Diabetes Jokes, or Whatever You Want to Call Them

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Diabetes Joke BookThe other night, Maya went to bed early and I had nothing to do.

This is very rare.

I decided to do something that I did before having a baby. I… let’s see if I can remember the word… relaxed.

I dimmed the lights, kicked up my feet on the couch, and turned on the TV. My remote took me to Cooking Channel. Unique Sweets was on. It’s a show that explores… unique sweets. People comment on extraordinary desserts from eateries all over. This episode was about one of my favorite things: chocolate.

When I tuned in, they were highlighting a decadent brownie from a chocolate shop outside of Boston. It was not your run-of-the-mill brownie. It was frosted, dipped in a pool of chocolate, topped with dark chocolate, and rolled in spectacular goodies.

I was salivating.

And then.

Out of nowhere, one of the commentators, in an aloof manner, said about the brownie:
“…and then you give it to whichever relative is diabetic and about to die… and and and has you in their will.”

Um. Really?

There I was. Sitting back and trying to relax. But the diabetes jibber-jabber got me up.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard a crack about people with diabetes. Diabetes jokes, or whatever you want to call them, have been written into popular sitcoms like The Office and big blockbuster hits like Spiderman II. Diabetes is practically a celebrity! And we’ve all been privy to diabetes jokes in real life, when the joke-maker doesn’t suspect that a person with diabetes is present.

Many years ago, I was having dinner at a restaurant with a group of people. I had placed my keys on the table. My keychain was a wooden art mannequin. It had been tossed around in my bag one too many times, so the left arm had broken off. The guy sitting across from me spotted my one-armed keychain and said, “A little too much diabetes?” 

(We had just met that night; he didn’t know that I had diabetes.)

I suddenly felt self-conscious. As if stage lights were glaring on me. His comment crossed the line and I didn’t know what to say. I almost laughed – like a knee-jerk reaction – because that’s what I was supposed to do. But I couldn’t laugh. I wanted to smack him in the face.  

So what did I do?

I shouted, “I have diabetes! And that’s a stereotype! That all people with diabetes get their limbs amputated!”

Unfortunately, this outburst occurred later that night, in the privacy of my own mirror.

In the moment, I was frozen. I pretended I didn’t hear him.

Over the years, I’ve become less sensitive to diabetes jokes because they are so pervasive. If diabetes gets its own aisle in CVS, why wouldn’t it get its own genre of comedy? But being used to them doesn’t mean I like them.

Think about it; most diseases are not joked about. When was the last time you heard a lupus joke? Or a celiac joke? If one were to make a joke about people with cystic fibrosis, it would raise brows. It would be considered distasteful.

So why does society say it’s okay to make fun of diabetes?

Maybe it’s because people think that diabetes is a casual condition. It’s the everyman’s disease. Or maybe it’s because they think diabetes is self-induced.

What if people understood that diabetes was demanding, complex, and very serious? What if they knew that a whole bunch of us got it not by eating brownies, but because our beta cells got confused? What if they knew that we work really, really hard to stay healthy? Would they still find it comical?

In the meantime, I can’t expect diabetes jokes to disappear. I suppose I could form a coalition of PADJ (People Against Diabetes Jokes). But then they’d make fun of that, too.  


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Comments (6)

  1. Lisa at

    There are a lot of breast cancer jokes too. As breast cancer survivors we are the one’s who are making most of them up. “Of course it’s fake. My real one tried to kill me.” My point is that if you decide to be offended by something you most certainly will be. The remarks aren’t personal attacks. I am a diabetic who will crack a diabetes joke and a survivor who willl crack a breast cancer joke because nothing is gained by taking humor out of any situation.

  2. Liz at

    Seriously, Lisa? 

  3. Karmel Allison
    Karmel Allison at

    I would argue people joke about diabetes because it has passed the threshold of public awareness. No one jokes about type 1 diabetes, lupus, celiac, etc. because the average listener is going to look back at you with a blank expression– What are you talking about? Heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, cancer, ringworm– all fair game, because people know what they are. For a particularly .. irreverent .. take on disease jokes, I recommend the Southpark episode in which it is determined that after 22 years, AIDS is finally funny: http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s06e02-jared-has-aides 

  4. Jennifer Jacobs
    jen at

    Thanks for your thoughts, Lisa. I guess I should clarify. I am talking about passing remarks from people who don’t know about diabetes. Not inside jokes we all make to one another within the community. But I hear what you’re saying and agree that humor helps!
    Karmel, thanks for the link!! 

  5. I had a similar experience where someone made a snide, passing remark about cleft lips/palates and how they weren’t such a big deal — unaware (obviously) that my own mother was born with a severe cleft, had to be fed by a baby dropper, had dozens of surgeries on her face, and (in her own words) talked like Daffy Duck till she was in her teens. I had my own knee-jerk reaction (“My mom has one and it actually *is* a big deal”) and the poor woman who’d said it — who hadn’t meant to offend anyone — came up to me later and apologized (to which I apologized for being so snappy!). It ended up being a productive conversation, but was awkward  nonetheless. Definitely a tricky situation – it would be weird to launch into a lecture on diabetes, but it also feels wrong just to laugh along. 

  6. Hector Feliciano at

    I feel in life jokes are good.  It’s a way to cope with the sadness of the reality.  Sort of how fat comedians make fun of themselves.  If we can look at diabetes in the face and laugh at it we can sope with it,  You want to make a better joke?  Next time you hear a diabetic joke..stay serious..say you have diabetes..watch the expression of their face..pause …then laugh too.  Say “no harm done”.  That would be so worth it.  Jenn…laugh along with it.  Dont let the jokes stress you out more than the reality of dealing with it,  When people ask me hows my sugar aka Blood glucose level..I respond “sweet”

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