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How ‘I Think You Should Leave’ Conveys The Autistic Experience

Coincidence or intentionally coded?

By Jay KobayashiPublished 3 months ago 5 min read

Last time, I wrote about how Tim Robinson’s sketch comedy series, I Think You Should Leave is deeper than you think because of its unique brand of absurdist humor and cringe metacommentary. There is no denying that the show excels in illustrating the awkwardness and intricacies of social situations. However, it unexpectedly resonates strongly with many people on the autism spectrum.

While the show is not explicitly designed as a commentary on the autistic experience, there are undeniable parallels that shed light on the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals in a neurotypical world. So in this article, we’ll explore how I Think You Should Leave provides a unique lens into understanding some aspects of the autistic experience.

Social Missteps

One of the central themes of I Think You Should Leave is the portrayal of social missteps and the intense desire to belong. Many of Tim Robinson’s characters frequently find themselves in situations where they accidentally make a mistake socially, but instead of accepting it and moving on, they tend to double down so they don’t get embarrassed by their initial mistake.

This, of course, leads Robinson’s characters to deviate in ways no one sees coming and furthers any escalating awkwardness in the process. Sketches such as the Job Interview, the Nacho Date, and the Gift Receipt all presented scenarios where Robinson’s characters doubled down in order to save face.

This choice of doubling down to save face echoes the experience of many autistic people who may struggle with understanding social cues and the unwritten rules of conversation and interaction. Often times, they may feel compelled to take such drastic actions in order to avoid being the butt of the joke or be labeled as the odd one out.

The Novice Driver is a great example of this as Robinson plays a character who doesn’t know how to drive and is unintentionally blocking the car behind him. In any other sketch show, Robinson’s character would clearly be in the wrong, but after seeing how his character panics at the sound of a car horn and continuously looking like he is on the verge of tears, we become empathetic towards the him and turn on the man yelling at him.

“Nobody knows how to do everything, driving isn’t the only thing.”- Tim Robinson

While the anxiety and the possible isolation that can arise from these social missteps is something neurotypical people can pass off and forget, but for neurodivergent individuals they see it as a constant day-to-day challenge, because we live in a society where desirable social interactions can ultimately affect how large or small your social circle can become.

Misinterpretation Of Social Cues

ITYSL often hinges on characters misinterpreting social cues and leads them to situations that spiral out of control. Autistic individuals can experience similar challenges in interpreting nonverbal signals, tone of voice, or figurative language. While ITYSL takes these misunderstandings to comedic extremes, it inadvertently highlights the confusion and frustration that can arise from such miscommunications in real life.

The Crying Baby sketch is a perfect example of this, as Robinson plays a character who interprets a crying baby as a sign that people can’t change for the better. As the sketch progresses, we learn that Robinson’s character used to be a ‘piece of shit’ who caused disturbances at restaurants with his friends by pouring water on steaks and eating them.

Robinson’s character is absolutely frustrated at the fact the baby doesn’t think people can change and goes off on a rant, about how he is no longer a “piece of shit”. It wasn’t until he gets validation from the baby’s grandfather about how people can change and that validation is even furthered when Robinson holds the baby again and he doesn’t cry.

“Meredith, I’m worried that the baby thinks people can’t change.”- Tim Robinson

Seeing how this conflict all started with a crying baby, ITYSL is juxtaposing these comedic misunderstandings with how autistic individuals misinterpret social cues and leads them down a rabbit hole that seems far-stretched. However, it is important to mention that these kinds of misinterpretations can always be amended with proper communication.

The Struggle For Acceptance

As previously mentioned, many of Robinson’s sketches frequently feature characters going to great lengths to fit in or cover up their blunders, sometimes making things worse in the process. This mirrors the coping mechanism known as “masking,” where autistic individuals may suppress their natural behaviors to conform to social expectations.

The exhaustion and strain of this façade is very much detrimental for people’s mental and physical health. So when autistic individuals get a chance to not suppress their natural behaviors, they inadvertently become ostracized because their natural reactions and behaviors is considered odd or ill-timed.

The Ghost Tour sketch perfectly encapsulates this, as Robinson plays a character who attends a haunted house tour and gets kicked out because of his immature sounding questions. This sketch shows us how quick we can judge people, as Robinson’s character was revealed to be a sheltered individual who grew up with a strict and overbearing mother.

For people on the spectrum, this sketch really highlights the struggles they face when they are trying to be their most authentic and genuine. In fact, this is a constant everyday struggle for people on the spectrum and would often opt to suppress themselves in order to show off the idealized version of themselves that they are trying to be.

You Sure About That?

While I Think You Should Leave does not set out to be a commentary on autism, its comedic exploration of social faux pas, communication breakdowns, and the universal human need for acceptance touches on themes that resonate deeply with the autistic experience. The show’s absurdism magnifies the dissonance between personal behavior and societal expectations, offering a reflection — albeit exaggerated — of the very real challenges faced by those with autism.

“You sure about that? That’s why?” | Credit: Netflix

By laughing at the awkwardness of its characters’ attempts to navigate a world that doesn’t always understand them, the show inadvertently invites viewers to develop a greater understanding of and empathy for those who navigate similar challenges in reality.

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About the Creator

Jay Kobayashi

A starving writer from LA who aspires to be plagiarized one day. I like to write about academic pieces that identifies philosophy and psychology in pop culture, and sometimes random fun pieces that interests me or the algorithm!

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