Mass. comedienne: Jesting about Asperger's helps
SAUGUS, Mass.—A 23-year-old Saugus resident will be taking the stage alongside dozens of female comedians and performers next month at Improv Boston's fourth annual Women in Comedy Festival.
Britt Mitchell, a graduate of Saugus High School, was chosen after a friend sent in a video of her performing.
Mitchell is no seasoned comedian, she acknowledged during a recent interview. She has performed stand-up just once before, and next month will be standing out for a different reason: Mitchell was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in fourth grade.
"That's kind of my main schtick," said Mitchell. "I talk about my life around Asperger's and I try to inspire people through comedy. I think comedy is a way of talking about things that are naturally uncomfortable to bring up in a normal conversation. It's also somewhat of a therapeutic tool for me to talk about it. I don't like to talk about it when I'm not on stage. It's kind of my outlet for it."
Dania Jekel, Executive Director of the Asperger's Association of New England, described Asperger's as being "on the autism spectrum."
"It comes with some really positive strengths like fairly high intelligence and a good memory, and some creative ability," said Jekel. "Some of the main challenges are really in the area of social communication, understanding how to communicate with somebody and understanding the unwritten rules of social behavior. People can also have some issues with planning and initiating things ... and with some anxiety and depression."
Mitchell said she's hoping her performance will help break the stereotypes associated with Asperger's, which she described as "being inward and awkward."
"I am a different type of person with Asperger's that no one really knows about," said Mitchell. "I not only want to break the stereotype, but help people understand it more. I can be very charismatic, but at the same time I can be very awkward. It's a very social thing. You can tell in social situations. Since I'm very extroverted, people initially don't believe me at first when I tell them."
Mitchell got her start in comedy at Saugus High School, performing with the improv troupe Needs Improvment. From there, she attended Salem State, where she graduated last year with a degree in theater.
Mitchell works as a substitute teacher at the high school and a tour guide in Salem, which she said helps her on stage.
"When I'm a tour guide, I'm always telling people stories so it kind of helps me be a natural storyteller," said Mitchell. "Stand-up is probably the most vulnerable thing you can do. Not only are you getting people into your own life, but in order to be successful you have to make people laugh and entertain them. You want people to relate to you . you're putting yourself out there so much."
Mitchell said her biggest influences in comedy are Robin Williams and Chris Farley, and she said she looks up to other female comedians like Margaret Cho, Jane Lynch, Rachel Dratch and Melissa McCarthy.
Mitchell said she has an easier time relating to these unique acts, as opposed to comedians Mitchell considers "quite attractive."
"Obviously I'm a different comedian because I have Asperger's," said Mitchell. "I usually tend to like comedians that aren't the most attractive. I'm not saying I'm ugly, but I feel like I can relate to them more. That's why I really get inspired by Chris Farley or Robin Williams."
Mitchell said she isn't nervous yet since she's had more than a month to prepare her five-minute set.
And even though this will be just her second live performance, Mitchell noted stand-up comedy is a career path she wants to pursue.
"If I could get paid to do stand-up comedy, I probably would be the happiest person on the planet," said Mitchell. "Doing this festival will not only get experience points for me, but it will teach me and get me into the world of comedy. I'm not even a headliner, I'm just a small part of this amazing festival with all these women. Hopefully this is the start of things to come."
The Women in Comedy Festival runs from March 21 through 25 in Cambridge. For more information visit http://womenincomedyfestival.com