was so used to solemnity on the subject and worried I’d sound too flippant.
This all changed one night when I watched an open mic night that featured a new act. He was telling an anecdote about going to the cinema whilst stoned and trying to get to his seat with an armful of snacks. He referred to the woman asking for his ticket as a short, overweight ‘autistic hobbit’ and seemed to think this was funny enough to repeat several times. The misogyny and fatphobic sentiment notwithstanding, using Lord of the Rings to mock autistic people seemed like an extra slap in the face given how popular fantasy is with our community and herbal refreshments are with the halfling community. I felt spoken over and wanted to try setting the record straight. I tested this out with a half hour called Portrait of the Autist as a Young Man in Dublin and it was received well enough to try making a full hour.
Can you give us an idea of what the piece entails?
Autistic License is several things at once. It’s a show about therapy and coping with anxiety, about the history of neurodiversity and how it impacts on my work, but in many ways it’s a show about writing a show! The hour sees me battling with a voice of internalized ableism; an anxiety gremlin who gives voice to my doubts about giving the subject justice. I’m trying to tell my story in a way that excites non-autistic audiences, but without self-deprecating my community into oblivion. Ultimately it’s about overcoming shame and embracing cringe.
What has your journey of self-discovery been like, in order to now be so openly discussing your autistic experience- have you always been so willing to share this?
I was silent on my diagnosis until 2017. It turns out I started engaging with the subject at the best possible time, as several other autistic comedians were emerging on the Irish scene such as Aoife Dooley and MJ Stokes, joined by the international chorus of Hannah Gadsby and Fern Brady. This was enormously helpful as I now know how to have a like-minded community to discuss ideas and compare experiences. This resulted in the world’s first all-autistic comedy line-up 'Light it Up Gold' in 2019. All of the funds from this night were donated to Ireland’s National Autism Charity, 'AsIAm'. By a happy coincidence, I found myself looking for a job several months later and began my current job as Information Officer for the organisation. Bizarrely, I only knew enough to apply for the job from researching the subject meticulously for comedy purposes. Since then I’ve learned even more about my community and I’m always trying to develop my act further based on this.
How have you combined comedy and being autistic into a piece that is understood by everyone?
I think the secret to comedy lies in making what you find interesting, just as interesting to the audience. Luckily, the history of neurodiversity touches on so many areas of pop-culture and I often use these as a jumping off point to get into bigger issues. There are certain jokes that work far better with autistic audiences based on lived experience and others that work well with neurotypical audiences based on misconceptions. The trick is balancing these and this struggle is key to the show’s overarching narrative.
Using something so personal as fuel for performance, have you ever worried about what the reception might be to this, and how do you manage this in a way that protects your mental health?
It can be quite intense after performing, as audience members might have a personal relationship with what I’m talking about. They might be autistic, a family member to an autistic person or even someone seeking a diagnosis as an adult. Hearing these experiences can be a lot, especially as many of these people might not have many people to talk to about this. Paradoxically, my full-time job in autism advocacy has helped with this, as I now have resources I can refer to them or my work email so we can chat it out further. I’m not planning to perform about this subject forever as it can take its toll. I’m also lucky to have a network of friends, colleagues and a wonderful partner to lean on when it’s really wearing me down.
How do you think neurodivergent representation is important, and how can this be better in the arts industry?
I think there needs to be an overall culture shift about how we conduct ourselves in the arts. There’s been a lot said about class-barriers and nepotism, that certain opportunities can come from just being in the right room and talking to the right people. There’s a lot of truth to this, but additionally ‘networking’ can be frustratingly hard to navigate as an autistic person. The unspoken rules of sticking around after gigs, chatting with promoters or even just when it’s appropriate to ask for a slot seem almost like riddles. In terms of supporting neurodivergent artists, there’s lots of smaller steps that can be taken, such as directly checking in with acts about venue locations, dimensions and what to expect or clearly spelling out what’s required for an invoice. Going on stage can be intimidating enough so there’s really no need to make the bits in between a gauntlet.
Who inspires you, and why?
So many people! Robin Ince and Josie Long were big sources of inspiration when I was starting out. They’re really unabashed about what brings them joy and even though it took a while to be that level of vulnerability on stage, I always admired that in them. When I started going to the Fringe, I picked up other favourites like Bec Hill, Stuart Goldsmith, Elf Lyons, Tom Walker and Demi Lardner. I like an edge of madness to my comedy, but there’s a special trick to presenting it in a way the audience will appreciate.
Big thanks to Ian for this absolutely fantastic interview- it is excellent to hear from you about your show, and even more so about being autistic in the industry. Wishing you all the best for the run!
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