Dad jokes are notoriously bad, and yet they’re still popular. While it’s easy to dismiss them as cringeworthy and pointless, a closer look at this unique phenomenon reveals that dad jokes are a fascinating study in the nature of humour and joke-telling, as well as men’s psychology.
What do you call a fake noodle? A impasta. How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? A lot. What does Forrest Gump’s password say? 1forrest1. These are just a few of the many, many, many, many, many, many, very, very, many bad dad jokes that keep us laughing. But why do they work? What is it about these cheesy one-liners that makes them so hilariously bad?
While most of us would agree that puns are the bane of our existence, few people feel a strong enough attachment to the pragmatic norm against ambiguity to consider a pun a breach of that norm (Beck, 2015). Instead, what we call dad jokes – or oyaji gyagu in Japanese, or morfar vittigheder in Danish — violate the pragmatic norm and generate groans and eye-rolling in a way that few other breaches do.
Dad jokes seem to be uniquely funny because they’re a humour style that has no particular goal in mind. They’re formulaic and predictable, so they aren’t trying to be clever or witty; they just happen to be that kind of uncool humor that most men can relate to. And while this kind of humour isn’t something that can be taught, it seems to be a characteristically masculine trait, as demonstrated by the popularity of ajae jokes in Korea (Choi, 2016). So perhaps, like rough and tumble play, fathers are instinctively moved to tease their children with these kinds of bad dad jokes.