Did you hear the one about the professor who might get fired for joking about the Aurora massacre to his class, which included a student whose father was killed in the shooting? You're not missing much in the joke itself, according to The New York Times' Ariel Kaminer: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Prof. Gregory F. Sullivan told his class, upon switching on a movie and preparing to step out of the classroom: "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit." Yeah, that's a terrible joke, but it's especially egregious since he made it to someone so closely connected to the shooting. Sullivan says he didn't know about the student's loss, but the school says he should have, because an email went out explaining the situation, and the student missed his class to attend the funeral.
Unlike the handful of comedians who've gotten flack, but no lasting consequences, for joking about Aurora, Sullivan might actually lose his job at the Long Island, NY school over his lame crack. As Kaminer explains: "In a 'notice of proposed removal' issued last week, the dean wrote that the joke constituted 'notoriously disgraceful conduct' under the academy’s rules forbidding 'misconduct generally criminal, infamous, dishonest or notoriously disgraceful.' " Sullivan, a tenured professor who apologized for his tastelessness, has been suspended without pay while he contests the dismissal.
Sullivan is not alone in making inappropriate jokes about Aurora, but he's facing far, far tougher consequences. Most of the others who've been publicly criticized for such jokes have been comedians who have seen little consequence outside a bad reception. People got angry with Dane Cook, and he apologized, but even if someone made the decision not to book him afterward, it's not like the joke ruined his career. Same with Jeff Ross, whose joke about Seth Green looking like Aurora suspect James Holmes got cut from Comedy Central's roast of Roseanne Barr. Just the joke got cut, not Ross's whole appearance. But both Cook and Ross's job is to push the envelope with humor, and they're expected to sometimes go too far. Sullivan's job is to teach humanities to college students, who don't expect to have their family tragedies ridiculed in class.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.