Fat Jokes Land Doc in Hot Water

A local surgeon and part-time comedian drew controversy after writing jokes aimed at obese patients in a medical magazine.

A local doctor and part-time comedian learned that some jokes are better suited for the comedy club rather than a medical magazine.

John D. Kelly IV, 54, is an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania. He also performs as a stand-up comic and specializes in “good, wholesome humor to enliven the spirit,” according to his website.

But a recent routine from Kelly did anything but “enliven the spirits” of readers of Outpatient Surgery Magazine. Kelly writes a monthly humor column for the publication, according to the Inquirer. One article he wrote back in August packed with one-liners aimed at obese patients landed him in some hot water.

The Obesity Action Coaltion posted excerpts from the article on their website in which Kelly lists characteristics of obese patients that surgeons should worry about. The jokes include:

  • "There is a comma in your patient's body weight."
  • "The radio skips when your patient walk into the room."
  • "IV access requires a priest."
  • "The OR transporter demands danger pay."

Obesity Action also posted the following passage from Kelly's article:

Our patients are getting bigger and bigger. Not only is the obesity epidemic to blame, but the abundance of food, protein shakes and the steroid craze are generating larger and larger patients. I worry when I do surgery on these behemoths because complications increase and exposures are truly more difficult.

Readers of Outpatient and the University were also less than amused. The Inquirer reports that Penn issued a statement saying Kelly’s comments “do not in any way reflect the health system’s views."

The reaction from the magazine’s editor, Dan O’Connor, caused even more outrage. O’Connor didn’t take the column off the magazine’s website until earlier this week, according to the Inquirer. While addressing the situation, the Inquirer reports O’Connor stated that Kelly “maybe’ crossed the line but that he would “not muzzle him, we apologize to those we offended, and we march on."

Kelly, it turns out, was much more apologetic. The doctor conducted an interview with the website Former Fat Dudes last Saturday. Kelly claimed that he’s issued an apology and answered every email he received from readers regarding the article. During the interview, Kelly claims that he “blew it,” did not respect the “dignity” of his patients and “didn’t recognize” that it was a “different audience than the comedy clubs.”

But Kelly also claims the hurtful jokes aren’t appropriate for any audience. “I will revamp my comedy routines now that I know the potential hurt some jokes can inflict,” he told the website. “Obesity is a real problem but can only be remedied with kindness, compassion and absence of judgment.”

Kelly also issued an apology to Obesity Action which has since been posted on their website:

I am asking for forgiveness for a recent column I wrote. I confess I am frustrated by the obesity epidemic and the risks I see my patients undergo. I did not use a constructive vehicle to affect change and instead used oneliners my comedian colleagues have used for decades. I was obese once – in college. I played football was not happy with the way I looked. I share the frustrations of many and used my medical knowledge (and Grace) to lose the weight. Ironically I see patients no one else will see and actually have more empathy than most. I made a lazy decision to use recycled lines in order to meet my deadline. I know not to judge and that this problem will be best rectified with compassion and kindness. I never meant to hurt anyone and I will endeavor to let other comedians learn of the potential harmful effects their words can have.

If you have other suggestions as how I can undue some of the hurt I have caused, please feel free to let me know.

In spite of the controversy, Kelly is still a well-liked and highly respected doctor according to the Inquirer. The Inquirer reports he’s received high ratings from patients at Penn and also received several “teacher of the year” awards when he worked for the Temple University School of Medicine.
Kelly’s twin brother Michael, a lawyer from Wilmington, issued the following statement in defense of the doctor:

I think the world of my brother, and I have met no finer human being. He graduated at the top of his class in med school, was an All-State athlete, is an accomplished artist, and possesses ambidextrous surgical skills that are unmatched in my opinion. Years of patient surveys confirm the fact that Dr. Kelly is extremely kind, compassionate and respectful to all of his patients, all of them. 

I ask that the public judge Dr. Kelly by his countless "good" acts and not by one mistake. As someone who helps fight the battle against medical conditions caused by obesity, Dr.Kelly, an accomplished comedian,  was trying to use expressions popularized by professional comedians to focus attention to a very serious health problem in this country. He did not intend to offend or show disrespect to anyone, and he has apologized publicly for his mistake. We all make mistakes.

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