What’s a dad joke? Oh, basically just really goofy jokes told by fathers in the interests of gently torturing their offspring.
Last Thanksgiving, then-President Obama turned the traditional turkey-pardoning ceremony into an opportunity to, in his words “embarrass my daughters with a corny-copia of dad jokes about turkeys.” Off he went with groaners about cold turkey and fowl play.
You can watch guys (and a few women) cracking each other up in dozens of dad joke battles on Youtube. (Sample volley: “Why didn’t the melons get married? Because they cantaloupe!”)
Repulsed by the puns? You’re hardly alone. The kids’ channel Nickelodeon in Australia broadcast a fake public service announcement about the dangers of dad jokes. It’s very convincing:
“Somebody has to do this,” insists best-selling humorist Dave Barry. “If anyone says to me, ‘Did you get a haircut?’ I have to say, ‘I got them all cut.'”
Barry learned to make dad jokes from his dad before him. He says dad jokes are meant to be delivered in person. “They look even stupider when you write them down,” he said in part of the interview that didn’t make it into the radio piece. (Click the listen link above to hear the yucker that ends with “tanks” and “you’re welcome.”)
That’s what makes these specifically dad jokes, says behavioral scientist Peter McGraw, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Dad jokes are just a verbal form of play,” he says. “It’s just a different way to tickle and roughhouse with your kids.”
You could argue that dad jokes fall into that dumb-dad stereotype that can get a little annoying. Funny, ineffectual fathers on shows like The Simpsons and Modern Family who can’t even tell a decent joke and who likely helped inspired the hashtag #stopitdad. But McGraw says that’s missing the point.
“If you have dad jokes in your life means you have a dad in your life,” he says. “And it means you have a dad with a sense of humor, and who’s interacting with his children and having fun with them.”
Dad jokes aren’t just fun. They can also be disarming, says lawyer and activist Qasim Rashid, who uses his popular Twitter account partly to swat down Islamophobes.
“People come to me constantly and say, ‘Is sharia law taking over America?’ ” he told NPR. “And I say, ‘I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Shakira law is, because … hips don’t lie.'”
Rashid’s corny dad jokes lighten up a feed otherwise mostly dedicated to Muslim rights, Black Lives Matter and women’s rights.
“We live in a society of toxic masculinity,” he says. “And what I mean by that is, when you look at the gender-based violence against women by men, it’s just horrific. And I think a lot of that has to do with men refusing to let their guard down, men refusing to laugh at themselves, or show sympathy, or empathy, or emotion, because they see that as a weakness.”
Whereas dad jokes give men a way to be silly and deeply, sweetly connected with those they love.