Michael McCreary has always been funny - both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha.
The 19 year-old from Orangeville, Ontario makes no secret that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, at the tender age of five. In fact, he has launched a comedy career poking fun of his quirks, his constant need for attention, and - his words - his inability to shut up.
Over the past four years Michael has performed his act, Does This Make My Asperger’s Look Big?, more than a hundred times across the country, eliciting belly laughs and raising autism awareness along the way.
Despite a speech delay as a child, Michael often spoke in movie quotes (a speech pattern known as echolalia, not uncommon in Aspies.) In grade three, he penned a SpongeBob play for his classmates, with a part for everyone, and performed as The California Raisins in a school talent show.
Although he was a natural performer, life wasn’t always a barrel of laughs for Michael, particularly in elementary school. “I wasn't bullied a lot in the traditional sense; I was more ostracized. It was a very lonely time.”
Because he wasn’t able to articulate what he was going through, his mother encouraged him to journal. The writing process proved therapeutic, and soon Michael was crafting narratives out of his own experiences. “I would write down everything: the good, the bad...the funny.” Writing gave him a voice, when no one seemed to be listening.
When he was 12, Michael came across a news story about a comic who joked about having bipolar disorder. It struck a cord. The man was David Granirer, author of The Happy Neurotic and founder of Stand Up For Mental Health.
By happy coincidence, Granirer taught a comedy workshops for individuals with mental health issues. Though McCreary was only 13 at the time, Granirer accepted him. Instead of avoiding sensitive topics, Granirer's students mined their diagnoses for material. Suddenly autism was no longer taboo. Suddenly the audience had permission to laugh along with Michael at his own quirks. And laugh it did.
Michael likens his Aspie jokes to “dipping into a cold pool. There's that initial hesitation, the abrupt discomfort that follows, then ultimately, relief that you're finally into it.”
Though Doug and Susan McCreary nurtured Michael’s talent from the beginning, his parents downplay their role in making their son's stand-up dreams come true. “We kept our eyes and ears open for opportunities that he would enjoy. And as parents we do what many parents do, we DRIVE...everywhere.”
But weren't they worried about how the crowd would react to Michael's unique sense of humour?
“I get the stage fright that he has never had,” confesses his mom, Susan. “Every time he goes on stage I am filled with a mixture of pride and dread. As he has grown and matured I start to worry a tiny bit less about the audience and trust that he is learning to take care of himself.”
Which is ultimately what all parents want for their kids, whether they have special needs or not.
Check out Michael's forthcoming performance at the third annual ‘In Their Words’ fundraiser in support of Ontario families affected by autism.
The fundraiser will take place on 1 October at Palais Royale in Toronto. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.