In Defense of the Genre: The Dad Joke

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend on the subject of “dad jokes”. For those of you who are unaware of what exactly a dad joke is[1], the essential part of it is that it is a joke that is so bad it makes you groan. Not just a groan, but an “oh God why did you waste my time with this” groan. These are puns, plays on words, and in general bad jokes that can barely classify as one. In a nutshell, they are the kind of jokes my father tells me all the time.


I’ll sigh, roll my eyes, maybe bring my hand to my face and slowly pull it down (as if this was somehow cleansing me of the atrocity I just heard), and over all just be disappointed that I had to hear it. Puns are bad[2], but they can at least have merit because they are jokes made about something which was recently said or naturally flow into the conversation. Dad jokes dig their way in and bring the conversation to a stop. It’s almost as if the person saying them is deliberately trying to cause pain and enjoys that brief look of comprehension that the receiver has after they start to realize that they are indeed in for a dad joke.


So why, then, do people[3] make these jokes, if no one really enjoys receiving them? Isn’t the point of a joke to make both parties (the giver and the receiver) smile and laugh? Wouldn’t dad jokes have been lost to the annals of comedy with such jokes as, “Take my wife- please!”? Why do they keep going?


To answer this, I think we’d have to first understand why it is, indeed, called a dad joke. After all, this title can only be imbued if someone thinks, “Man, that’s the kind of joke my dad might tell.” While this does not mean that the type of joke is exclusive to only dads, it perhaps gives us an idea of just how these jokes come about.


When I was little, I had trouble with my “r”s. As in, you couldn’t tell if I said “pilot” or “pirate”. It took a few months of speech therapy and I was pretty much set.[4] But as a child, I didn’t really see the big deal. I was not planning a career in aviation or piracy[5], so who the hell would care? My dad, that’s who. If he heard me make a mistake like that, he would needle me with some joke along the lines of, “who navigates the seven seas” or “hope this plane’s captain fed his pet parrot”. These were really silly, stupid comments that I honestly got so sick of hearing, I believe it was a major reason I worked so hard to improve my speech.


Raising a kid is certainly difficult. You have to care for them, nurture them, and teach them. That’s when I realized that maybe dad jokes are just a remnant left over from when a dad thought something his son said when he was five was hilarious to joke about. Maybe the reason why dad jokes even exist in the first place is because this sort of dumb humor is just a habit of trying to teach your kid proper pronunciation, or laughing about the way your daughter thought a joke was funny because it featured the word “toilet” in there somewhere.


I guess the point is that humor is something I learned from my father (and mother, and all the other people who were responsible for raising me[6]). It is taught to you, and it evolves throughout our lives. Humor is something we use to learn, to teach, to cope, and to grow. Right now I may think that the term “dad joke” is a bit of an oxymoron, but there’s likely going to be a time when I’ll look at it as just another way of connecting to my child- and then slowly hating myself for the realization that I have become the very thing I ranted against.


Thanks, Dad.



[1] I am so, so sorry for enlightening you now

[2] In my humble opinion

[3] Not just dads, if the internet sensation “Hey Carl/Coral” is any indication

[4] Now I just mumble and call it a “drawl”

[5] Excluding my brief foray into Limewire

[6] So blame them if my jokes bomb

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