DAAAAAAAD! On Father's Day, An Homage To The Terrible Jokes They Tell

Jun 18, 2017
Originally published on June 18, 2017 6:45 am

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.'"

DAAAAAAAD!!

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A warning for any sullen teens listening - our next piece is about dad jokes, that groan-y (ph), goofy humor favored by fathers everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What type of food is good for your feet? Shoe-shi (ph). (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, shoe-shi - that's one of the countless dad jokes floating around this Father's Day. It's from a dad joke battle on YouTube that only gets sillier.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why didn't the melons get married? Because they cantaloupe (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Love that laugh (laughter). So brace yourself kiddos; NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The ubiquity of dad jokes goes all the way to the top. Last Thanksgiving, President Obama made the ceremony of pardoning the turkey second to...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Embarrassing my daughters with a corny-copia (ph) of dad jokes about turkeys.

ULABY: Our last president said he plans to tell dad jokes every Thanksgiving from now on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: No way I'm cutting this habit cold turkey.

ULABY: Meanwhile, Nickelodeon in Australia broadcast a fake public service announcement about the dangers of dad jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "DAD JOKE SURVIVORS")

ISAAC: Dad asked me - have you heard about the new movie, "Constipation"? I was all like, what? No. And he said, it never came out.

DAVE BARRY: Somebody has to do this. If I don't carry on that tradition, who will?

ULABY: Humorist Dave Barry says he learned how to make dad jokes from his dad, who loved a long, slow build to a payoff.

BARRY: He would say - OK, what are those things that are in the army that roll along and they're on treads? And he keeps giving you hints and hints. And finally, you would go, tanks? And he'd go, you're welcome. My dad lived for those moments.

ULABY: To figure out what makes those jokes specifically dad jokes, I asked a behavioral scientist. Peter McGraw studies humor. He says it's rooted in play.

PETER MCGRAW: Dad jokes are just a verbal form of play. It's just a different way to tickle and roughhouse with your kids.

ULABY: You could argue that dad jokes fall into that dumb-dad stereotype that can get a little annoying, the ineffectual, funny fathers you see on TV like on "The Simpsons" or "Modern Family." #StopItDad - Dad can't even tell a good joke. But McGraw says criticizing dad jokes misses the point.

MCGRAW: If you have dad jokes in your life, it means that you have a dad in your life. And it means that you have a dad who has a sense of humor and who is interacting with his children and having fun with them.

ULABY: The fun of dad jokes makes them a perfect tool for one Muslim-American activist who swats down Islamophobes on Twitter.

QASIM RASHID: People come to me constantly and say - is Sharia law taking over America? And I say, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure Shakira law is because hips don't lie.

ULABY: Qasim Rashid says his corny dad jokes lighten up a Twitter feed mostly about Muslim rights, civil rights and women's rights.

RASHID: We live in a society of toxic masculinity.

ULABY: So much aggression and violence committed by men, he says.

RASHID: And I think a lot of that has to do with men refusing to let their guard down. Men are refusing to laugh at themselves or show sympathy or empathy or emotion because they see that as weakness.

ULABY: Dad jokes give men a way to be sweet, silly and connect with people they love. For the last word on dad jokes, humorist Dave Barry.

BARRY: We're all Americans. And when you go into the bathroom, you're an American. And when you come out of the bathroom, you're an American. But what are you when you're in the bathroom? European.

ULABY: Happy Father's Day. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.