J.R. Havlan wrote for The Daily Show for nearly two decades, winning 8 Emmy Awards in the process. After that, he’s written for The Tonight Show and consulted on various other projects, including writing for two Academy Awards Shows. He lives in New York City with his wife, son and daughter.
I recently asked my 12-year-old son how he would define a “Dad Joke,” and he immediately said, “A joke that a dad tells to kids that’s usually cheesy.”
When I was growing up, my dad had two go-to Dad Jokes, both of which he would do whenever we went out to eat at a restaurant. First, he would finish all his food, and when the waiter inevitably asked, “How was everything?” my dad would point at his empty plate and say, “Terrible!” Then, when the check came, he would quickly grab it and say to me, “I insist.” Then he’d look at the check and pretend to be shocked by the amount. But, of course, he’d pay it anyway. Solid (cheesy) gags.
I’m not sure how Dad Humor got such a bad rap to begin with. It’s the word “Dad” and the word “Humor,” which, as we all know, are two excellent things! But you put them together and suddenly it’s like “cookies and ass.” It just somehow doesn’t work.
One problem is that most so-called Dad Jokes are not really for kids. They depend on puns, which many children can’t really process yet, even if they get the reference; and that’s a big “if.”
Example: I used to be addicted to soap, but I’m clean now.
Unless your 8-year-old has been to rehab, I’m not sure that joke’s gonna fly.
That’s why, particularly with younger kids, nothing beats pure, classic silliness.
Kid: I’ll call you later.
Dad: Please, call me Dad.
Kid: Can you put my shoes on?
Dad: I can try, but I don’t think they’ll fit me.
Kid: Make me a sandwich!
Dad: Poof! You’re a sandwich.
And the timeless classic:
Kid: Did you get a haircut?
Dad: No, I got them all cut.
The best-case scenario is you get your kids in on the joke. My 10-year-old daughter loves Taylor Swift. Surprise! One of her favorite songs is called “You Need to Calm Down,” and every time my daughter plays it, which is roughly twice a day, we do our own little version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”
Me: What’s the name of this song?
Zoe: You Need to Calm Down.
Me: I am calm. Just tell me the name of this song.
Zoe: You Need to Calm Down.
Me: I told you, I’m perfectly calm. Now, what is the name of this song?
Zoe (pretending to be increasingly frustrated): You need to Calm Down!
Me: Why are you yelling at me?
And so on. I think you get the idea.
But we’re talking about dad jokes here. Not award-winning daughter/daddy routines. So, I did my research/single-Google-search and found The 200 Best Dad Jokes of All-Time Guaranteed to Make You Laugh. (Although, that should probably come with an asterisk reading, “Not a guarantee.”)
Here’s a short list of the ones I liked. Or at least the ones I thought were better than the other 192.
Do you know why you never see elephants hiding in trees? It’s because they’re so good at it.
Which days are the strongest? Saturday and Sunday. The rest are weekdays.
I’m reading a horror story in braille. Something bad is going to happen, I can just feel it.
What has five toes and isn’t your foot? My foot.
What’s blue and not very heavy? Light blue.
In 2017 I didn’t do a marathon. I didn’t do one in 2018, 2019, or 2020, either. This is a running joke.
Here’s a joke your kids probably won’t really get, but I included it because it’s actually a really good joke.
My friend claims he glued himself to his autobiography. I don’t believe him, but that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
And this one I included because I love using extra dry humor on my kids.
What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
I always tell jokes like that last one in the style of the late, great Norm McDonald: confidently deliver the punchline, and then stare blankly at the audience until they either laugh or get up and leave.
But my personal favorite Dad Joke was not even on this list. It’s a variation of a joke Sarah Silverman once told me. (Yes, I know Sarah Silverman. And yes, she’s lovely and hilarious and a damn fine poker player.)
Why couldn’t the little boy go see the pirate movie?
Because it was rated “Arrrgh!”
Of course, if all else fails, you can always just hold your kids down and tickle them.
Works every time.