able 1: There are countless books and articles solely dedicated to compiling examples of dad jokes. This table displays the very first example of a dad joke included in ten different such books or articles. As apparent from this selection, dad jokes are distinguished by being inoffensive puns that only violate the pragmatic norm against ambiguity and nothing else. Taken from Hye-Knudsen, 2021.
aking dad jokes seriously requires a theory of what makes something funny (or, alternatively, unfunny). At least since the Greeks, scholars have debated this issue, but the most promising line of contemporary research in this area, in my estimation, points towards humour being an evolved response to benign norm violations (McGraw & Warren, 2010; Warren & McGraw, 2016).
Dad jokes flagrantly violate this norm by following up this shift with a thoroughly tame pun. A dad joke can thus be so stupid, so lame, so unfunny that this paradoxically makes it funny. In this sense, dad jokes can be considered a type of ‘anti-humour’ – humour derived from violating the norms of humour production itself (Luu, 2019).
At first blush, fathers’ more aggressive style of physical play and their teasing style of humour with their children might seem cruel, but that would be missing the point. By continually pushing and challenging their children, fathers’ style of rough-and-tumble play supports their children’s physical and cognitive development in important ways while teaching them to regulate their behaviours and emotions (Flanders et al., 2009; StGeorge & Freeman, 2017; StGeorge et al., 2021)
Ideally, fathers’ rougher style of joking fulfils a similar function: by teasingly striking at their children’s egos and emotions without teetering over into bullying, fathers build their children’s resilience and train them to withstand minor attacks and bouts of negative emotion without getting worked up or acting out, teaching them impulse control and emotional regulation (see Gray, 2013).
They show their children that embarrassment isn’t fatal. For a child who is approaching or has entered adolescence, which appears to be a sensitive period for sociocultural processing (Blakemore & Mills, 2014), this is an immensely valuable lesson. In this sense, dad jokes may have a positive pedagogical effect, toughening up the kids who are begrudgingly exposed to them.
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