They look at Guy Daniel Francis' YouTube videos and can't help themselves. Others can't help thinking this can't be real.
Yet while YouTube has been used by so many to eke out the gory, subjective details of their love lives, Francis, a 31-year-old from the U.K., thought he could use Google's TV for the People to bring something positive to a condition that is sometimes totally debilitating.
Francis has Tourette's syndrome, a condition that has many manifestations. He happens to have the type that causes swear words and weird gestures to emerge from him without warning. Francis has it bad. Yet he has found an outlet on YouTube that's helped him if not deal with his condition, then at least get through his day.
Francis is the man behind Tourettes Karaoke, which is not something you'll often see in your local pub on a Friday night. However, his latest performance, of REM's "Losing My Religion," has already enjoyed more than 250,000 views, and what has surprised Francis is just how positive the reaction has been.
"I am a bit blown away by the response," he told me. "There seems to be a lot of love there."
"Love" is not a word often used in connection with many of the commenters on YouTube. Yet Francis' YouTube pages are full of suggestions about what songs he should perform next. INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" or Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," are but two examples. Another person asks Francis to sing at his or her wedding. Another wants to know what meds he's on, wanting to compare notes.
A few do speculate that he's a fake. More, however, realize his condition is real and painful, and that these videos are his way of fighting Tourette's as much as putting it on display.
"All of my friends who have Tourette's that have posted videos, all have been subjected to 'FAKE!!'...It's no big deal...I do not feel the need to prove myself. I don't even respond anymore," he explained.
Initially, Francis made educational videos, rather than karaoke.
"My son is on the autistic spectrum, and I felt I had some inside knowledge that could be of use to other parents. Being a high-functioning autistic myself, I felt it important to show that we do marry, we have kids, and we do have a life that is more than just an endless struggle, which seems, by the e-mails I have received, to have helped a lot of parents when they can't see a future for their children," he told me.
The karaoke actually came directly out of his condition.
"The original motivation behind that was born from an obsession with karaoke. I have what is commonly known in the autistic community as 'special topic,'" he said.
Special topic is not something that occurs consciously. It's not as if Francis picks his topic. But he becomes obsessed with it to the degree that he talks about it all the time and forgets to eat or sleep. As he describes it: "I become an insufferable bore."
Singing became Francis' special topic. His three kids loved it. His wife hated it. But then the Tourette's stepped in to add its little kink.
"My tics came on," he said. "And I was frustrated because I could not indulge in my topic." So he thought to heck with it, "I will do it even though I'm tic-ing. I wanted to see what I looked like tic-ing and singing, as one does."
So he stared into his computer, composed himself as much as he could, and began to sing into the camera. He might be in bed, or elsewhere around the house. But if the computer can be there with him, he can perform.
Self-consciousness flew out the window because it had to. His first recording was a version of Elvis' "You were always on my mind".
Without the Web and YouTube, Francis would have no outlet. It's not as if, in the days when there was only TV and radio, some station would suddenly have featured him on a talent show. Without the ability to use all the technology at his disposal to first see himself and then decide that he wants others to see him and enjoy his performances, he would simply be a man with Tourette's whose wife hates his singing.
But the making of the videos is still a very painful experience.
"I could not describe the process as cathartic," he said. "It is exhausting. But I figure that I will be exhausted anyway, so I might as well make use of the time. Folks seem to like it."
Those familiar with Tourette's will know just how NSFW, or not safe for work, it can be. The videos are full of involuntary expletives, grunts, and shouts. Yet, in Francis' case, the cusses often manage to fall felicitously on the beat. Which, Francis explained, is a complete coincidence.
As to why the F-word comes out so often, Francis offered this to one YouTube commenter: "It is odd, I can only say that when I was a child the F-word was considered taboo to the point of corporal punishment. So I imagine since that is burned into my subconscious as taboo, it's the first thing that comes out..I would imagine if the word 'banana' was given the same heady status when I was a child, I would tic that...All being said, I do not always cuss. It's really situation dependent."
In total, Francis' videos have had more than 600,000 views, and though there's probably no record label that will ever pick him up, perhaps the nice people at Topspin will help him merchandise himself more to his increasing number of admirers.
Who would begrudge him making some money out of his singing, even though he isn't doing it for the money?
"If I was not doing Tourettes Karaoke when the tics come, then I would simply be shouting and hitting myself until I was completely frazzled," he said.