Freakshow’s Unintentional Humour

In the novel of Motherless Brooklyn, it is clear to me that the author uses Tourette’s as source to lighten up the mood of the book and to add humour without mocking the disorder.


Lionel’s condition is used an effect of comedy throughout this book because his tics are always unexpected and at the wrong situations. For instance, on page 155, Tony calls Lionel by the nickname “Freakshow”, a term only used by Frank Minna, therefore Lionel refuses to be called that way:

“Where are you, Freakshow?”

“Don’t call me Freakshow”, I said.

“What should I call you-Buttercup?”

“Valiant Daffodil” I blurted. “Alibi Diffident”

Another example, on page 181 what I found funny is when Tony is trying to get information out of Lionel but he is having difficulty getting it.

“Be serious with me now, Lionel. Do they know about the building?”

“I’m always serious. That’s the tragedy of my life.”

In these passages, the technique that makes this funny is the irony. As you can see, Tony seems to be frustrated that Lionel is beating around the bush. This part is comedic because generally  Lionel is actually answering seriously, but his tics make him look like childish. He blurts out inappropriate things, lets out weird sounds or randomly shouts words. These are reasons why no one  can take him seriously when he actually is. Lionel witty response to Tony is a reminder that what is funny about his tics wasn’t actually meant for comedy coming from his perspective. The irony in this is that we are aware that Lionel is genuine and sincere but in the eyes of the other characters, it does not seem like it at all. The last line is a funny part but also makes me empathize for him for he is actually stating his daily struggle of his condition.






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