Actor Rob Lowe criticized over jokes about Halifax Explosion

Actor Rob Lowe's jokes about the Halifax Explosion during a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live have drawn the ire of an Explosion researcher and author who says he should get his facts straight before talking about the famous 1917 blast that killed almost 2,000 people, wounded 9,000 and left 25,000 homeless.

'Absolutely everything Rob Lowe said was wrong,' says historian about actor's recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance

Rob Lowe shares a laugh with Jimmy Kimmel while they talk about the Halifax Explosion. (CBC)

Actor Rob Lowe's jokes about the Halifax Explosion during a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live have drawn the ire of an explosion researcher and author who says he should get his facts straight before talking about the famous 1917 blast that killed almost 2,000 people, wounded 9,000 and left 25,000 homeless.

On Monday, Lowe appeared on the show to promote his new movie, Super Troopers 2, in which he plays Guy Le Franc, hockey-star-turned-mayor of a Quebec town at the centre of a U.S.-Canadian border dispute.

Kimmel and Lowe — who has filmed several projects in the Halifax area — discussed the explosion with a mix of awe at its impact and irreverent humour of a sort rarely heard in the city where about 2,000 people died.

"Absolutely everything Rob Lowe said was wrong about the Halifax Explosion and I think it's outrageous that he would name a character after something which was indeed a terrible tragedy. It really happened to real people," author Janet Maybee told CBC's Mainstreet on Wednesday. The program called her to get her perspective on the comments.

She said details Lowe shared about the tragedy, such as the harbour being emptied of water due to the force of the blast and it wiping out an Indigenous tribe, were not true.

"I think one of the things that offended me most was his cute suggestion that this happened in Canada and Canadians were so polite that when two ships were headed toward each other, the Canadians on board would have said, 'Excuse me, you should get out of the way, but I don't want to inconvenience you,'" she said.

Rob Lowe plays Guy Le Franc, hockey-star-turned-mayor of a Quebec town. (The Associated Press)

"This is so outrageous and furthermore, there were no Canadians involved, except for Francis Mackey, the pilot on Mont-Blanc, the munitions ship."

CBC News was unsuccessful in its attempts to contact Lowe for comment.

Halifax comedian Cheryl Hann said under certain circumstances, it's OK to make jokes about tragedies. She used to be a member of Halifax comedy troupe Picnicface, which posted a satirical video in 2007 about Halifax's history and talked about how the city created 'Splodey, a mascot to pay tribute to the Explosion.

Just a warning, the video below contains language that some may find offensive. 

"I think that the joke we were trying to make was about the way tragedy is exploited. Our joke was more about how inappropriate it is to make the joke, if that makes any sense," Hann told CBC's Mainstreet on Thursday.

She said at the time Picnicface's members didn't give any thought as to whether there would be any backlash over the joke. She said many of the others would have been only 19 at the time.

Hann said it's important for comedians to find the line between what's funny and what's not.

The Norwegian steamship Imo is beached on Dartmouth shore after the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Its collision with the munitions ship Mont-Blanc sparked the fire that set off the explosion. (Nova Scotia Archives & Record Management/Canadian Press)

"That's part of what comedy does, is figure out what makes people uncomfortable and how you can use that discomfort to do something," she said.

"But also as a comic, it's important to listen to your audience. If someone says, 'This offends me,' then maybe you take a step back and say, 'Why is this offensive? Is my joke worth offending people?' And that's something I try and keep in mind as a comic."

Hann said she isn't sure if it becomes OK to joke about a tragedy after a certain period of time.

Four women walk from Africville following the Halifax Explosion. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2451)

She said some of the things she looks at when deciding to make jokes about a tragedy are its particular circumstances, such as whether there was malicious intent, an act of genocide or of it was an accident.

Hann said when people make jokes, they need to think about the words they are using.

"I get personally frustrated when comedians say, like, it's only words. If you really think that comedy is just words, then you shouldn't be doing it because comedy and words do have a lot of power in our society," said Hann.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet and The Canadian Press