Tonight on his TV chat show Jonathan Ross described Jamie Oliver as being ‘Like Gordon Ramsey but without the Tourettes.’ I’m not particularly worked up by this comment but I do want to say once again, and as clearly as I can, why I don’t find jokes about Tourettes and swearing funny.
It’s not because I don’t have a sense of humour about Tourettes – this site demonstrates how important celebrating the funny side of it is.
My tics often make me and whoever I’m with laugh out loud. They can be vivid, surreal and often very funny. Look through them for yourself – I challenge you not to laugh.
Very few people with Tourettes (only 10%) have swearing tics (Coprolalia). But involuntary swearing seems to be what’s most strongly associated with the condition in the minds of most people. I’m one of the people with Tourettes whose tics do include swearing, but this is only a tiny aspect of how it affects me. The reality is much stranger, much more challenging and much funnier than the stereotype.
Here are some of the reasons why jokes that perpetuate the myth that Tourettes is just about swearing are damaging:
• People with Tourettes but without swearing tics are frequently told that they can’t have Tourettes because they don’t swear. Being disbelieved and questioned about your disability in this way is upsetting.
• It’s because the swearing myth is so dominant that most people don’t know anything about the painful and disabling aspects of Tourettes. This can make getting help harder than it need be. People are often shocked when they find that my motor tics mean I use a wheelchair, hit myself in the chest, and need help to eat and drink.
• Joking about a symptom of a disability or health condition about which you know very little is unlikely to make great comedy.
One particular joke that plays on the stereotype of Tourettes as ‘the swearing disease’ frequently does the rounds on Twitter and Facebook. It goes like this:
‘What do we want? A cure for Tourettes! When do we want it? Cunt!’
Recently someone who’d just watched my Christmas Message tweeted a variant on this joke that was much funnier:
‘What do we want? AWARENESS FOR TOURETTES! When do we want it? BISCUIT!!!!!’
I was pleased to see a crude and boring joke turned into something funnier and more biscuity.
Individually, thoughtless jokes and comments may seem harmless enough, but they join thousands of others and collectively perpetuate the idea that Tourettes is a by-word for swearing. This is unhelpful and untrue, but it can be changed. There are lots of funny aspects of having Tourettes, but in itself it’s not a joke. Don’t let comedians, celebrities or friends fob you off with lazy humour – demand something better.
And to all the comedians, TV personalities and politicians who use Tourettes to make cheap jokes, why not make a New Year’s resolution to up your game and make people laugh by being funny.
“A badger carried Mary on the dusty road.”