CFP: Autism and Comedy Symposium, University of Kent

Call for Papers: Autism and Comedy Symposium

Saturday 30th January 2016, University of Kent

Since its description by Hans Asperger in 1944, it has often been suggested that individuals on the autistic spectrum lack, or have an impaired, sense of humour. This alleged humourlessness has been challenged in recent decades within the academic literature (e.g. Lyons & Fitzgerald 2004, Samson 2013) but it is still a pervasive myth. Moreover, the work of people such as the U.S. comedy troupe Aspergers Are Us and the UK based performer Cian Binchy suggests a strong and distinctive comic voice within the autistic/aspie community. Importantly, these performers use comedy as a mode of self-representation, and thus contrast strikingly with other representations of autism in popular comedy. Both The Big Bang Theory and Derek have been criticised by some for their representation of autistic characters (Sheldon and Derek, respectively) despite the writers’ firm assertions that those characters do not have the condition. In this way, such representations are implicated in questions of authorial intention and the ethics of, to use Kaite O’Reilly’s term, ‘cripping up’. Further questions arise when looking at the use of humour in applied theatre contexts – many drama interventions for autistic children use humour, but there is little research on how much this component contributes to the positive effect of the work.

The organisers of this conference welcome papers on any of the symposium themes with possible topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Autism and humour comprehension/appreciation/production
  • The ethics of the representation of autistic people in comedy (e.g. The Big Bang Theory, Derek, Community)
  • Relaxed performances as a method of opening up comic theatre
  • Disabling humour vs. disability humour and autism
  • The use of humour in interventions for autistic children
  • Political humour and the claims of the neurodiversity movement

Please send an abstract of around 300 words, along with a short biography, to Shaun May at by Tuesday 1st November 2015.

Confirmed invited speakers include Prof. Michael Fitzgerald (TCD), Kelly Hunter (Author of Shakespeare’s Heartbeat: Drama Games for Children with Autism) and Cian Binchy (performer and writer of The Misfit Analysis) with more to be announced.

This symposium is part of BA/Leverhulme funded project, Comedy on the Spectrum: Exploring Humour Production with Adolescents with Autism. For more information about the project visit

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