How can you tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?
… You’ll see one in a while and one later. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a dad joke. Quite unholy isn’t it? On the surface it’s also unfunny, basic and not clever at all. But there’s also a fair chance you cracked a smile or even had a little snort.
So, what exactly is wrong with dads, to make them tell horrible jokes like this?
Perhaps we shouldn’t hold it against them. I have a theory that dad jokery is a condition that develops without any real intent from the dads themselves. They can’t help it, it’s mother nature taking its course.
It begins when your kids are tiny babies and just kind of grows on you like a chronic disease for the rest of your life, gradually becoming more and more crippling.
Dads of teenagers are generally still self-aware, but are already unable to stop themselves from cracking one-liners, even though they’re aware it’s ruining their kids’ lives at that point. Sixty-year-old dads are too far gone to have any chance of recovery.
So how does it develop, this primal, uncontrollable need to tell extremely lame, groan-inducing jokes?
When your new baby arrives on the scene, it doesn’t do much (As an aside, did you know that when a woman gives birth she is literally kidding?). That’s lucky for you and mum because you’re probably shitting yourselves in the realisation that all those books you read haven’t prepared you at all for looking after a tiny, helpless human. So thankfully the baby just kind of lies there and your job initially is to just keep it alive by feeding it and clothing it.
Gradually, as you become more comfortable as parents, the little tyke becomes more aware of the world around it and starts to react more to what’s going on.
At about six weeks, you’ll get your first smile. Probably because you sneezed or something. Thusly, your heart will melt and your life will take on a new purpose – making kiddo smile and laugh.
I was going to put a joke about a piece of paper here, but then I thought, ‘never mind, it’s tearable’.
Because your baby is, well, a baby, it will find dumb shit hilarious. Like, the dumber it is, the funnier it will be for the child. Peek-a-boo? A comedic tour de force. Fart sounds? A riot. Five stars. Pretending to fall over? Quality humour, must be experienced over and over again.
Even those dads with an advanced sense of humour (frankly, every bloke I know considers his sense of humour highly advanced) will find themselves seeking out new ways to be zany and ridiculous and dumb in order to make their offspring break into an adorable giggle.
As they grow into toddlers and tiny kids, they learn to talk and their laughter threshold goes up a bit. Bear in mind, we’re starting with a very low bar, but it does go up. So dad’s humour has to grow with it.
Blowing raspberries on their belly isn’t quite as funny as before, but loudly fake crying is goddam thigh-slappingly hilarious.
David Attenborough voice: And here we see the early stages of the dad joke. The infant can now engage with language and the adult male begins using childish forms of verbal humour to entertain it. He takes on a persona that is perennially mildly confused, deliberately misunderstanding the world around him as a very basic device to create humorous situations; he plays the fool as a form of nurture.
“My kid yelled at me, ‘Dad you haven’t listened to a word I said’ and I thought, ‘What a strange way to start a conversation’.”
As the kid reaches primary school age, dad finds that silly wordplay and oafish one-liners are now his best bets when it comes to getting laughs. His lifelong relationship with bad puns has begun.
The children at that age still find the stupid jokes pretty entertaining. Mum has long since switched off and blocked the whole thing out. By the time the offspring hit high school, they now have fully functioning brains and, as a result, understand that dad’s crappy humour isn’t actually funny. Depending on how much respect they’ve retained for the old man, at this point they’ll either pretend to laugh along, groan, or tell him to shut up.
AT THE COLES CHECKOUT: “Would you like a plastic or cloth bag?”
DAD: “Either thanks, mate, I’m bisacktual.”
Where once he would have a car full of his kids and their friends shrieking with laughter, now they want to crawl into a hole and die whenever he reels off one of his rip-snorters in front of their peers. But like I said earlier, whether he’s aware how embarrassing he is or not, at this point dad can no longer help himself. The virus has spread throughout his system. He can’t stop the dad jokes any more than he can stop breathing, or growing hair out of his nose.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not really. Dad jokes are essentially harmless, except for when they cause your teenager to break up with their girlfriend/boyfriend. But aside from that, they’re harmless.
And like cigars or cognac or other weird things you get into as you get older, dad jokes can be something you appreciate and savour in your dad-life, even if others cannot see the subtle skill.
The most common forms of the well-executed dad joke
- You pretend to mishear a word and get very confused about what someone is trying to tell you, despite their numerous attempts at clarification.
- You take advantage of the many double meanings in English to draw ‘funny’ conclusions about something someone else has said.
- You use puns as your primary weapons of wit.
- Your jokes can involve an elaborate set up. The longer they take to set up, the more frustrating they are for everyone else, and the funnier they are for you.
I was just staring at my ceiling. Not sure if it’s the best ceiling in the world but it’s definitely up there.
READ MORE FROM DAN COLASIMONE:
- What is a push present (and do I need to buy one)?
- How big is my baby this week? A dad’s 35-week guide
- Stuffing up is part of being a dad, so let’s talk about it