Too Much Hype Over Penn Doc’s Weighty Comments

Chill out fat activists: Just because a joke isn't nice doesn't mean it's offensive

Chris Christie owes a big thank you to Penn orthopedic surgeon John Kelly IV. A box of chocolates would be nice.

With Dr. Kelly getting, well, pounded over his fat-bashing jokes in a medical trade magazine, New Jersey’s supersized governor has been granted a reprieve from the tyranny of the Roly-Poly Police. At least for now.

The adipose tissue hit the fan Friday, when it was reported that Kelly’s monthly humor column in Outpatient Surgery Magazine–one of my favorites—had caused an uproar among the calorically challenged.

Titled “Cutting Remarks: XXL Patients,” the August piece included 29 one-liners about fat patients. Most were poached from insult artists like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. One example: “Be real concerned if your patient has more chins than a Chinese phone book” is from a Rivers chestnut about Elizabeth Taylor.

Corny? Check. Insulting? Check. Funny? Check. The comedy trifecta.

Still, the fat activists howled. They demanded action. Almost immediately, Kelly’s bosses publicly distanced Penn Health System from his remarks. Kelly, recognized in Philadelphia Magazine’s Top Docs’ issue in 2011 and 2010, expressed “heartfelt remorse.”

“Heartfelt remorse” is when you accidentally run over your neighbor’s toddler. “Heartfelt remorse” is not when you recycle a few dozen corny fat jokes.

“Most people have good enough hearts that they believe Dr. Kelly’s apology and are moving on,” Penn Medicine rep Susan Phillips said yesterday. By all accounts, Kelly is a respected physician and a standup guy. He is also a victim in the peripatetic battle between political correctness and humor.

The yin-yang of this mutual exclusivity curdles my cornflakes. Where is the line, and why does the sucker keep moving?

Why is it OK to make fun of skinny people but not of their obese counterparts? Does a fat joke count if a fat person tells it? For the humor-impaired weighty ones, it is time to open the refrigerator and see the light.

Yes, being fat in our culture is serious business, as are body issues in general. But to place obesity in the same verboten humor hierarchy as race, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation is absurd. (Being blessed with a perverse sense of humor, I love a good Jewish lesbian joke.)

Before he retired, my gynecologist used to distract me in the stirrups with hysterical vagina jokes. I miss that. Nothing like a laugh from the belly to forget, for a moment, the uncomfortable chill of the speculum between your legs.

The way I figure it, if a person can’t laugh at her own vagina, what hope is there for fat people getting the joke?

Read more about this issue on Philadelphia magazine’s health and fitness website,