15 Dad Jokes that Are Actually Funny

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Fifteen, you say. Here at Naked Capitalism, we pay close attention to the Wall Street Journal, and so when I saw the headline “A Groan-Up Daughter Makes a Lot of Cents Telling Dad Jokes” I sat up and paid attention:

The king of Dad jokes is a 19-year-old sophomore at Utah State University. From her social-media stage, [Neve] Pratt has aired hundreds of original and recycled jokes with a cringey delivery that has drawn more than 650,000 TikTok followers and millions of eye rolls. Punchlines are followed by awkward, fumbling silences that, to great effect, last a couple of beats too long.

“So what if I can’t spell Armageddon?” she says in one video. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

Tick. Tick.

Sadly, however, I have not yet advanced to TikTok; YouTube’s pale imitation, “Shorts,” is the closest I can come. But I couldn’t find examples of Pratt’s work there, nor does Pratt have a Twitter account (which should tell platform mavens something, I suppose). 

What then a Dad joke? My own father’s favorite, and possibly best, joke was:

A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says “Why the long face?”

But can we discern any unifying principle? What is a Dad joke? If, as some would say, a Dad joke is an instance of humor, what is humor, and why do we have a sense of it? So I decided to look into the matter, even if investigations of the funny are notoriously unfunny, and to work from the bottom up, by first collecting some jokes, and then by bloviating theorizing asking questions about them. My only selection criterion was that the joke had to make me smile, although in one or two cases I laughed out loud. Perhaps they will make you smile too, not such a bad thing on a Monday.

Here, then, is my corpus of Dad jokes. They are in no particular order, and in fact, when I tried to order and juxtapose them, no ordering was better than any other (although I numbered them for ready reference). Here they are:

  1. My friend was showing me his tool shed and pointed to a ladder. “That’s my stepladder,” he said. “I never knew my real ladder.”
  2. A duck walks into a pharmacy and says, “Give me some lip balm – and put it on my bill.”
  3. “What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?” “Supplies!”
  4. This year’s Fibonacci convention is going to be really special. Apparently it’s as big as the last two put together.
  5. What has five toes and isn’t your foot? My foot.
  6. Where do Dads store their Dad jokes? In the Dad-a-base.
  7. Two sheep walk into a b-a-a-a.
  8. What did the fisherman say to the magician? Pick a cod, any cod.
  9. Can February March? No, but April May!
  10. What did one hat say to the other? Wait here, I’m going on ahead!
  11. A magician was walking down the street — then he turned into a store.
  12. I ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon. I’ll let you know.
  13. I was going to tell a time-traveling joke, but you guys didn’t like it.
  14. “What do you call a lazy baby kangaroo?” “A pouch potato!”
  15. I love telling Dad jokes. Sometimes, he even laughs.

Before ascending to the theoretical plane, let me expose my sourcing. The clickbait article titles make for grim reading:

What fascinates me is that the lists themselves are copypasta; they are extremely duplicative, even within themselves; the sense of closed-in-ness reminds me of list of jokes on a wrinkled piece of paper passed surruptitiously from student to student in grade school. Although kids these days have cellphones, and all these articles were published on the Intertubes and probably assembled by bots. Even more fascinating is the picture of American life presented by the authors (or the bots). Under what circumstances does the “whole family” “chuckle?” Are there “kids” who don’t “love to laugh”? Do the kids who “love to laugh” laugh all the time? Like at night? “Actually funny” winks at the reader, but what does the wink convey? And what kind of Dad seeks a “guarantee” of laughter from his children? The entire enterprise seems forbiddingly wholesome and family-friendly and, in fact, humorless.

Let me now ascend rapidly to the 30,000-foot level. Why do we have a sense of humor? Like everything else that’s truly important — as I pointed out yesterday, sleep, consciousness, sex, death — we don’t know. From Scientific American:

[S]cientists still struggle to explain exactly what makes people laugh. Indeed, the concept of humor is itself elusive. Although everyone understands intuitively what humor is, and dictionaries may define it simply as “”the quality of being amusing,”” it is difficult to define in a way that encompasses all its aspects. It may evoke the merest smile or explosive laughter; it can be conveyed by words, images or actions and through photos, films, skits or plays; and it can take a wide range of forms, from innocent jokes to biting sarcasm and from physical gags and slapstick to a cerebral double entendre. Even so, progress has been made MR SUBLIMINAL More funding needed!.

We don’t know why animals have a sense of humor, either, but they do. From the Guardian, skipping over primates, dolphins, rats. and the ketamine-loving crayfish:

“”The playfighting and tickling we see in animals are harmless attacks which serve a very social function,”” says Peter McGraw, a psychologist at the University of Colorado. “”Some of it is bonding and some of it can be learning to fight. But what you always see is that the animal that’s being attacked is the one making these vocalizations which we interpret as laughter. I believe that through evolution, laughter developed as way of showing that something which would otherwise be wrong, is actually ok.””

The World Economic Forum [tick, tick] regards humor as an essential life skill:

Researchers have found that people who score highly in certain types of humor have better self-esteem, more positive affect, greater self-competency, more control over anxiety, and better performance in social interactions… Research has shown that humor can actually improve your physical immune system. Laughter can also improve cardiovascular health and lowers heart rates, blood pressure, and muscular tension.

And of course the truly essential arena, the workplace:

Aside from improving your health, laughter can be a productivity tool as well. A study from Northeastern University found that volunteers who watched a comedy were measurably better at solving a word association puzzle that relied on creative thinking as compared to control groups that watched horror films or quantum physics lectures. This is because laughter lights up the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain associated with attention and decision-making. Another study measured people’s performance on a brainstorming task and found that participants who were asked to come up with a New Yorker-style caption generated 20% more ideas than those who did not.

Amazingly, then, humor has a bad reputation among philosophers. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy‘s entry on “Philosophy of Humor”:

Philosophers are concerned with what is important in life, so two things are surprising about what they have said about humor.

The first is how little they have said. From ancient times to the 20th century, the most that any notable philosopher wrote about laughter or humor was an essay, and only a few lesser-known thinkers such as Frances Hutcheson and James Beattie wrote that much….. Martian anthropologists comparing the amount of philosophical writing on humor with what has been written on, say, justice, or even on Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, might well conclude that humor could be left out of human life without much loss.

The second surprising thing is how negative most philosophers have been in their assessments of humor. From ancient Greece until the 20th century, the vast majority of philosophical comments on laughter and humor focused on scornful or mocking laughter, or on laughter that overpowers people, rather than on comedy, wit, or joking. Plato, the most influential critic of laughter, treated laughter as an emotion that overrides rational self-control…. Especially disturbing to Plato were the passages in the Iliad and the Odyssey where Mount Olympus was said to ring with the laughter of the gods. He protested that ‘if anyone represents men of worth as overpowered by laughter we must not accept it, much less if gods.’

If so, Plato would be good with the Dad joke. Assuming all Dads to be men of worth, they are not the ones overpowered by laughter; and in any case, a Dad joke typically induces groans, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also summarized three theories about why we have humor: The Superiority Theory, the Relief Theory, and the Incongruity Theory. Here is Superiority Theory of humor:

[W]e have a sketchy psychological theory articulating the view of laughter that started in Plato and the Bible and dominated Western thinking about laughter for two millennia. In the 20th century, this idea was called the Superiority Theory. Simply put, our laughter expresses feelings of superiority over other people or over a former state of ourselves. A contemporary proponent of this theory is Roger Scruton, who analyses amusement as an “attentive demolition” of a person or something connected with a person. “If people dislike being laughed at,” Scruton says, “it is surely because laughter devalues its object in the subject’s eyes.”

The Relief Theory of humor:

The Relief Theory is an hydraulic explanation in which laughter does in the nervous system what a pressure-relief valve does in a steam boiler. The theory was sketched in Lord Shaftesbury’s 1709 essay “”An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor,”” the first publication in which humor is used in its modern sense of funniness. Scientists at the time knew that nerves connect the brain with the sense organs and muscles, but they thought that nerves carried “”animal spirits””—gases and liquids such as air and blood. …  Shaftesbury’s explanation of laughter is that it releases animal spirits that have built up pressure inside the nerves…. Over the next two centuries, as the nervous system came to be better understood, thinkers such as Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud revised the biology behind the Relief Theory but kept the idea that laughter relieves pent-up nervous energy.

And the Incongruity Theory:

While the Superiority Theory says that the cause of laughter is feelings of superiority, and the Relief Theory says that it is the release of nervous energy, the Incongruity Theory says that it is the perception of something incongruous—something that violates our mental patterns and expectations. This approach was taken by James Beattie, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, and many later philosophers and psychologists. It is now the dominant theory of humor in philosophy and psychology…. The core meaning of “”incongruity”” in various versions of the Incongruity Theory, then, is that some thing or event we perceive or think about violates our standard mental patterns and normal expectations. (If we are listening to a joke for the second time, of course, there is a sense in which we expect the incongruous punch line, but it still violates our ordinary expectations.)

Let’s look at Dad jokes from each of these three angles.

Superiority. As Søren Kierkegaard, writing in Men’s Health opines:

If it evokes a reaction somewhere between cringing and earnest laughter, and you simultaneously want to tell the person sharing the joke to tell you more and also shut up because they’re embarrassing you in front of your friends, congratulations, you’re in the presence of a Dad joke.

Paradoxically, the Dad is both superior and inferior: Superior because he is, after all, the Dad, and he’s telling the joke; inferior because the joke is, well, a Dad joke. Similarly, “you” are superior since “you” are groaning at the badness, but inferior because you are cringing (possibly in the presence of your friends.

Relief. From Good Housekeeping:

[D]ad jokes are more of a vibe…. They’re good for a laugh, but they’re mostly going for an eye-roll. And they can be told by anyone.

There’s not much “pent-up nervous energy” released by an eye-roll, surely? Even a teen-age eyeroll? 

Incongruity. From Southern Living:

Dad jokes are both beloved and despised—like corny puns, they’re funny because they’re so not funny. But what makes a dad joke different from a regular pun? The signature of a dad joke is that it’s utterly uncool. Grandma may be the queen of nonsensical sayings, but Dad is certainly the king of cheesy jokes. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, sometimes these jokes are actually funny. Add these brilliant one-liners and puns to your repertoire, and you’ll be on your way to matching dad’s pun-king status in no time.

Once again, we see paradox. The incongruity of the Dad joke is that “it’s funny because it’s not funny.” The Dad joke is, then, meta: It’s about what is funny and what is not funny. But there is a second level of incongruity: “Dad is telling a joke that’s not funny, why?” And at the third level: “That’s what’s funny.” Dry, very dry.

* * *

Since this is the stupidest timeline, a mastery of Dad jokes can only be highly adaptive, and so I hope readers will file this article under “News You Can Use.” And my favorites are #1 and #12.


[1] Good Housekeeping is the flagship here, top of the line, since it actually sorts Dad jokes into genres: One-Liners, Corny, “I Have a Joke About…” jokes, “To The Person Who Stole My…” jokes, and so on. There are a lot. I just hope all the jokes aren’t being churned out by ill-paid gig workers somewhere in the Third World.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


      1. Joe Well

        I agree about the jokes, but there is just something about *her* that’s charming.

        I think the point with short form social media videos is to build a rapport with people who are probably not getting a lot of positive social interaction.

  1. flora

    An old termite walks into a bar and asks, “Where’s the bar tender?”

    Thanks for this post. I need some silliness these days. / :)

    1. Jeff W

      Yeah, the version I heard was “Is the bar tender here?” (but we’ve been through that already).

      I guess a favorite of mine remains Josef K’s

      A cop, a priest, and a camel walk into a bar, and the bartender says “what’s this, some kind of joke?”

      but then, again, I really like meta-humor.

  2. Joe Well

    Aren’t these all puns?

    Puns are almost a quirk of the English language. It’s much harder to make puns in Spanish because the grammar is more precise with prepositions and all the different word endings (conjugations, inflections, gender), so there aren’t really many cases where a phrase could literally be understood in two different ways. For instance:

    “I like telling Dad jokes. Sometimes, he even laughs.”

    You have to specifically say if you’re telling jokes to the father or if they are jokes “of” the father.

    1) Me encanta contarle chistes a papá. I like telling jokes to dad.
    2) Me encanta contar los chistes “de papá”. I like telling “Dad’s” jokes.

    I thought of one pun joke in Spanish about Penguin-brand cakes and penguins the birds that I actually like but it would take so much explanation it would kill it.

    There are a lot of double entendre jokes, and just like in English, they tend to be associated with men over a certain age and sound pretty old-fashioned. In Mexico, they call them “albures“. (I couldn’t find a page in English about those.)

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Yes, it jumps out at you that they’re based on puns and the frequent ambiguities of English vocabulary, which can also be a source of amusement with newspaper headlines of the “Students Cook and Serve Grandparents” type.

  3. Randall Flagg

    I just got home from a visit at the Barber. My kids asked if I got a haircut, I said no, I got ALL of them cut.
    I’m sure that’s in one of the links above…

    1. petal

      One of my father’s favorites when we were little was when we’d be in the car. We’d drive by a cemetery, and he’d ask “How many dead people are in that cemetery?” and we’d try to count quickly and guess numbers. Then he’d say “All of ’em!”

      1. flora

        zomg. Is it just possible that dad jokes are a soft intro to critical thinking for kids? whoa! Besides being silly funny of course. I’ve lol’d at a lot of these. / ;)

  4. Sardonia

    A polar bear walks into a bar and says “I’ll have a gin and……………………tonic.

    The bartender asks “Why the big pause?”

    Polar bear says “I don’t know, I’ve always had them”

  5. vao

    When I scanned the title of the post, I first read it as “15 bad jokes that are actually funny”. The term “dad joke” being something entirely new to me, this misreading was understandable; after reading the post, it still makes complete sense.

    1. Bill Malcolm

      Don’t know where this term Dad joke came from. Young people renaming old things? Lame.

      We used to call these insipid jokes “groaners”.

      The only one I ever remember that made my headshrinker Dad laugh was: “Two psychiatrists met each other in the street. One of them remarked, “Well you’re fine. How’m I?”

    1. witters

      Oh come on. Wittgenstein was a hoot. He had rubber rulers, mute builders grunting ‘slab’, and GE Moore going mad, among others. As he said “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”

          1. Mike

            The Scene: Ancient Athens
            Man walks into a tailor shop carrying a pair of torn trousers.
            Tailor: “Euripides?”
            Man: “Yes. Eumenides?”

      1. Susan the other

        Jonathan Haidt is well humor-sensed: as interviewed on The Great Simplification, he (a social psychologist-philosopher), told this one: “What do you get when you combine the mafia and post modernism? – An offer you can’t understand.” Categorize that one please, Larry David.

    2. Xquacy

      They aren’t to the point that they are:

      Plato’s academy with conceited pride defines a man as ‘a featherless biped’. Upon hearing of this, Diogenes plucks out the feathers of a chicken, presenting it to the academy ‘Behold! I have brought you a man’. From that day on, the academy adds ‘with broad flat nails’ to the definition.

      1. Xquacy

        One might also add the an early Athenian Dad joke, in a double sense:

        Dionysodorus asks— Is this dog yours? Yes. But this dog is a father; therefore, this dog is your father.

        1. ambrit

          Ouch! That must have been a rabid member of the anti-Schroedinger faction. (Infamous for uttering at a symposium the fateful words; “Assume an enclosed kennel…”)

    1. cfraenkel

      Interestingly – it seems the term only came into common usage only a little while ago, (well, turn of the millenia….) and hit an inflection point ~2014 ish. (according to Google’s N-Gram viewer)

      “dad jokes” on Google N-gram

      I’d have thought they were a little older, but it certainly wasn’t a thing in the 70’s or 80’s. Maybe something to do with cargo shorts, mini-vans or kids that grew up on the internet? There seemed a lot more public awareness of irony post 90’s.

    2. Angie Neer

      My understanding is that this type of wordplay was displaced by the visual memes and tropes of the internet. Poor Dad only had words to work with; digital natives had a whole new visual vocabulary with which to separate themselves from Dad, and perhaps to confound him.

  6. Kurtismayfield

    Argon walks into a bar, the bartender says “why the long face?”. Argon doesn’t react.

    Chemistry mixed with dad jokes makes them even worse.

    1. ambrit

      Neon walks into a bar with his friend Helium. The bartender angrily asks; “why did you bring him in here for?” “To lighten the place up,” flashes Neon.

  7. Skip Intro

    Mystic walks up to a hotdog cart and says “Make me one with everything”.

    This is like a pun that is spread over an entire phrase; an ambiguous double-entendre.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      A man buys a hot dog from the Zen hot dog vendor and give him ten bucks. The Zen hot dog vendor gives him a hot dog.

      The man: “Hey, where’s my change?”

      [tick, tick].

      “Change, my friend, must come from within!”

      1. David in Friday Harbor

        How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?

        Just one, but the lightbulb’s got to want to change…

        There are many kinds of humor. Superiority, Relief, Incongruity. The best engage all three.

        1. wilroncanadaw

          stolen from Morey Amsterdam..” anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.”
          My daughter, a psychologist, came to this conclusion about me– I’m a psycho-ceramic.. a crackpot.

  8. JM

    I love so called Dad jokes,and puns; and seem to recall an Atlantic article about puns being the height of wit being in Links several years ago. That one got lots of eye rolls when I told coworkers.

    A favorite of mine:
    What does a grape say when you step on it?

    Nothing, it just lets out a little wine.

    I think it was in an Infinite Monkey Cage episode that I heard something like: a sure way to guarantee a show isn’t funny is to try and explain humor. This during a show about why people laugh, and they were right, it wasn’t a funny episode…

  9. skk

    There is of course the classic short story “Jokester”, about the reason for jokes, by Isaac Asimov. I won’t give away the ending.

  10. Solideco

    A skeleton walks into a bar. Bartender says “what’ll you have?”. Skeleton says “A beer… and a mop.”

  11. EarthMagic

    “Dad, it’s cold in here.”
    “Go stand in the corner.”
    “The corner is 90 degrees”

  12. Detroit Dan

    What’s the difference between the people of Dubai and the people of Abu Dhabi?

    The people of Dubai don’t like the Flintstones, while the people of Abu Dhabi Do!

    1. The Rev Kev

      Ever notice how in the west women get stoned and then commit adultery whereas in the Middle east, they commit adultery and then get stoned?

  13. Angie Neer

    I learned “Supplies!” as the punchline to a joke making fun of Japanese people. If I’m honest, which I sometimes am, that one was cleverer than #3, but it’s not something I would repeat.

  14. Jorge

    I heard a great Dad joke recently:

    How do you turn a duck into a soul singer?
    Roast it in the oven until its bill withers.

  15. Ignacio

    A joke from the very well educated who never tell jokes:

    There is an abbey in which al monks are obliged to a vow of silence. One day the abbot breaks it to announce that there will be one day every 10 years in which monks will be allowed to break the vow to inform him of anything they consider important.

    Ten years later the day arrives and the monks make a queue to meet the abbot. They pass one by one but no one says anything until one monk arrives and tells the monk “the food is awfully bad”. Nothing more is said and abbey life comes to normal for another 10 years.

    10 years later, the same day, the same performance starts. Nobody says anything until the very same monk arrives and says “the cells are too cold”. Nothing more is said and life returns to normal.

    10 years later comes the repeat. Same queue, same monks, same silence until the same monk goes and tells the abbot “I quit”

    No wonder! replies the Abbot, after 30 years of complaints!

  16. x

    In 2007-2010 (ish), American media started earning a larger share of revenue from foreign markets. Puns and wordplay don’t translate well so they have disappeared from the massmarket entertainment. For a gernation of young folks, this sort of jokes only exists in older media, a kind of joke told by an older generation. Hence, ‘Dad’ jokes.

    1. Wukchumni

      My brother in law who played base on the Beach Boys for about a dozen years was at Burning Man and I knew he was a potent potable by coming in 3rd in the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships a few years back-and that’s all about the spoken pun, which I find while not quite formidable, a vastly tougher gig than the written variant.

      We cracked each other up frequently, upping the ante as it were.

      All over Black Rock City you’ll see written puns and/or clever wordplay.

      Our camp of 15 were greeters at the entrance to the burn for about 5 hours, and a favorite stunt to pull is to ask RV drivers if they have any blue tape (commonly used to cover up edges of windows) and they often happily offer up some, which allows me or my confederate to go mess with wording on the back of their rig, using their own tape, ha ha.

      Said greeting typically lasts a few minutes, so you gotta be quick in amending the rear echelon.

      If you came across any Shat GPT* stickers in the port-a-potties, that was my doing.

      ‘Tired of taking care of business?
      … next time try Shat GPT’

  17. Mikerw0

    If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrim

    Never get kidnapped by a mime, they do unspeakable things.

  18. LilD

    Why does the married engineer need a mistress?
    So his wife thinks he’s out fooling around,
    his girlfriend thinks he’s home with his wife,
    and he can go to the lab and get some work done.

  19. Mike

    The Scene: Ancient Athens
    Man walks into a tailor shop carrying a pair of torn trousers.
    Tailor: “Euripides?”
    Man: “Yes. Eumenides?”

  20. aleph_0

    Ok, if the parade is continuing, I’ll contribute some, too :)

    How many hands does it take to change a light bulb?

    Many. Many hands make light work.

    How many Germans does it take to change a light bulb?

    One. They are efficient and not very funny.

  21. redleg

    Variations of “I just flew in from [place] and boy are my arms tired” is a guaranteed laugh every time it’s used.

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