The Bitter Irony of Jimmy Kimmel’s Diabetes Joke


A few days ago, a viral Instagram post began appearing all over my social media threads. It was the same post everywhere, showcasing a recent photo taken of Jimmy Kimmel basking in the glory of an open box of baked goods sent to him by fellow talk show host, Kelly Ripa. The caption that followed, that Ripa was …”sweeter than diabetes…” struck a nerve among many in the Type 1 diabetes community.  This was a post pushed out to his 1.3 million Instagram followers that is perpetuates and supports the ongoing stigma that sugar is the root cause of all diabetes.

First and foremost, there are many types of diabetes, and no two people with diabetes are the same, nor treated exactly the same. Our disease state is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake. As a person with Type 1 diabetes for over 25 years, and as a diabetes nurse educator, I advocate, support and help manage the care of thousands with my same disease. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that accounts for less than 5% of all diabetes worldwide. There is no nailed down cause or trigger for Type 1. And the disease, which leads to the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas, is still a mystery in many ways. What we do know is this: cookies and pastries did not encourage nor cause the diagnosis of our chronic, incurable disease.

The Bitter Irony of Jimmy Kimmel's Diabetes Joke 1
Jimmy Kimmel’s Twitter post

Second, there’s an awful irony to Kimmel’s off-putting, casual joke about diabetes, because Kimmel himself took a stand on healthcare, which makes his joke especially inappropriate since he knows what it means for his family to be vulnerable.  Remember the Jimmy Kimmel test?  Shouldn’t the guy who took a stand for healthcare be more aware of how perception and privilege matter?

If the general public made assumptions about the cause of Kimmel’s son’s heart defect, it wouldn’t be tolerated, and the inappropriateness of it would likely be addressed using his show as a platform. Had I gone to social media and told my thousands of followers that my recent broken heart felt as though I were born with a heart defect, I would offend. I would be insensitive. And I would need to be educated on the subject.

Look, I get it: Mr. Kimmel went for a quick quip. He’s a comedian so he has to make jokes all the time. He couldn’t think of anything funny to say about the cookies so he went low and took a punch at the pancreatically-challenged. And so now every single one of my social media accounts is flooding with Kimmel’s post. And we’re having the same discussion again, trying to explain to the world, like we already have a million times, that diabetes is not a punchline. So, we’re asking Mr. Kimmel for an apology. And if he won’t apologize for being insensitive, he should, at the very least, apologize for making a stupid, lousy, overused joke.

The bottom line is this: we are not defined by our disease, and especially not by the stereotypes or assumptions surrounding our disease. If I were to ever make off -handed insensitive remarks about Mr. Kimmel or his son, I would be in the wrong, and I would want to say I’m sorry and learn from it, not sweep it under the rug, or invite the already enraged diabetes community to “get mad about something that’s really important.”

We are important. You are important. Your child is important. The diabetes community is working hard to make sense of living with a disease that slowly eats away at every single part of our bodies. We try to make the best of this difficult condition, and in a time when the future of healthcare is a big question mark, we need to support people like Kimmel when they are making a difference for the better, but also must call them out when they miss the mark.  Diabetes may not be top of mind for Jimmy Kimmel, but it is to those of us who work so hard 24/7 just to stay alive. And life depends on a pancreas, much as it does on a heart.

Top Photo By Selma Üsük (@selma_uesuek) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Richard Feinman
Richard Feinman
5 years ago

Wait. Yes, dumb joke and yes, we should cut him some slack — it is hard to be up there trying to make jokes on the spot — but what is the underlying basis of his joke? The association is the understood relation between diabetes and the risk of diabetes. But is it understood? The ADA has been pretty ambivalent and most agencies are still harping on fat an total calories — and the media go along with even the most preposterous “new research.”. I described in my blogpost how Jay Leno was surprised when nobody got his pointing… Read more »

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