I keep randomly shouting out “write some original material you lazy fucks”. I think I might have Tourette’s comedy Tourette’s.
Apologies in advance if this blog offends you and apologies if this blog doesn’t offend you as much as you’d like. The annual “best joke of the Edinburgh fringe” list was just released, with a joke about Tourette’s winning. “I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have Florets.”
To start with, I’m not sure it rhymes that well. Have I been pronouncing florets wrong? Or Tourette’s? That would be embarrassing. The joke was written by Olaf Falafel…I’m not sure if that’s his real name, I haven’t done any research. As a vegan I assumed I’d love a joke by a chickpea-based Swede about cauliflower, so this feels like a missed opportunity. “What do you call a cow with Tourette’s? Beef jerky”. If I did like jokes, I’d prefer that one. Yes, the vegan prefers the meat joke. Enough of your tired assumptions.
I actually quite like Olaf, and no, I didn’t find his joke offensive. Or any jokes about Tourette’s for that matter. That’s not to say I don’t think the vast majority are shit. No subject should be off limits for comedy, but if you’re relying on clichéd stereotypes you probably shouldn’t be winning any awards. Then again, the most popular comedy on TV is often aimed at people who never go to live shows or enjoy jokes that involve knowing things. The Edinburgh fringe featured over 3,500 different shows last year. The idea of finding the best material amongst that is, well…laughable. Even if you did see them all somehow, so many are focused on long-form comedy you wouldn’t be able to explain them in a simple clickbait article. So we’re left with a list of old school one-liners, aimed at people who don’t go to comedy. Most of whom then say “you call this comedy, PC brigade ruined it, can’t say anything these days”. To those people I say, you’re absolutely right. Please never visit. These days you can’t even mock the disabled without some leftie snowflake moaning or Russia making you president.
There have been plenty of far worse fringe Tourette’s jokes. Not least when I was too twitchy for the barbers and decided to cut my own hair. I’ve lost count of the number of comedians who have made jokes about Tourette’s, and it’s always based around uncontrollable swearing or shouting out random words and phrases. Most of them don’t mean any harm at all and many of my favourite comedians have done it at some point. It just became part of popular culture – Tourette’s means shouting out random stuff or being offensive. My heart always sinks a bit when I hear it, but mainly it’s just exhausting. While I appreciate the forensic analysis of a fairly tame one liner will quickly receive calls of lacking humour from people with flags in their usernames, it’s vital we keep educating people about the realities of Tourette’s. Then at some point, besides greater acceptance, understanding and access to treatment, we may also see some original comedy. The vast majority of Tourette’s jokes seem to be from people who don’t have it, haven’t been around it and haven’t read anything. It’s all focused on vocal outbursts and cringeworthy wordplay. But you won’t see any of that around here.
“Took my wife to the doctors today to sort out her Tourette’s. Turns out she doesn’t have Tourette’s and genuinely does want me to fuck off.” I don’t even mind this one as the target of the joke is the rubbish husband, although I’ve never understood the sense of pride so many guys take in not getting on with their partner. The joke is also still relying on Tourette’s just being about swearing. It’s so relentless in comedy and wider society that it’s become the main misconception we have to fight. Then you run the risk of alienating the people who actually do experience severe vocal tics and coprolalia. You can write comedy about swearing and random outbursts, and some people with Tourette’s have already done it really well. The key is personal understanding and context. I guarantee those who experience vocal tics that make people laugh are also experiencing painful and exhausting physical tics and a range of associated disorders such as depression, anxiety and OCD.
“Oh mate, it must be amazing to have Tourette’s you can say whatever you like.” I mean, you can do that anyway can’t you? The trick is just not to have any horrific views you feel the need to keep secret, like racism, sexism or liking James Corden. There’s never been more freedom of speech or more platforms to smear it on. It’s just that freedom includes the right to say something is rubbish or offensive, and to judge someone for it. There is a fundamental difference between the suppression of ideas and merely having standards. I preferred it when this didn’t need explaining. I was once blocked by a well-known comedy writer for suggesting it’s not the best tactic to say Trump has Tourette’s. When there are thousands of things to legitimately criticise him for, why stoop to his level, promote ignorance and make life more difficult for people with disabilities? Since then Graham has gone on to thrive in the Twitter transphobia sphere.
The list of the best jokes of the Fringe is mainly aimed at headlines, with little real interest in comedy, the Fringe and certainly not Tourette’s or mental health. Yet it will reach far further than this, further than any article or research on Tourette’s, and further than a lot of mental health writing. Stripped of all nuance like a Ricky Gervais Netflix special, we’re left back at square one with Tourette’s meaning swearing and uncontrollable outbursts. But far be it for me to portray myself as an authority on comedy when I don’t watch Mrs Brown’s Boys and I’ve never vomited on a stag do at Jongleurs. You can’t just go around demanding nuance, context and originality in comedy. What next, women on panel shows? Three-dimensional disabled characters?
I’ve never been able to blame swearing on Tourette’s. I’ll probably get into trouble for swearing in this, as some people still seem to find it more offensive than any of the world’s real problems. Despite my lack of vocal outbursts, Tourette’s has brought comedy into my life on many occasions. I’ve no problem with people laughing with me, even at me in the right context and it can help to make light of it. When your legs twitch so much while running you stumble into the canal, you kind of have to laugh. When your arm tics make you swing back and grab someone’s testicles in the London marathon, you kind of have to speed up and get away. Once when ticcing away getting ready for work, I slowly and carefully prepared a bagel, focusing on not twitching. I then went to take a bite only for my arm to tic so hard I threw it out an open window. Humour is also required in the most awkward moments, such as a girlfriend asking if her outfit made her look fat, then saying “no of course not” while suffering from a severe nodding tic. Or just repeatedly winking at scary looking men on the tube.
There’s a really difficult side to Tourette’s, sometimes a really dark and lonely side. It is often extremely physically painful, exhausting, limiting and a million miles from funny. It’s also often funny. I’d rather someone greet it with humour but take the time to understand it. My first experiences of Tourette’s were all vocal, with various noises, repetition and shouting or emphasising certain words. That died down a lot over the years and the uncontrollable words were gone by adulthood. It’s a huge relief really; you can’t say anything these days.