The Kirikiriroa TikTok star turning Tourette's into comedy gold

  • 24/05/2021

By D'Angelo Martin for The Hui

Leighton Clarke has become one of New Zealand's biggest social media stars with more than two million followers on TikTok.

The 28-year-old has Tourette's, a nervous system disorder which involves uncontrollable repetitive movements and noises called tics.

Clarke, who is known online as Uncle Tics, first began experiencing 'tics' when was just four years old and last year he began documenting his life with a series of hilarious videos featuring his girlfriend and flatmates.

"The very first time that I ever did a video my flat didn't trust my videos. They were quite like 'What's this? We don't really understand what you're trying to do'. That got 300,000 views, that was big, that was big for me."

But behind the humour is a serious message about the challenges young people with Tourette's face. An issue close to Clarke's heart.

"It was horrible growing up... I got suspended from primary school for kicking someone I couldn't help. Actually, they were bullying me, but I didn't do it because they were bullying me, I did it because they were too close. And I ticked at him and kicked them. That's the only time I've ever lashed out."

And it's those experiences that have motivated Clarke to be an ambassador for rangatahi with Tourette's.

"It's just the drive to be able to help kids and get them through that sort of shit in a day. I know what it's like to struggle when I had nothing."

Uncle Tics has now amassed a huge online following and is working full time running his social media assets. He's also become a crowd favourite on the celebrity appearances circuit, with hundreds of fans showing up to support him at a recent event at Sylvia Park.

His new found fame has taken some getting used to.

"I'm way more comfortable than I used to be, I dont give a shit now. I don't care what people think. If you want to be offended that's your problem not me. Especially if I've told you, 'Hey I've got Tourette's, that's your problem not mine'."

Clarke is now focused on becoming the biggest social media account in Aotearoa.

"I'm on my way... and I'll get there, [you've] just got to give me time to do it."

The Hui is made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.