The Art And Origin Of The Dad Joke

Aw, daaaaaaaaaaaad

Dad jokes … those corny quips that will automatically make your eyes roll (accompanying groan optional).

Dad jokes are oftentimes puns that are awkwardly delivered and met with a short period of silence followed by a brief (perhaps sympathetic) chuckle. But, for dads (or parents in general), dad jokes can be a way to divert attention or even a way to save sanity.

Let’s explore this genre a little further by looking at some of our favorite dad jokes and diving into the history of jokes and dad jokes as well.

By the way, when does a dad joke become a dad joke?

When it becomes a groan-up.

WATCH: Dad Jokes Explained By Our Kids

How many apples grow on a tree?

All of them.

The term dad joke is recorded as early as 1987 in a Pennsylvania newspaper, which noted dad jokes as making kids and wives wince. And, they have been doing so ever since. It’s a wordplay tradition passed down from generation to generation.

In 1998, an internet user, and admitted dad comic, commented about a groan-worthy observation: “My son calls this a “Dad joke”. Seems that only Dads can come up with these.” No, sir, but only dads think they’re clever.

What time did the man go to the dentist?

Tooth hurt-y.

These jokes exemplify gentle humor: dad jokes never have a biting sarcasm to them. That’s why the language is appropriate for any age.

The term spread in the 2000s, quickly embraced by dads in need of validation—and by content creators seeing some opportunity in their humor. In 2004, Judy Brown edited the book Dad This Joke’s For You: The Best Dad Jokes from the Funniest Comedians. The website launched in 2006. In 2009, a Facebook page, Dad Jokes, started, eventually gaining over 80,000 followers.

The irony, of course, is that all those unfunny dad jokes became beloved.

Is the pool safe for diving?

It deep-ends.

By the 2010s, dad joke came to signify any corny joke, especially a punny one-liner perhaps associated with grade-schoolers.

The dad joke can also be an opportunity for a genius reaction to a nagging kid’s nonstop (and ill-timed) questions. Answer a nonsensical question with a nonsensical answer (in the form of misdirection)!

Dad isn’t responding with the exact data requested, he’s returning fire with fire (a non-aggressive, playful version of word-fire, of course). And, it’s a response that is sure to poke fun at the kid as much as they’ve been testing dad’s nerves.

A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer ...

Bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve food here.”

There are a lot of foodie dad jokes. Maybe stemming from chaos around meal time or refusal to eat certain foods, a food or drink dad joke can get the meal moving again … along with the promise of dessert.

And, the addition of alcohol into the dad joke most likely stems from dad’s night out (a get-together of dads who have been around their kids too long and who share PG-13 dad jokes over a few beers).

Another interesting fact is that the popularity of the dad joke coincides with other dad terms such as dad bod (the slight pudge of a middle-age man) and dad jeans (which are unfashionable but practical, usually with a t-shirt tucked into them)—all perhaps prompted by millennials starting to have families themselves.

Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?

Great food, no atmosphere.

You know, this one brings up an interesting point. While dad jokes are nothing more than gentle humor per se, one wonders if they can be a catalyst for conversation and learning. For example, Dad says (forgive us for this one), “I don’t play soccer because I enjoy the sport. I’m just doing it for kicks.” His young son asks about soccer, Dad obliges with a response, and perhaps a spark of interest for the sport is born, along with the next Cristiano Ronaldo!

Any condiments with your order today?

Compliments? You look very nice today!

Pro tip: here’s another angle to consider, your relationship to the dad playing comedian can greatly alter the perception of the dad joke. If he’s your pop, you’re most likely tuned into his joke wavelength. This isn’t your first dad-joke rodeo.

But, if the recipient of said dad joke isn’t a part of the family, they might not “get it,” at least not right away. This can result in a spot of embarrassment for everyone—or at least, more embarrassment than usual. So, that leads to pro tip II (for all dads out there): read the room first, and hold the dad jokes for a more intimate moment … especially some non-PC versions. It will lead to a more genuine reaction.

What do you call cheese that isn't yours?

Nacho cheese. 

There seems to be an endless supply of dad jokes. Our research didn’t locate a specific dad joke that could be classified as “The Greatest Ever,” because dad jokes, just like other types of humor, rely on the perception/reception of the audience of the said joke.

Why do some jokes seem to catch fire and others don’t? It seems adults may use dad jokes around other adults for the same reasons they use them around their kids … to ease tension, clear the air, break a silence. Just make sure they don’t get too raunchy when there are kids around again.

Dad jokes for the graveyard

Dad jokes have been around for awhile, and that means things that might’ve been considered funny or corny (thus suitable for dad consumption) aren’t really par for the joke-course these days.

While they might’ve gotten a giggle back in the day, our collective consciousness has (finally) acknowledged that a disability is nothing to make light of. It’s the same with religion, race, misogyny (blonde jokes, anyone?). So, although dad jokes are harmless in nature, the content may not be.

There are plenty of other outdated words and terms that dads would be familiar with, like old (but not entirely forgotten) office terminology. Check them out here!

OK, OK, it's time to go ...

You’ve really been a great crowd. We’re ready to head out. “Dad, can you put my shoes on?”

“No … I don’t think they’ll fit me.”

And, that’s a wrap.

If dad traditions interest you, so will this article on the origins of Father’s Day (after you’ve had your fill of our dad jokes here).

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