A few weeks ago Ricky Gervais used the word ‘mong’ on Twitter. This is an offensive and derogatory name for people with Downs Syndrome and a lot has been written about why it’s unacceptable. For Ricky Gervais to use it is specially surprising because of the programmes he’s made that draw attention to the bigotry faced by disabled people, in a humorous and engaging way. In the end he apologised “Hard to believe,” that mong was still used abusively.
The other night he tweeted a photo of a T-shirt that made a lazy joke about Tourettes. It said:
“What do we want? A cure for Tourettes! When do we want it? Cunt!”
It’s not that this isn’t funny, but it’s a bad joke that reinforces an inaccurate stereotype. It’s a common misconception that having Tourettes means you swear, and that’s it. That’s why hundreds of people found Ricky’s tweet funny, and re-tweeted it. But anyone who follows this blog will know that Tourettes is much stranger, more challenging and funnier than the stereotype. It’s only 10% of people with Tourettes who swear.
On the evening that Ricky’s tweet was sweeping across Twitter I read a comment on a Tourettes forum from a mother whose child with Tourettes had had a bad day at school because of bullying. She said how difficult it was to explain his tics to his school and to other people because the response was always, “Well he doesn’t swear,” implying that he can’t really have Tourettes. He’s just one of the 90% who don’t swear.
I tweeted back at Ricky and challenged him about his post and encouraged him to look at this site.
Tourettes itself isn’t funny. But it can often lead to things that are, like the tics it makes me come out with. I want everyone to enjoy, celebrate and share them but not to use them to make fun of people.
There’s a big difference between laughing at a person and laughing with them. On this occasion Ricky Gervais got it wrong. We tread that fine line every day on this site and it’s important to me we get it right. Shared laughter and a good joke can be a powerful way to promote understanding and challenge stereotypes.
I once heard a mother whose son has Tourettes say, “You have to get a sense of humour when you get a diagnosis of Tourettes.” This is very true. My life would be infinitely harder if I didn’t laugh at my tics and share them with other people so they can laugh too.