Anatomy of a Dad Joke

by Tyler Sjostrom


I still recall my first encounter with my own dad’s Dad Jokes. We were driving past a Dairy Queen in my hometown in the mid-90s and the marquee outside said, “Monkey Tails, a dozen for $6.” And seeing the advert for Monkey Tails – bananas on a stick, dipped in chocolate – my dad quipped, “All those poor monkeys, wondering where their tails went.”


Admittedly, it took my brothers and me a minute to catch up. But when we finally arrived on Dad’s winking level, we all met on the plane where I now reside in perpetuity: the domain of the Dad Joke. It was dumb. It was for all of us. And it was perfect.


I’m finding my footing on this softest of stages currently, as my kids come into their own senses of humor. You see, Dad Jokes come with conditions. No more swearing. Jokes can’t be built on even the smallest amount of cruelty or pain-infliction. The butts of jokes will be animals and/or animals’ butts. Puns and plays on words will be important; incorporate physical comedy, all the better. And when we all laugh – me and the kids, yeah, but also bystanders who muse, “Oh, dad joke” – then we’ve achieved peak humor del papa. (That was a quasi-dad joke.) 


To this dad’s mind, Dad Jokes come with four hard-and-fast rules.


A quality Dad Joke must be understood by literally everyone. First, an admission: all Dad Jokes are ultimately for the enjoyment of the dad who tells it. But that enjoyment is only truly pure when it’s shared. The kids must identify with the tenuous connection to comedy. Mom must roll her eyes at the lameness. Dad must be able to giddily anticipate the payoff. A Dad Joke is an entire family dynamic writ small.


Puns can live and breathe in a Dad Joke. I’m on the record as an opponent of most puns, with one notable asterisk: if it’s in the service of a Dad Joke. When I explain nut allergies to my kids? “Well, in a nutshell …” When I explain the importance of being an organ donor? “Well, it takes guts …” When my kid won’t go down for a nap? “Stop resisting a rest!” You certainly get the point.


“Silent but deadly” humor kills in a Dad Joke. Animals are funny to kids. Butts are funny to kids. Everything that comes out of animals’ butts, it must be said, is funny to kids. And while this puerile humor might be something we dads pretended to have outgrown years ago, we now have reason to play the hits, so to speak. With Dad Jokes, it’s okay to tell jokes about flatulence, even if they stink. Happiness comes from within, like … well, you know.


Dad Jokes should be spontaneous. Consider the chocolate covered joke from my dad above. Dads are generally understood to be somewhat clueless; it’s the essence of “bumbling Dad” in totality. So, it’s important that a Dad Joke is something that the dad in question stumbled upon by accident and is only sharing because he doesn’t know how not to. It’s an extension of all else dad-adjacent: the dad bod, the dad wardrobe, the dad rock. We don’t tell Dad Jokes because we want to. We tell Dad Jokes because we can’t help ourselves.


It’s good to share these moments with your kids because they’ll remember them. I certainly do. 


You might even say that Dad Jokes are somewhat like pickles – they’re all pretty big dills.