Last week, Australian comedian Dave ‘Hughsey’ Hughes attracted the wrath of some of the diabetes community with an off-hand joke posted on his Facebook page and Twitter stream. Here is what he said:

@DHughesy I wanna give my mate one of those personalized Coke cans. His name is Diabetes.

A short time later he followed up with:

@DHughesy Should have mentioned his last name is Type 2.

Before long, Hughes’ Facebook page was inundated with comments – a lot from parents of kids with type 1 diabetes.

As soon as I saw the response, I tweeted the following:

@RenzaS Wanna know what happens when @DHughesy gets people with #diabetes mad? Have a look at his FB page.

The reaction from some in the wider diabetes community was swift, angry and, in some cases, aggressive. This was followed by confusion from people outside the diabetes community as to why there was so much anger. From both sides, there was finger pointing, swearing, hostility and opposition. And it got ugly. Very ugly. Five days later, it’s still going on.

There are two sides to every argument. Sure Hughes’ comment could be considered to be in bad taste. But was he being deliberately antagonistic towards the diabetes community?

Personally, I don’t think so. And I don’t really think that the people who opposed his comment thought so either. The reason that many within the diabetes community got angry is not because they are humourless and can’t appreciate a joke. It’s because they saw it as yet another incorrect and misinformed comment about diabetes, which they will need to clarify. Another one that is more ammunition for the food police to say ‘should you be eating that?’

Dave Hughes has a huge following – 110,000 plus ‘likes’ on Facebook and almost 150,000 Twitter followers. That’s a lot of people reading something that isn’t true about diabetes.

There were some brilliant first responses – explanations about why the comment could be damaging. Some even offered Hughes first-hand experience of what a ‘day in the life’ looks like by inviting him into their homes.

For some, one comment wasn’t enough. But I don’t think that we – the broader diabetes community – do ourselves any favours when we react so aggressively. In fact, some started sounding like the joke police. “Should you be joking about that?”

How often have I said to a friend with diabetes ‘Should you be eating that?’ in jest as we dive into our second, third, fourth cupcake? Are the pancreatically-challenged the only ones able to laugh about this condition? I spend a lot of time laughing at diabetes. If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry!

So, did I laugh? Admittedly, I did a little. Because I knew what he was trying to do and thought he misfired completely. He had the opportunity to make the link between soft drink and obesity and didn’t quite get there. Hughes’ humour often lacks sophistication and dexterity which, some may consider, is part of its (and his) charm.

So – five days into this, I am looking at it as an opportunity to do some diabetes advocacy. A lot of people on Facebook have been talking about diabetes and that’s a good thing! Advocacy comes in many forms, and perhaps all Hughes really wanted was to do put diabetes on his followers’ radar. I hope so.

Can we laugh at diabetes? When, if ever, is the line crossed and who gets to make that call?

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