The Dad Joke, Explained

At first blush, the dad joke as a 2010s cultural phenomenon is a puzzling one. In a youth-obsessed culture where the internet instantly creates what are essentially international inside jokes by way of multi-layered esoteric memes, how did the simple brand of humor most popular among sitcom fathers rise to such dizzying heights?

I think the answer lies within the answer: irony. What’s funnier than an unfunny joke? It’s pure, unlike us; it’s uncomplicated, unlike us; and most importantly, it’s light, unlike us. While we on the internet are a collective dumpster fire of good and bad intentions, reacting to each other like Mentos and Diet Coke with all the simplicity of a Rubik’s-cube-shaped layer cake, dad jokes are the scoop of vanilla ice cream that helps it all go down. A groan, it turns out, is just as satisfying as a laugh.

But not just anything can make us groan in such good nature. We are a particular and delicate bunch, and only the perfect mixture of corniness and earnest delivery can trigger our dad joke appreciation. So this Father’s Day, in honor of dads, I’ve broken down the anatomy of the dad joke. This insight was gleaned by way of good old-fashioned hand-to-chin thinking, as well as quick text exchanges with my boyfriend (a dad in spirit), my siblings (who share my dad), my dad (my dad) and, curiously, Ashley Hamilton, Man Repeller’s social media editor who is both a comedian and self-proclaimed dad joke expert.

Below, our estimation of the necessary ingredients to bake up the perfect dad joke, replete with requisite post-script pregnant pause.

1. A dad joke includes a pun of some kind.

Wordplay is an obvious but necessary ingredient in the formation of a hand-to-heart dad joke. By using the flow of conversation itself as the joke setup, a dad can cook up a punchline fast — with little care for depth or nuance.

Kid: Dad, they’re called flip-flops now, not thongs.
Dad: Sounds like thongs should stop flip-flopping on their 

2. A dad joke is clean.

A dirty dad joke is just creepy. An idyllic dad joke is almost joyful in its cleanliness. Even if it’s made to poke fun, it does so in a way that somehow transmits a message of general benevolence.

Kid: I’d like the turkey club, please.
Waiter: And for you sir?
Dad: I’ll join this turkey’s club and get the same!

3. A dad joke is said with more enthusiasm and confidence than it warrants.

A clever joke delivered in a self-deprecating or sarcastic manner is not a dad joke. Instead, it should be both cheesy and delivered with the all-knowing confidence of a guy who has never questioned his place in the world — a quality that is otherwise insufferable but somehow charming in the context of a dad joke.

Kid: We’re having fish for dinner?
Dad: Sure are — just for the halibut!

4. A dad joke is delivered unironically despite being corny and/or obvious.

A dad joke is shared in earnest, never as a dark or sharp commentary. And even if the joke is undeniably uncreative, it’s still told in a way that suggests it’s not.

Dad: How are things?
Kid: Good, just been juggling a lot of balls lately.
Dad: Life can be a real circus! 🙂

5. A dad joke is two steps behind the times.

Dad jokes may attempt to communicate a familiarity with what’s “hip” — but they usually betray a familiarity, instead, with what was trending a long time ago. This oversight is, of course, accidental, which adds to the dad joke’s timelessness.

Kid: Can someone turn on the AC? It’s getting hot in here.
Dad: Whoa Nelly, don’t take off all your clothes!

6. A dad joke is repeated easily, possibly unnecessarily, for the sake of making sure everyone heard it.

A dad joke bears repeating in the eyes of the joker (and only the eyes of the joker). Whether it’s re-stated within minutes or simply employed over several years, a dad joke is rarely told once.

Kid: Aunt Haley said she’d be here in 20 minutes but it’s been an hour.
Dad: Probably got stuck in a hail storm!

[20 minutes later]

Aunt Haley: Sorry I’m late!
Dad: You get stuck in a hail storm?

[one year later]

Dad: Where’s Aunt Haley? She get stuck in a hail storm?

7. A dad joke teller not only expects but delights in receiving eye-rolls and groans in response to their joke.

The groaning reception of the dad joke is part of its appeal; it might even be said that its one of the dad’s joke’s primary motivations. In that sense, there is a subtle element of trolling to the dad joke, suggesting the joke may, in fact, truly be on us.

Kid: Can we go to the zoo this weekend?
Dad: We go to the zoo every weekend — our living room!
Kid: [rolls eyes]
Dad: [laughs gleefully]

Happy Fathers’ Day! May your weekend be filled with dad jokes.

Collage by Madeline Montoya.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

More from Archive