Why Your Dad’s Comedy Is Still Very Much Your Comedy
After an unsuccessful harvest, why did the farmer decide to try a career in music?
Because he had a ton of sick beets.
If you’re groaning, that’s because we just slapped you with a dad joke -- an embarrassingly bad pun that makes you kindasorta laugh, partly because it’s mildly clever, mostly because it’s so corny you can’t believe someone spoke it out loud. Dad jokes have been around forever, but it’s only recently that they officially became a Thing. As of 2019, “dad joke” is officially an entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The thing about dad jokes -- and dad comedy in general -- is that it’s not your comedy. Dad jokes are full of bad puns, the humor equivalent of the facepalm. You could almost make “bad joke” and “dad joke” synonymous:
How does a man on the moon cut his hair? Eclipse it.
Right? But here’s a dirty little secret: All of today’s best comedy is really just your dad’s comedy dressed up in modern clothing. Don’t believe us? Here are four examples of how your comedy looks an awful lot like the favorites of the guy who paid your allowance all those years.
Ted Lasso is the most decorated comedy of the 2020s, a feel-good sitcom that proves that optimism, determination, and buttery biscuits can overcome almost any obstacle. When Lasso premiered on Apple TV in 2020, it was a breath of fresh air -- but that cool breeze feels a heck of a lot like comedies that have come before it.
An overmatched team that somehow outperforms meager expectations? Yeah, we’ve been here before. The Bad New Bears (1976 and again in 2005), The Mighty Ducks (1992), Cool Runnings (1993), and A League of Their Own (1992) are all comedies your dad probably owned on DVD at some point -- mainly because they trade on the time-tested theme of sports underdogs rising to the occasion. The longshots don’t even have to win -- simply coming together as a team is a victory in and of itself.
OK, you might argue, but maybe what really makes Ted Lasso different is the unexpectedly kind nature of a man in a dog-eat-dog sports world. Dad might point you to Jerry Maguire, the Oscar-nominated Tom Cruise comedy about a sports agent who tries to bring friendship, trust, and goodwill to an industry seething with backbiting and greed. If Ted ever needed an agent, Jerry would be the perfect man for the job.
Maybe Ted Lasso is a bad example. At its heart, it’s a pretty traditional comedy that your dad probably enjoys today. So let’s take an edgier example -- the cringe-filled teen angst of pen15. The show has received a lot of well-deserved praise for its realistic portrayal of middle-school trauma, cut with the surreal aspect of adult comics playing their tween selves.
But once again, Dad has been here before. Freaks and Geeks (1999), My So-Called Life (1994), and Awkward (2011) are among the shows that walked this comedy road, finding uneasy humor in the pain of adolescence.
And adults playing younger versions of themselves? Dad faves Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Poehler get a lot of comedy mileage playing their younger selves in 2015’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Seriously, guys, we can’t with the wigs.
Let’s take one giant step further away from Pops with body-horror comic Sarah Squirm. Big Daddy never enjoyed gross-out comedy about chest pubes and testicle sacks, right?
Well, maybe not chest pubes specifically. But he did have Sarah’s Adult Swim buddies Tim and Eric, who have been making the magic happen since 2007. You want uncomfortable areola humor? The fellas got you covered.
Heck, even Baby Boomer Dana Carvey had puppies suckling on his nipples back in the 1990s. Using the body’s inherent grossness for shock humor has been around the block a few times.
Boomer Candice Bergen summed it up for many dads when she congratulated John Mulaney on joining Saturday Night Live’s exclusive hosting fraternity. “Welcome to the Five-Timers Club,” she said. “And let me be the first person to say, ‘Who are you?’”
Mulaney’s response: “Well Candice, you wouldn’t know me but if you have a niece or a son who’s bad at sports, they might.”
So OK, maybe your dad doesn’t know all the deets about Mulaney’s recent intervention or the Olivia Munn social media drama. But Papi definitely is familiar with the type of ironic storytelling comedy for which Mulaney is famous. John himself is quick to point out his influences, 90s and 00s comics your dad might have seen in the club back in the day.
“When you first start, you sound like a lot of your contemporaries just out of sheer survival or mimicry. Mike Birbiglia, Dave Attell,” Mulaney told the Chicago Reader. “There’s a few I can’t name anymore, I guess.”
(We’ll go out on a limb and deduce that Mulaney is referring to troubled comics Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle, especially given the dust-up when Chappelle opened for John earlier this year.)
More influences? “Then there are people like Paul F. Tompkins that I would listen to and go, “That is how I would like to do stand-up comedy.” It’s not hard to imagine Mulaney relating an embarrassing story like this …
We could go on. The point isn’t that contemporary comics aren’t doing original work -- comedians have always been influenced by and built on the work of the funny people that came before them. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to diss Dad’s treasured comedy movies, sitcoms, and performers. They might be a lot closer to your favorites than you think.
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Top image: Adult Swim