Yo! I just want to make it clear up top that you should not base your understanding of Tourette’s on my personal situation.
Everybody with Tourette’s has different versions and experiences. I have been lucky enough to have it only get worse later in my life, I’m able to catch and control the tics to some degree (thanks to a sensation called the “premonitory urge“), and my tics are usually pretty calm when I am calm. It may look like I have severe Tourette’s, but I believe I have a more mild condition overall, just with some intense tics that can flare up. Many people have had tics since they were children, can’t control them as well, or have even more intense or frequent outbursts.
With that out of the way, here’s some answers to the most frequent questions I get!
General Tourette’s Stuff
Do people with Tourette’s actually curse?
Yes, but only like 10% or less of people with Tourette’s have the cursing tics, called coprolalia. It’s a common misconception that all people with Tourette’s curse.
Right away, this is a good example of how Tourette’s can be so different! Most people with Tourette’s have a variety of other tics including body twitches, making noises, repeating what other people say, singing, saying non-curse words, breathing heavily, and so on. It’s a whole spectrum of severity as well, and many people go completely undiagnosed. Personally, my main tics are a bunch of silly mouth clicks, but the cursing is a lot more noticeable to other people.
Is the Tourette’s painful?
Usually no, I know I look like I might be in pain, but it generally doesn’t hurt whatsoever. Sometimes though, I’ll pull my neck from jerking it back, but that’s not too often. I’ll also get sort of muscle sore from doing the same body tics repeatedly, but certain muscles are more used to that by now. The release of tension can even feel good, but it’s not like distinctly pleasurable. It’s more like how scratching an itch feels good because it temporarily alleviates the itch, but not quite as good hahaha.
Is there a physical sensation with the tics?
Yes, it’s sort of a mental tension that briefly grips my mind, or specific muscles. That is the premonitory urge I mentioned before. I don’t always notice it if I’m not thinking about it, especially if it is a faster or smaller tic. I sort of divide them into faster bursts that I think of as tics, and slower waves that I think of as more like OCD compulsions. The compulsions are much more of an obvious thing to feel mentally, because they stick around for a lot longer. As examples, a tic might be something like a quick arm spasm, whereas a compulsion might be me repeatedly flexing my fingers for a few minutes.
It can also feel good to purposefully trigger them, which is known as “stimming,” short for stimulating. The idea is like purposefully stimulating the movement, in order to get the tension release feeling, even if the tension was relatively low. I use stimming to relatively control the timing of my tics during my act, I’ll talk more about that later.
My Personal History with Tourette’s
Have you always had Tourette’s?
Yes, but not the more intense type! I had a milder form of undiagnosed Tourette’s since around the age of 7. I would clear my throat and twitch my head fairly often, but I just assumed these were just nervous tics, as opposed to Tourette’s. When I was 21, I developed the more intense form, including various mouth noises, body movements, and coprolalia (the cursing tics – the word is Greek for “feces talk, or “dung speech” lol).
So you just suddenly developed more intense tics out of nowhere at 21?
Basically, yep! There are two possible causes:
1. Psychedelics – I did acid and shrooms in the same week in like 2015 when I was 21. For about 8 months after, I had paranoia, auditory hallucinations, and a few intense panic attacks, that slowly faded away into Tourette’s. Those drugs affect serotonin levels, and Tourette’s may be related to a serotonin imbalance. For those reasons, I believe they are related somehow. So it may be my own damn fault!
2. Weird Genetics – However, since then, another member of my family has actually also developed Tourette’s at the age of 18, so it seems like we may just have unusual genetics. Here is a link that discusses adult onset tic disorders. I have pretty much exactly the situation described in the results section. Other members of my family (and myself lol) also have OCD, which is highly correlated with Tourettes.
I’m still not certain lol, but it seems likely to be a mix of both. It seems as though I have some genetic pre-dispositions to certain neurological disorders, and the drugs helped amplify them.
How were you diagnosed?
Over the course of several months, as the other symptoms faded out, I slowly started shaking randomly and initially thought I might be having mild seizures. I went to a doctor who said it was likely Tourette’s and that I should see a neurologist. By the time I went to the neurologist, I had already started cursing, making clicking noises, and doing other vocalizations, so at that point it was obviously some form of Tourette’s. They also did some brain scans, but I don’t think Tourette’s shows up on those!
Wait, so you developed the intense Tics right before you started doing stand-up? That seems suspicious.
That’s a fair concern! Some people think I’m just doing a marketing scam to suddenly become “The Tourette’s comedian” in order to play that unique sympathy card for exposure. I’m aware that this is something people are wary of. I want to make it clear I specifically do not want to be known just for the Tourette’s, and would much rather have people like my stand-up for the jokes about animals and shit lol. To be honest, I do use it as an initial foot in the door, but I have no intention of basing my act around it.
But also, nope anyway! I started doing comedy way before I was diagnosed, in late 2013, specifically doing improv. 2014 is when I started doing stand-up, and I even have footage of my early act without any noticeable tics. The Tourette’s got worse over the course of several months in late 2015. I took time to adjust my personal life to this new situation, and figuring out how to fit it into my act. That second part didn’t take long to be honest, since my jokes are short enough for me to methodically hold and release the tension while performing. (Improv was harder since scenes are longer, and the joke was that all my characters just also had Tourette’s). The first video that did well online was filmed in mid 2017, after more than a year and a half of adjustment.
Tourette’s in my Stand-Up
Why don’t you hold it while you are on stage?
It’s like blinking! Most of the time you just blink without thinking about it, but you can hold your eyes open if you want to. When you try to hold your eyes open for an extended period of time, you feel the tension build up like you really need to blink. Then when you do blink, you have to do it a bunch. Imagine if you tried to hold your eyes open the entire time you are on stage telling jokes lol. It would be very difficult and you would probably break part way through. That is how the internal tension mechanism seems to work for my Tourette’s. Again, not everyone can do this! Many people are not able to hold the Tourette’s at all.
Do you exaggerate it on stage? You mostly only curse between jokes, that’s seems too well timed.
Right so, I don’t exaggerate it, but I do try to purposefully release the tension between jokes. I will even purposefully do a lighter tic like a tongue click, just to make sure the tension is released. Doing the tics on purpose is the practice called “Stimming” that I mentioned before – often people with tics will stim because the tension release feels good in general, even if it hasn’t built up to an involuntary level. While actually telling a joke, I generally try to hold the tics while talking, and then relieve the tension in between speaking, so it’s less likely to interrupt what I’m saying. This allows me to get rid of the tension that would otherwise pop more randomly, interrupting the jokes (which still happens, it’s not a fool proof science hahaha).
Because of this practice, some people tell me my act has a sort of metronome quality to it – which makes me wonder if the tension builds up at some sort of semi-consistent rate. Like whatever the brain chemical imbalance that is being corrected for has a predictable sin wave of build and release. I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to think about!
How do you prove it’s not fake?
A lot of people think I’m faking the Tourette’s, which is very funny to me, but I understand the skepticism. The fact that I developed worse Tourette’s so late in life, even after I started stand-up, is a suspicious situation that makes it look like I’m faking the disability to get ahead in comedy. I understand that concern. It seems fake Tourette’s is a common joke, with Cartman in South Park and the Tourette’s Guy channel on YouTube.
Well, the main proof I have of it being real would be testimony from people who interact with me regularly! Roommates, coworkers, classmates, friends, family, people that I scare on the train, and so on. I also have my neurologist’s diagnosis, and my extended family’s medical history of OCD and Tourette’s. It’d be one thing if I was doing some extremely long term bit where I pretend to have Tourette’s (ever see the movie The Prestige), but I think it would be a whole other thing if my relatives also pretended to have Tourette’s.
Other than that, I’m also not really doing Tourette’s based comedy hahaha. I just happen to have Tourette’s, but my primary focus is just that I like jokes.
Are the Tourette’s joke riffs planned?
Depends on the riff! Some are just pure luck, but I do have some of the riffs semi planned. For example, “I’m my own heckler” is just a stock line that I can do after any significant tic interruption.
Are you always cursing and shaking off stage as much as you are on stage? Like what do you do when you need to shave, go to the barber, or sleep?
Nope!! It’s a common misconception that Tourette’s is continuous, or always happening at the same rate and intensity.
This is the most important question on here to me honestly. My Tourette’s is usually not as frequent off-stage. Honestly, it’s like night and day between when I am calm and when I am anxious. There are different things or triggers that make it worse. Some of my main triggers things are general anxiety, stress, nervousness, sudden strong emotions, sexual arousal, caffeine, sugar, adrenaline, and so on. One of my weirder triggers is that I usually tic if someone winks at me. Embarrassment is my main trigger!! If I think of an embarrassing memory from high school, I can lose my shit hahaha.
The general pattern though is that it seems like being a heightened emotional state is what triggers my tics. Being on stage in front of people telling jokes is consistently something that puts me in a heightened emotional state, makes the tics flare up significantly! I think it’s even useful to look at my tics as a sort of nervous tic on steroids. When I’m at home, I can go for hours without having a noticeable major tic outburst. So shaving and sleeping are essentially relative non-issues. If anything, the issue with sleep is that I’m occasionally having loud cursing tics in an apartment with roommates who are trying to sleep hahaha. Going to the barber is actually a more interesting one because that is a semi-heightened social situation – I’m usually fine because I can hold the tics if I need to, but it can be extremely mentally frustrating for me to hold still for so long.
For Da Stoners
Are you on medicine?
Not currently, but I was previously on guanfacine, a blood pressure and ADHD medicine. The thing with Tourette’s medicines currently is that they are all actually for other things, like anxiety or ADHD (both of which I also have though). These meds also sometimes happen to work for Tourette’s, but none of them are for Tourette’s specifically. The medication I was on was actually working for me, but it also made my heart feel super tight and weird, even at lower doses, so I stopped (Tenex / Guanfacine).
How about weed ?
I think it does help! It’s a very useful tool to help relax in my own home. It’s not the best for calming my nerves for public appearances though, I get a lot more anxious with it in social situations.
How about alcohol?
Alcohol makes it worse hahaha. You know how I’ve talked about being able to pay attention and hold it? Well I lose the ability to do that with alcohol.
Can you take just CBD Oil?
CBD oil does seems to help. I just haven’t really tried it out too much! It gives me placebo vibes, but maybe there’s something to it.
If psychedelics caused it – Have you ever thought about trying to micro-dose psychedelics to reverse it?
I actually did recently do a very small micro-dose just to vibe it out, but I didn’t see any meaningful change. I am very worried that doing an actual larger dose of psychedelics again would worsen my symptoms. I’m concerned that I may have some unknown pre-dispositions that I don’t want to mess with!
Thanks for checking out these FAQs! If you have your own questions, just kinda mull over what you think the answer is in your mind.
There’s a great documentary on HBO called “I have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s doesn’t have me.” I highly recommend it if you want to know more.