Dan Mangan: Dad jokes will save the planet

Why do fascists hate dad jokes? They do Nazi what’s so funny.

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      By Dan Mangan

      Consider this: 

      “I don’t always tell dad jokes, but when I do… he usually laughs.”

      Did you roll your eyes just now? Let’s break it down:

      1. You considered the pun. Did you get it? Of course you did, you’re smart.
      2. You basked, for an instant, in the absurdity. You may have even experienced a brief urge to chuckle, but then…
      3. You weighed the joke’s silliness against your threshold for being taken seriously in this godforsaken wasteland of existence. You recoiled. You played it safe. You protected yourself from scrutiny. You decided this joke is lame.

      Of course, not all dad jokes are good jokes. But bad dad jokes are bad because they are bad jokes, not just because they are dad jokes.

      When I was a kid, people used to say that sarcasm was the “lowest form of humour.” I don’t think that is correct. Sarcasm alone is not the folly, so much as sarcasm’s common association with meanness

      Meanness is, in fact, the lowest form of humour. Meanness reaches for the lowest hanging fruit on the shortest tree. It aims below the belt, and is most often volleyed by someone with paper-thin skin. It’s why Trump can’t be (intentionally) funny. He punches down. He’s a bully, and if you enjoy a bully’s humour, I’m sorry to say that you are most likely one of the bad guys.

      Self-depreciation, by contrast, is a higher form of humour. It demonstrates a reflective character, thick skin, and whimsy. It’s magnetic, and if done well, makes the joke-teller bullet-proof. Making fun of someone already willing to make fun of themselves is rarely funny.

      So let’s talk about dad jokes. Of course, dad jokes are not exclusively told by actual dads, but I myself am a dad. And because this entire essay’s purpose is to outwardly rationalize my own personal enjoyment of dad jokes, I will henceforth refer to dad-jokers as “dads.”

      Consider this: have you ever heard a dad joke that was mean? 

      I can’t recall a single dad joke that was at somebody else’s expense. On the contrary, I’d suggest that dad jokes are arguably at the dad’s own expense. Dads expect the eyeroll and deliver the punchline anyway. The act is, by nature, self-deprecating.

      Let’s assume that life is not exactly easy. Let’s imagine a world where there are looming ecological consequences for several centuries of unfettered resource extraction and rampant capitalism. In this world, let’s suggest that anxiety, depression and reproductive fascism are generally trending upward.

      The dad joke exists to offer a brief moment of existential respite from the madness. Levity. Joyful absurdity. Dads create a laugh at their own expense to make life more manageable for those around them.

      Dads tell dad jokes so they can take one for the team. It’s an act of caring. Sheltering. Loving.

      It’s not a lack of awareness that makes dads an easy target for despondent teenagers and cynical adults. Dads understand more than anybody that the dad joke is inane. But they follow through anyway. The execution is as much a part of the joke as is the word-play. There’s no guile, couth or malice involved. 

      This childlike wonderment at simple language is laughable, and that’s the point.

      Skepticism is important. There are countless things of which we should be skeptical. Skepticism keeps powerful forces in check. Skepticism serves the marginalized, because it pokes holes in the infrastructure that maintains the status quo.

      Cynicism, on the other hand, serves the powerful. It deflates spirits. Cynicism produces shame and guilt—it encourages us to keep quiet. Inward. Fosters an environment in which we must protect ourselves from the scrutiny of others. It is the watchful eye of inhibition. Causes us to second-guess our gut impulses. 

      By bemoaning the dad joke, we practice cynicism. We punch down on something that has already existed only to punch itself. We shun the curiosity of a common moment and, in doing so, perpetuate the systems that keep us from enjoying anything at all. We poison the well. 

      Why suffocate playfulness? The result is homogeneity. We should not punish those willing to be joyful in a hostile world. Cynicism nukes hope, and hope is at the core of most good things.

      Humour should be generous. It should be an invitation. Good humour doesn’t just make light of life, but offers a moment of common understanding through shared lightness. Isn’t it remarkable how truly funny people tend to make you feel like you yourself, in their presence, are funny too? It’s the magic of having fostered an environment where anyone can drop their armor and participate without being pierced.

      The next time you hear a dad joke and feel the urge to deride the perpetrator, perhaps ask yourself who your cynicism might be serving, and to what end. Have you been conditioned to be cynical toward lightheartedness by a world too self-conscious to be lighthearted?

      And if you should remain cynical… hi Cynical, I’m Dan.