Why Do Dads Tell Dad Jokes? Because Grandpa Jokes Fell Asleep

There's a long cultural history to the dad joke.
"Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field."
"Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field."

Kris Siddiqi doesn’t mind when his 9-year-old son Sebastian rolls his eyes at him. He’s actually come to welcome it. It’s a pretty natural reaction to the jokes he tells with shocking frequency, he admits to HuffPost Canada.

“I do it so much that I’ve given him free rein to just say, ‘Daddy, shut up,’ just to stop me,” he said.

Siddiqi, an actor and comedian in Toronto, says his humour doesn’t align with the typical dad joke, an elaborate construction usually predicated on a groan-inducing pun, a double entendre, or a deliberate misunderstanding of something with an entirely obvious meaning. (“Why couldn’t the bicycle stand up by itself? It was two tired” is a classic. Or, “I’ll call you later.” “Don’t call me later, call me Dad.”)

Instead, Siddiqi likes to concoct elaborate and obviously false lies to tell his son: when he’s asked what’s for dinner, for example, he’ll go on a long diatribe about how he needs his help because he’s making a turkey dinner, and baking his own bread, and bringing in a new oven. When Sebastian asks if his mom is home, he’ll say no, she left, she didn’t want to be in the family anymore, she got on a bus, she’s gone.

“I can just hone my dad sense in on my child and overwhelm him with all my stupidity, so he keeps going, ‘Daddy, shut up.’”

The tradition was passed down from his own father, he said. “I learned from my dad to just kind of be annoying.”

"Wanna hear a joke about paper? Never mind, it's tearable."
"Wanna hear a joke about paper? Never mind, it's tearable."

Dad humour is a bonafide cultural phenomenon, to the point that it’s spawned websites and Twitter accounts. According to Jure Gantar, who teaches theory of comedy at Dalhousie University, dad jokes serve the twin functions of inflating dad’s ego while also being self-deprecating.

A dad joke “has no external purpose of its own than to show dad’s linguistic competence,” Gantar told HuffPost Canada. “Father jokes are typically demonstrating that someone else’s language is imprecise, or that there is ambiguity.”

But the cultural understanding that dad joke are dorky also negates that demonstration of skill. The dad who tells a dad joke is willingly inserting himself into the sitcom trope of the bumbling, incompetent dad, something Gantar says goes back to “the useless fathers of Roman comedy.” But that self-deprecation is also endearing — and because the target of the joke is his own un-coolness, he’s making is safe for everybody to laugh with him, and doesn’t risk alienating or offending anyone. “Self-deprecating humour is the safest humour,” he says.

For Siddiqi’s family, like many others, groaning at Dad’s humour is part of what’s fun. “No one really hates dad jokes,” he said. “We roll our eyes at it, but we also really love it.”

And that can be a bonding experience, Gantar said. “It can re-establish family, and collective identity, when everybody groans at the same time.”

Siddiqi comes from a big family, and he said that seeing his dad joke around at home — something he rarely saw him do in the outside world — was formative.

“I think that’s a lot of how our humour is formed, through our fathers,” he said.
“We don’t have a connection with our fathers the way we do with our mothers. I think a father’s way to connect with his child is through that life-learned humility. It’s being able to joke, being able to not take things too seriously.”

That was the case for him, he said.

“My dad was really big and silly at home, but he never really was outside. He was a conservative Pakistani man who moved to Toronto in the early ’70s, and worked for the Ministry of Finance, so he was always wearing a suit and tie. But when he came home he was very jovial, and played around with us, and joked.”

He feels like his own son is picking up on comedy cues from his own ridiculous stories. “He gets sarcasm really well, I think because of that.”

Gantar is a father too, and he said he frequently communicates with his kids through dad jokes as well.

He repeated one he recently told his daughter, but asked that it not be included, as it was too embarrassingly bad, he said. But he doesn’t plan to stop telling them any time soon.

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