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Epilepsy in Young People

Humour and jokes about epilepsy

Many young people we spoke with talked about humour as an important way for them and their friends and families to deal with epilepsy, to bring down barriers and brighten up a bad day. Here people talk about the role humour plays in relation to their epilepsy.

Most people said humour helped them to cope and deal with having epilepsy. Humour also helped them not to get too depressed about their seizures and about living with epilepsy. One woman said she'd 'go mad' without having a laugh about her epilepsy.

 

Kirsty and her family try not to take epilepsy too seriously and have a laugh together.

Kirsty and her family try not to take epilepsy too seriously and have a laugh together.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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My family, they just kind of let things go over their heads, they don't try to let it go in too much. Like when my mum was told she just ignored it kind of thing, but then like when I spoke to her like a few months after she said oh she did cry, and went down to her mum's, my nan's. She said she like still thinks about it, but she doesn't, we don't really speak about it much together. We just kind of joke around about it like, we try not to acknowledge it too seriously, we just try to let it go over our heads, because it's much easier that way.

What would you joke about it? 

My dad would just like take the mick, and just say like, "Ah yeah come on I want to see you shake around on the floor and stuff, I want to film you and show all my friends". And I just wouldn't mind and he just tries to say like jokes about epilepsy and all that, and I laugh along with it, because it's not a serious problem to be honest [laughs]. It's alright.

Would you make jokes as well?

Yeah, I don't mind, if people say a joke to me I'll laugh along with them because I find it quite funny as well. I'm not a too serious person anyway.

So would you ever be upset about any of those jokes?

No, not really, not really no. I don't mind it, as long as the right person is saying it like because like I don't mind if it's like a jokey joke, but if they take it too far, then you can get upset sometimes but you just say to them, like stop, it's gone a bit too far, and they're like, alright, then they just say sorry, and it's okay.

For some, having a sense of humour and making jokes about epilepsy reflected their general outlook on life; they said they were generally very positive and joked about most things, so why not about epilepsy too.

People said that having a sense of humour about epilepsy showed that they were open and able to talk about it. Many said that they preferred their good friends to have a laugh about epilepsy rather than take it too seriously or fuss over them - this showed that their friends were comfortable with it. One woman said, “If people are too afraid to joke about it, then they're probably the ones that are most uncomfortable.”

 

Holly says the greatest compliment anyone who knows her well can give her is 'to take the piss'...

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Holly says the greatest compliment anyone who knows her well can give her is 'to take the piss'...

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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I just think it's [humour] really important like when I would be in hospital and I'd be really unwell and people could come in and make me laugh, that was a really wonderful gift. They could leave their grapes and whatever behind, just being able to make me laugh and I think being able to laugh at yourself is one of the most important things. And I always think as well like if you can' a greatest compliment anybody can ever give me is to take the piss out of me. I know that sounds, but that means that they're kind of comfortable with me and that's nice and I just think that's the best compliment. I don't mind it when people take the piss out of me, about having epilepsy as long as it's actually funny.

 

Ben says he prefers his mates to be blunt and make a joke about him having a seizure rather than...

Ben says he prefers his mates to be blunt and make a joke about him having a seizure rather than...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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With the humour aspect' say we'll talk about doing things as a group of mates, and certain circumstances where I'll go out with friends it'll be little comments like, 'Oh the last thing we want to happen here is for Ben to go down'. I'm really the same saying things like, 'Yeah I suppose I'll bounce off there will I?' You know just being blunt about it, you know. It is an issue, you don't have to discuss it as such but discreetly making jokes about it. It's easier that way than it is to say, 'Look if you're gonna have one, you know, tell me, sit down, relax, okay, not a problem, are you alright? Are you sure?' To just turn around and say, 'If you have a fit now I'm gonna be really peed off.' 

A couple of people said that using humour was a good way to break down barriers about epilepsy with people who seemed scared or awkward about it. One man said that making jokes about his epilepsy showed to others that he was comfortable about it and made it easier for everyone to start talking about it.

Seizures were a common topic of jokes. People said their behaviour during a temporal lobe seizure, for example, could be funny, or when they missed the punch line of a joke if they had an absence. People gave nicknames to seizures and talked about their 'breakdancing', 'gravel grovelling', 'wobbly', 'spassy attacks', 'spassing' and 'Mr E'. A couple of people said that giving nicknames to seizures made them less scary and easier to talk about.

“[Seizures] seem quite scary to talk about, not for me, but for like other people, whereas picturing somebody spontaneously breakdancing out of control is actually quite funny. And that doesn't make it as scary.”

 

Francesca talks about joking and humour on an epilepsy webforum.

Francesca talks about joking and humour on an epilepsy webforum.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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You just talked about having a laugh about epilepsy on the webforum, so could you tell me a bit more about that?

Well it varies really. I mean there's people there, you know if you are having a bad day and you having a rant and stuff and they'll sort of try and make you feel a bit better. Or tell you to just get on with things and stop moaning you know and they'll sort of post bits of information and stuff as well. But there's also a side of it which is sort of like we have a laugh and joke about things as much as possible you know.

So would you make jokes with each other?

Yeah. Jokes about it and sort of epilepsy related and how it makes us different from everybody else, you know and that kind of thing as well. 

So what sort of jokes, could you remember any?

Well I mean they vary and depending on various sorts of circumstances but really it is sort of the way we sort of relate to the seizures as well. Some of names we have for them whereas I know that we call mine a gravel grovelling [laugh] session which is quite funny. And it is sometimes good to refer to them like that rather than say oh it is atonic drop seizures and stuff.

And what other nicknames would you have?

Well there is various things like referring to epilepsy as Mr E you know and oh breakdancing and all this sort of stuff you know.

Do you ever get upset about any jokes or having a laugh?

No. I mean sometimes you can, but really you have to take them at face value really of what they are and not try and sort of think too deeply about them you know.

 

Ben's mates 'take the mickey' out of him when he has an absence mid-sentence on the phone and...

Ben's mates 'take the mickey' out of him when he has an absence mid-sentence on the phone and...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I'll have petit mal and where I have petit mal before I go into a grand mal, I'll stutter. So like with situations they [mates] will take the mickey out of that. You know, talking on the phone and ordering a pizza, we make a laugh out of it in the case of can you imagine ordering a pizza and then sitting on the phone and saying, 'Yeah I'll have a peh-peh-peh-peh-peh-peh-pepperoni pizza please'.

In addition to seizures, people had a laugh about medication, their side effects, having a seizure during sex and other incidents that happened to them in daily life. 

 

Paddy talks about the different ways he and his friends have a laugh about his epilepsy.

Paddy talks about the different ways he and his friends have a laugh about his epilepsy.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 18
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What do you make jokes of?

Hmm, just like that things like I have all my exams in a little like disabilities room, everyone else has to go and find their timetable sheet, what building, what seat they are for each exam, I just stroll up to the same room every single time, always there. They always say why should I get that privilege, just 'cos [laughs] I've got a disability. But they're like I say, joking. But, they're all really good about it and my girlfriend makes fun mostly. I woke up one time to take my tablets but I was sort of half asleep, and I started saying, 'I need my hip hop tablets, where are my hip hop tablets,' [laughs] so she was just like, 'Make sure you've taken your hip hop tablets.' Don't know why [laughs]. Maybe I thought that somehow that taking those tablets makes me cool. I've got loads of other, I've got a kidney missing and broken my arms, I've broken my arm five times. I've got that, it's not a very good medical history. So I'm known as a bit of a weakling, which is fine by me. I don't mind [laughs].

Some said that occasionally other people were shocked about them making jokes and one man said his mum doesn't like him joking about his seizures. Another man said he sometimes makes non-pc jokes about epilepsy which can shock other people but he felt it's OK for him because he has epilepsy himself.

 

Finlay tells a joke about epilepsy.

Finlay tells a joke about epilepsy.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 11
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'What to do if your, your washing machine's broken? Put your clothes in a bath with an epileptic.' [Laughs] And that obviously is not as offensive, but, I prefer the first one really. Kind of it gets the quiet reaction of 'What?' [Laughs].

Some said that they didn't appreciate jokes about epilepsy and found them silly. One woman said:

“I personally don't use humour. I know some people that do and if that's the way they feel that they can cope with it, then it's whatever works. I mean, there are different strategies and if that works, then that's fine, but not personally for me, no.”

Another young person pointed out that sometimes there's a fine line between joking with someone and joking about them: “It depends if they're laughing sort of with you or at you about it”. One woman said that, although she and her friends have a laugh about her seizures, she would never joke about someone else's seizures because they might be offended or upset. Using humour can offend people and it's important to know people well and to know where they draw the line.

Many said that what mattered was who was telling the joke or having a laugh, and that they wouldn't 'cross the line'. Most people had a laugh about epilepsy with people close to them, mainly friends, family or other people who have epilepsy. These people knew what living with epilepsy was like and what they'd been through, so people didn't find their humour disrespectful or offensive.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2010.

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