If you haven’t heard of Christopher Smith Bryant, you haven’t been paying attention to the L.A. comedy scene. A rapidly rising comedian, Christopher was recently listed on Pride’s “10 Gay Comedians You Should Know” and The Oddysey’s “Top 5 Gay Comedians You Should Pay Attention To.”
He’s also a judge on the Netflix series “Cooking on High” and is featured on Amazon’s “Out on Stage.” While taking over the stage and screen with his incisive, razor-sharp wit, he’s simultaneously gaining fame for his “meme queen” status on Instagram @tenderchris.
Christopher’s growing success in a field that relies heavily on deep and nuanced understanding of the emotional states of others might come as a surprise to some who learn that he has Autism Spectrum Disorder. But Christopher has some good explanations for why we shouldn’t be surprised at all.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that causes communication, social, and behavioral challenges. It impacts how one perceives and socializes with others. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and their severity – from the more mild Asperger’s Syndrome to more severe forms of autism.
ASD begins in early childhood and causes the individual to have difficulty functioning socially in school. Symptoms include lack of eye contact, indifference to caregivers, unresponsiveness to their name, disinterest in being held or touched, preference for playing alone, repetitive behaviors or movements, fixating on activities or objects with intense and sustained focus, and difficulty interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues.
With greater understanding of their condition and therapy, those with ASD can become better communicators and develop more effective social engagement skills. Considering the fact that comedians are typically some of the best known and most skilled communicators, Christopher’s talents in the field are especially impressive.
Although he knew for a long time that he was probably on the autism spectrum, he felt deep down too ashamed to accept it. After years of speaking with mentors, friends, and family, Christopher saw a psychiatrist two months ago, in June 2019, and received the diagnosis.
When he finally received the official diagnosis, rather than shame, Christopher felt a sense of relief and understanding. He said, “I felt like someone was finally giving me the ‘keys to my car,’ and now I’m learning to drive my brain rather than pushing it uphill.”
Christopher said something that helped him significantly with his ASD was his training in improv (improvisational comedy) prior to moving into stand-up. Improv provided him with a set list of guidelines and rules to play by, which he found transferable to and extremely helpful in social situations. When he began doing stand-up, he used these rules to communicate his thoughts and feelings in ways he hadn’t previously been able to.
Christopher observed, “Comedy is a great way to connect with people, and you can talk about your pain in a way that puts others in your shoes. Stand-up creates a ‘no shame’ environment where the artist is allowed to be flawed and vulnerable.”
He went on to add, “Comedy is great for people on the spectrum, because in a lot of ways a joke is like a mathematical equation, and we know that it’s an environment where nothing is to be taken literally. In real life, it’s hard for our brains to differentiate what’s to be taken literally and what is metaphorical or ironic.”
You would never guess watching his stand-up that as a child Christopher had difficulty making friends and maintaining connections. He connects powerfully and potently with the audience, masterfully commands and maintains, their attention, and is intensely engaging from start to finish.
His growing success in comedy is a testament to Christopher’s determination to overcome the otherwise limiting features of ASD. He says, “I believe the first step to overcoming some of these difficulties is accepting that my brain operates a bit differently. You can’t fight to change who you are without first taking note about how your thoughts and feelings operate. You can’t change your patterns without recognizing how they work and have developed first.”
Christopher’s advice to those who share his ASD diagnosis is to be proud and to communicate who you are to others. Being honest about his diagnosis has drawn him closer to many of his friends. He says that even though a majority of his friends aren’t on the spectrum, they can relate to many of his challenges. Opening up about his mental health has given them permission to open up about their experiences, so that they can have more honest and empathetic communication with each other.
Christopher added that, “Vulnerability, empathy, and communication build relationships and community. As someone who is LGBT, and doesn’t have the closest relationship with some of my family members because of this, finding a community that I can call my second family has been one of the most important gifts I’ve been able to receive in my life. And the only reason I have this gift is because of vulnerable, openhearted, conversations.”
Christopher is living, breathing, laughter-inducing proof that one’s diagnosis does not determine one’s destiny. No matter what, you have the power within you to overcome and rise to whatever heights you set your sights on. But only if you’re willing to be honest, open, and vulnerable with yourself and with others.