Bad Dad Jokes and Their Pedagogical Function

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When a bad dad joke walks into a room, its audience groans. Dad jokes are those awful puns that fathers love to tell their children and the rest of their family, relying on over-the-top silliness that isn’t nearly as clever as they think it is. These jokes are a least-surprising form of comedy: They’re the kind of jokes that were once essential in a comedian’s repertoire, and are still found in long-forgotten “dad joke” books from the middle of the last century. (Which, by the way, now feature a Wikipedia entry and an add-on to Mirriam-Webster.)

Yet despite their obvious flaws, there’s something to be said for dad jokes: They may not only be entertaining to those who tell them, but also serve an important pedagogical function. By exposing their children to embarrassing puns that they themselves know are cringe-worthy, fathers might be helping them learn that embarrassment isn’t the end of the world.

Humor researchers tend to agree that dad jokes are distinct from other forms of humor, both in their content and in their performance. They aren’t quite as virtuosic as other kinds of humor, but they’re more like the anti-joke: They’re intentionally lame, and they court failure in a way that other jokes don’t. They’re a little bit like the rough-and-tumble play that many fathers feel instinctively moved to engage in with their children, even without knowing its important pedagogical function. bad dad jokes

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