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February 23, 2006 |

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I have enjoyed listening to broadcasts of Prairie Home Companion for many years, and so was deeply dismayed and disappointed when I heard your February 5th show's Guy Noir sketch, featuring "Broadway Tourettes". I can't help but believe that you and your staff would never have run this skit if you had been aware how much pain it would cause others, and how damaging a message it was sending.

When a program of the caliber of Prairie Home Companion stoops to poke fun at people for having a neurological disability that causes symptoms that are beyond their control, it sends the message that it is okay to do so. Perhaps even more damaging was that you portrayed people with Tourettes Syndrome as foolish individuals who need to be segregated from others so as not to annoy them. Prairie Home Companion boasts an audience of four million listeners weekly, and with this one short sketch, you have managed to undermine the considerable efforts of those of us working to educate the public to promote greater understanding, acceptance and inclusion for those with Tourette's Syndrome.

This is a very personal issue for me, as my 12 year-old daughter has Tourette's Syndrome. Cassandra is a child of many remarkable gifts. She is a gifted student, performs with her school chorus and in the school musical, plays soccer, and is preparing to test for her brown belt in Karate. She loves to read, tell corny jokes and recently adopted a cat from the shelter where she volunteers from time to time. In short, she is a great kid, much like any other.

What my daughter wants more than anything is to be accepted and treated like any other kid in her 7th grade class. This is not always easy. Cassandra's tics make her the frequent butt of jokes and ridicule from her classmates and harsh treatment from teachers who do not understand her. It is downright heartbreaking at times. When you broadcast skits that mock those with Tourette's Syndrome, you send a message to her teachers and classmates that it is okay to do so, and that hurts my daughter. It also hurts every other child with Tourette's Syndrome, a group that is said to be represented in every school district in the country. It hurts adults with TS who frequently encounter discrimination in the workplace as well as in public and private places. Your program regularly features anecdotes about life in the small communities of this country, and people with Tourette's Syndrome live in each of these small communities

I understand that your show is an entertainment program, but it's success does give you a platform to affect peoples' hearts and minds for the better. I urge you to use this platform in the future to raise awareness of the realities of Tourette's Syndrome and not to perpetuate misinformation and hurtful stereotypes. Please contact the Tourette's Syndrome Association of America at or it's local Minnesota chapter.

Thank you,
Jessica K.

I disagree that we poked fun at people with Tourette's, Jessica. It was a comedy sketch about a cruise and there were characters who had what we called Broadway Tourette's, a neurological glitch that causes compulsive tics of singing Broadway songs, but Guy Noir's role was to protect them, to keep people from bothering them, and he did. And the Tourette's people were given the best accommodations on the ship.

They were not presented as foolish, in my book, they were in fact rather joyful. My position is that while comedy can hurt and set people apart as "odd," it can also be a way of bringing people into the common corral, a way of establishing a bond. The boy who comes to our show in a wheelchair gets a kick out of my warning people that he's a skilled pickpocket: he'd rather I tease him a little than that I pity him. Pity can be so stifling and patronizing and a way of holding people at a distance. I don't pity you for having a daughter with Tourette's, though I can imagine it's caused you a lot of heartache and I admire you for speaking up about this. And I suppose it was a little shocking to hear the word "Tourette's" in a comedy sketch. But "Tourette's" is a part of our language. People do use it kiddingly. People kid about dementia, about Alzheimer's, about all sorts of conditions. I think that's healthy. A few years ago I wrote a sketch in which a man parked in a handicapped parking spot (he was in a big hurry) and got a hailstorm of letters from people asking me how I could be so insensitive as to joke about this, but they ignored the part of the sketch in which the man was arrested and hauled in and abused by a judge. I think the Feb. 5 Guy Noir sketch was pretty innocent.

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