Alum finds his funny bone
When Towson alumnus Matt Kaiser first enrolled at Towson at age 30, he said he couldn’t identify what made him feel different from his peers, even with the age gap. Five years later that he found his answer, when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.
Asperger’s is characterized by difficulty in interacting socially and repetitious patterns.
“I didn’t find out about [Asperger’s] until I was 35, and I was 30 when I started as a student at Towson. For various reasons, I found it was difficult to fit in with the acting track at Towson. I saw it as a great opportunity to perform, but not everything was clicking into place,” Kaiser said.
After graduation, Kaiser worked hard to grab every single opportunity thrown his way to continue doing what he loves: comedy. He has had several experiences working paid stand-up gigs, and classes with world-renowned organizations like Second City, a comedy club and school of improvisation.
Most recently, Kaiser has begun teaching a comedy techniques class at the Hussman Center for Adults with Autism. Although he said never imagined teaching comedy, he is looking forward to the opportunity, saying that his students show great promise.
“I feel it’s important for people that are stereotypically shy and introverted to have a chance to let the ‘funny’ out,” Kaiser said. “I feel it’s a very effective way of ‘breaking the ice’ and communicating. I am looking forward to the performance showcase which will be sometime early in May.”
Kaiser and his longtime friend William Rollins are also working on a documentary about Kaiser’s experience as a stand-up comedian with Asperger’s syndrome. The film will be titled “Your Asperger’s is Showing” and will incorporate his work with the Hussman Center.
Kaiser based one of his stand-up routines off his experience with Asperger’s. It took him several re-writes and an entire year before he was able to perfect it, but one he said is beneficial in helping him find shows.
“I wanted to do the routine because I didn’t know about Asperger’s when I first started stand-up, so in the beginning, I think people didn’t understand why I might seem a bit ‘off’,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser said his largest gig thus far was when he performed with a duo of dentists, called The Madow Group, who hold yearly dental conferences in Las Vegas.
“They write and perform song parodies related to dentistry, and they hired me to clown around with a tambourine,” Kaiser said. “They had an audience of 1500 people. I realize this is an unconventional route for a typical stand-up comic, but its good experience and good exposure.”
Kaiser said that most of his students haven’t performed before, which is a change from teaching an improv class of experienced performers at Second City. Most of the techniques he will be address he learned from classes at Second City, workshops at the QuestFest Visual Theatre Festival, and his former teacher, Towson theatre professor Tom Casciero.
Kaiser explained when he was struggling where he fit in with the acting track, Casciero’s THEA 301: Techniques of Comedy class finally gave him what he was looking for.
“I enjoyed being free to be funny, and create my own projects,” Kaiser said. “I learned about mime, slapstick comedy, improvisation, clowning, doing fun things with props and stand-up comedy.”
Kaiser said he is thankful for his experiences at Towson and the theater staff who saw potential in him and helped him find his niche in comedy. From this discovery, he now has the credentials he needs to acquire even more opportunities to make people smile and laugh.
“I can tell you this, if I never went to Towson, I’d be a very lost guy trying to find opportunities to perform. I spent 35 years of my life not knowing why people were perceiving me differently,” Kaiser said. “They didn’t realize that when I am on the stage, I am a different person.”