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The Science of the "Dad Joke"

September 27, 2018

 

Perhaps nothing illustrates my general thesis that laughter is not about happiness but power more than the Dad Joke.  The cheesy often pun-based gags that father's torture their children with across their entire lives.  There are web sites now dedicated to the recording of these annoying quips.  A key feature of the Dad joke is that the joke must be endlessly repeated for years, with only the Dad finding it funnier with every re-telling. 

 

Recently I experienced this personally, when my seven year old daughter told me that my jokes were not funny and she challenged me to make her laugh with a look of dead pan indifference upon her face.  I looked at her in disbelief at this statement.  "What do you mean my jokes are not funny?  I have been banned from zoos for fear they could kill a Hyena!"  This was met with a half hidden smile and a look away.

 

This interaction is not so much about her value judgment of the quality of my jokes (which, incidentally, are hilarious) but about growing up. Dad jokes are, like the use of all humor, about power.  As I have explored on this blog and in training and lectures, laughter is about power and alliance.  Laughter reveals who is on your side and who is not.  A child's refusal to laugh at a Dad joke is really an assertion of independence and separation from the parent. This is a soft rehearsal of assertiveness in the child, which is practiced playfully against a kindly authority figure.

 

So I was very interested in this article in the Atlantic, which investigates how Dad jokes are utilized in nearly every culture in the world.  I am not so sure about the "sentimental past" hypothesis they present, but the universality of the bad Dad Joke is fascinating.  To read the article click here.

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