Dad jokes are perhaps the least-surprising form of humor. They are often pure puns, rely on linguistic norms of ambiguity, and tend to generate groans or eye rolls. But they can still work, and we may know why.
While it’s true that most people find dad jokes lame, the truth is that they have a pedagogical function. By provoking these reactions, they teach children how to manage embarrassment. This is especially important for adolescents, who are at a time of life when they are experimenting with the boundaries between their public and private selves. Dad jokes provide an opportunity for fathers to demonstrate the use of humour to create connection, lighten the mood, and diffuse tension in social situations.
It’s worth pointing out that dad jokes are often offensive to non-fathers and the elderly, whose sense of humour tends towards the more serious and less punny. But this does not mean that they are elitist in their appeal – it’s more likely that they are a reflection of the humour of middle-aged men who have children.
The most significant reason why dad jokes work is that they are universal, and therefore enjoyable by everyone. They are also safe, meaning they do not contain any negative undertones and are suitable for all ages and backgrounds. As such, they are perfect for family gatherings and friendly get-togethers.