“A woman walks by a pharmacy, sticks her head in the front door, and asks the pharmacist, ‘Have you got cotton balls?'”
So begins another recent submission to the dad joke collection that began on March 31 this year with a post entitled, “Don’t Call Me Shirley.” Since then, readers have continued to send me dad jokes of all kinds. Some are funny, some silly, and others risqué. Interestingly enough, most of the latter come in limerick form, so there may be some strange connection between copulation and the limerick rhyme structure of AABBA (not a Swedish disco group from the 70s).
The steady stream of submissions has inspired me to continue telling dad jokes, or at least to think about them but then keep them to myself. I recognize that sometimes discretion is the better part of humor. Also, dad jokes are often not jokes at all but loose or discarded pieces of wit that you don’t know what to do with. Think of nuts and bolts in a coffee can. They include puns, rhymes, malapropisms, double entendres, or any combination thereof.
Yesterday, I told two dad jokes. The first was to the UPS delivery guy. I asked him to leave a package scheduled for delivery later in the day in the “foyer.” I pronounced it foiˌā. “But,” I added, “if it’s late, you’ll have to leave it in the “foiˌb.” He looked at me. I had to explain that it was a joke.
The second dad joke, even more obscure, involved Italian choir practice. The director had scribbled a note on a music score: “Zipoli organo.” This referred to a piece of music by Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726) that the organ would play without the choir. It was a meditation piece. Not wanting to leave well enough alone (a common characteristic of dad jokers), I commented that I had never used oregano on zeppole before but, ever the adventurer, I would give it a try.
If you’ve never been to a street fair, zeppole are balls of deep-fried dough soaked in honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar. You wouldn’t put oregano on them any more than you would put steak sauce on a banana. What can I say? The joke was a stretch. The cantor smiled politely.
There is something disarming about dad jokes. They signal to the other party, whether friend, foe, or a stranger on the subway platform, that you come in peace. They can also break down barriers to communication and point to the existence of common ground between the two of you. This is why you hardly ever hear movie villains tell dad jokes. If they did, their evil persona would be undermined. But telling a dad joke doesn’t make you weak. In fact, you might come off as not caring at all what the world thinks. What could be more audacious than that?
There is another interesting aspect of dad jokes that gets little attention. In the end, you don’t have to be a dad to tell them. This makes the genre unique and inherently democratic. With nearly all other jokes, if you are not an insider, you could be asking for trouble, especially in a world of political correctness, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. Consider jokes about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, body image, and disabilities. If you are not a member of the target group, look out. Even if you are, you are not exempt from censure by the self-appointed guardians of the new morality.
I doubt, for instance, that I could get away with a joke about noses, even though some of the funniest material ever written makes fun of noses. I’m thinking here of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Only an Irishman could write something so preposterous and witty.
At the risk of getting too serious, dad jokes may be one of the few forms of discourse we have left to counter the idiocies of ideology and the tightening control of the corporate state. As such, they must be protected and passed on, or they will be forgotten, erased from the collective cultural memory, discarded down Winston Smith’s memory hole.
And to the woman searching for cotton balls, the pharmacist replied, “What, do I look like a rag doll to you, lady?”