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When People Laugh, ‘I’m Incredibly Offended By That’

“I’m very happy to talk about it,” Billie Eilish tells David Letterman in the latest episode of the host’s Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. But she admits she only talks about “it” rarely, if ever: The “Happier Than Ever” singer was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at the age of 11, and though most people don’t notice her tics in casual conversation, she says, she told Letterman, “If you film me for long enough, you’re going to see a lot of tics.”

Letterman didn’t seem intent on asking Eilish about her diagnosis until midway through their interview, when Eilish jerked her head to one side. Because a fly had buzzed through the room earlier, he asked if the bug was…well, bugging her. “No,” she says. “I’m ticcing.”

Intrigued, he asked her permission to discuss her diagnosis in further detail, and she responded eagerly: “I actually really like answering questions about it because it’s really interesting, and I am incredibly confused by it. I don’t get it.”

COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Although Eilish’s Tourette Syndrome is not a secret—she first shared her thoughts on it during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2019—the Grammy winner revealed to Letterman that she doesn’t discuss her syndrome frequently, in part due to common misconceptions and reactions. “It’s really weird, I haven’t talked about it at all,” she said. “The most common way that people react is they laugh because they think I’m trying to be funny. They think I’m [ticcing] as a funny move. And so they go, ‘Ha,’ and I’m always left incredibly offended by that. Or they go ‘What?’ and then I go, ‘I have Tourette’s.’”

As she told DeGeneres in 2019, “All the people closest to me know that I have it…I just never said anything [publicly] because I didn’t want that to define who I was.”

She then explained to Letterman that her first tics manifested when she was a child; typically, they were heavy, sustained blinks or rapid clicks of her jaw. Now, “the main tics that I do are constantly, like, I wiggle my ear back and forth and raise my eyebrow and click my jaw and flex this arm here and this arm there. These are things you would never notice if you’re having a conversation with me, but for me, they’re very exhausting,” she told Letterman. “So many people have it and you’d never know.”

billie eilish and david letterman in my next guest needs no introduction with david letterman

COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Woven between scenes of Eilish and her brother, Finneas, demonstrating how they assemble tracks together, Eilish shares how she doesn’t experience any tics while performing. But even when she is ticcing, she says, she’s “made friends with it.”

“It’s not like I like it, but I feel like it’s…part of me,” she said. “And so now, I’m pretty confident in it.”

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