Edinburgh Fringe: Tourette’s charity wants apology over award-winning joke

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BBC/Mark Yeoman

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Jess Thom, a comedian with Tourette’s, is one of several people calling out Olaf Falafel for his award-winning joke

A charity for people with Tourette’s syndrome has asked a comedian to apologise for his award-winning joke made at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.

Tourettes Action said it was “so disappointed” by Swedish comedian Olaf Falafel’s gag, which won Dave’s “Funniest Joke of The Fringe” prize.

It said the fact the public voted for the joke showed “how we as a nation deal with people who are different”.

A comedian said she was “tired” of her condition being used as a punchline.

Falafel won the award with the gag: “I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.

TV channel Dave asked panellists – comprising the UK’s leading comedy critics – to submit their six favourite jokes made at the festival.

It then put the shortlist to 2,000 members of the public, 41% of whom voted for Falafel’s joke.

One of the panellists who shortlisted the joke, Kate Stone, told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat: “It’s a good one, it’s a pun, everyone kind of recognises it as… it’s intended to be a joke and I think that’s one of the things that matters the most for this.”

But the chief executive of the UK’s Tourettes Action charity said the “rubbish” joke had brought “shame on Dave”.

Suzanne Dobson said her charity had been about to launch a campaign to stop using Tourette’s as a punchline – “which unfortunately has come about a week too late”.

“Humour is a great way of educating people – but not only is it not funny to poke fun at people with Tourette’s, it’s not even that funny a joke, is it?” she said.

Ms Dobson said the charity’s helpline had several calls on Monday from parents of children with the syndrome who were angered and upset by the joke.

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Tourettes Action

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Suzanne Dobson said she found it difficult to understand what the general public found “so funny” about the joke

The charity is now calling on Dave and Falafel to apologise.

“I would ask them to walk in the shoes of somebody with Tourette’s for a day, and then come back and tell me if they find it quite so amusing,” Ms Dobson said.

Olaf Falafel and Dave have been contacted for comment.

Jess Thom, a comedian who has Tourette’s, said she was “not surprised” by the insensitive gag.

“It’s just exhausting. I woke up this morning and I looked at that, and it just made me feel sad and tired,” she said.

“I work hard to try and make good comedy, and to make it accessible to a broad range of people… and it feels frustrating when non-accessible, stereotyped work is rewarded,” she said.

What is Tourette’s syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological condition that causes people to make involuntary sounds and movements, known as tics.

Tics are not normally harmful to a person’s health.

However, physical tics – such as jerking of the head or limbs – can cause pain, discomfort, and mobility problems.

People often associate the condition with swearing or saying socially inappropriate things – but that only affects about 10% of those with the syndrome.

An estimated 300,000 adults and children in the UK live with the neurological condition.

Ms Thom also pointed out that neither of Falafel’s shows at the festival this year were “relaxed performances” aimed at encouraging people with Tourette’s or autism to feel comfortable in the audience.

Olaf Falafel, who claims to be “Sweden’s 8th funniest” comedian, said it was a “fantastic honour” to win Dave’s prize.

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