WINNIPEG -- It takes guts doing stand-up comedy. Stepping in front of the crowd can be even more nerve-wracking when you have autism, but Winnipeg comedian Adam Schwartz is used to living outside his comfort zone.

“On my first day of work, I heard it was casual Friday, so I showed up a half hour late, wearing sweatpants.” The joke landed and lightened the mood Saturday night at the Le Garage café in St. Boniface.

“You could feel the crowd almost feel uncomfortable because they want him to succeed, but they also want it to be funny,” said an audience member.

Schwartz calls himself an “unlikely comedian.”

He started doing stand-up nine years ago, using humour to highlight the struggles of people with autism “like making friends and dating and getting a job,” says Schwartz.

The 34-year-old says comedy helped him come to terms with having Asperger’s. 

“I wasn’t really able to accept my autism until I started making jokes about being weird and awkward. By making jokes I took away the power it had over stigmatizing me.”

Schwartz also tries to challenge misconceptions about autism. “I turn all the funny questions I get into jokes I tell on stage.”

As well as coming up with new material, the comedian also works at the library. He says he still has trouble sometimes reading his audiences, but finds refuge in reading and writing. He has published several stories, including a children’s book called “Ana and the Substitute Teacher” about a girl with autism who struggles to fit in.

Being an outcast is something he can relate to. Schwartz gives speeches at schools across Winnipeg to fight the kind of bullying he faced as a child. 

“I don’t think it’s that children are mean, well some are mean. It’s rejecting anyone that’s different. If you can explain why children are different and why they act differently, you’re more likely to get people to appreciate each other.”

Schwartz says it’s still not easy meeting new people, but he has found a sense of community in the world of comedy. 

“We’re all weirdos, stand-up comedians especially, so they’re more inclusive.”

“He’s just wonderful to be around, in a way that is so uniquely funny and only Adam can do,” said Schwartz’ friend and fellow comedian Tim Gray.

While Schwartz’ brand of humour stands out, his message is universal. 

“We have to embrace our weirdness and the things that make us different in order to be our true selves.”