Mark Duplass wasn’t sure, initially, that he’d be able to make his new docuseries “On Tour with Asperger’s Are Us” because it wasn’t about a murder.
“If you’re watching a documentary series right now, most of the ones that are popular have to do with true crime or murder or something crazy,” says Duplass, 42. “There weren’t a lot of people out there who wanted to greenlight a docuseries that had this sweet, almost family feel to it.”
So Duplass funded the six-episode series himself.
Airing in six half-hour episodes this week on HBO (8 p.m.), “On Tour” follows a comedy troupe with the titular name, comprised of four young men with Asperger’s Syndrome — Noah Britton, Ethan Finlan, Jack Hanke and New Michael Ingemi — as they drive across the country in an RV and perform comic skits in cities such as Baltimore and Boston. The men met each other at a camp.
“I couldn’t get anybody to pay for this so we decided to just go out and do it on our own,” says Duplass. “Luckily we were able to find HBO to partner with us at the end. It was definitely a little risky and scary.”
“On Tour” was filmed over six weeks in the summer of 2016 and was executive-produced by Duplass and his brother, Jay, and directed by Alex Lehmann. None of them had any personal experience with Asperger’s, a developmental disorder that, in part, manifests itself through difficulties in social interaction.
“I was researching Asperger’s and comedy for a script I was writing a while ago,” says Lehmann, 37. “I feel ridiculous saying this now that I’ve learned so much about them, but to be honest I thought that autism and Asperger’s meant that you were so analytically brained that there wasn’t any room for being funny or absurd or creative.
“I came across an article about these guys [and] I realized there was a comedy troupe with Asperger’s syndrome and all my preconceptions had to be thrown out the window,” he says. “And a documentary project had to be made so I could learn more about them.”
At the time, Lehmann was a cameraman on FX’s “The League,” which counted Duplass as a cast member.
“I was actually going out on my free time making this documentary, and [Duplass] caught wind of the fact that I had this project going,” Lehmann says. “Once he got to see everything he was excited to be a part of it. It became a better and bigger project.”
Duplass said their main concern was not making the documentary seem exploitative.
“We didn’t want to make this like, ‘Look at these guys and look how funny this will be,’ ” he says. “The intention was to very clearly and plainly show the sort of average everyday life of someone on the spectrum and amplify that from being on tour.”
Lehmann says that the filmmakers wanted to juxtapose the troupe’s life on the road with their impact on the autism community. “[The series is] showcasing the guys’ comedy, the road life, and at the same time showing how much of a positive influence they are on the autism community,” he says.
Since Duplass didn’t know much about Asperger’s, he says he was impressed by how emotionally evolved the men were. “I’m 42, I’ve been going to therapy for 20 years to understand myself, what my limits are and how to deal with it,” he says.
“And these guys blow me … out of the water with how well they know themselves, self care, how to transcend that stuff. They’re real models in that regard.”
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