The Blog

"I Can't Stop Thinking About Your Dad": A Primer in Dad Humor

When fatherhood stops being associated with the cold, horse-trainer aspect of childrearing and becomes a kind of mommyhood-lite, there's bound to be a bit of cultural confusion.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Has anybody else noticed American comedy's strange obsession with dads these days? Freud would have a field day with the newest generation of comedians -- but do they really suffer from daddy issues? Or have dads simply replaced Polacks as the new inherently funny minority?

Notice I say "dads," not "fathers" -- the difference reveals more than a generational linguistic evolution. The word "father" conjures up a stern taskmaster, the family patriarch, possibly absent, possibly abusive -- "Just wait until your father gets home!" A "dad," on the other hand, is a fun-loving, family-oriented guy (a "guy," not a "man") -- "I can't wait until my dad gets home!" Your father shakes your hand when you've become a man and selects you to take over the family business; your dad takes you fishing. Peter Jennings was a father; Dave Barry is a dad.

When fatherhood stops being associated with the cold, horse-trainer aspect of childrearing and becomes a kind of mommyhood-lite, there's bound to be a bit of cultural confusion. That's where our comedians step in. In honor of the archaically named Fathers' Day, let's investigate the latest in Dad Humor.

The leaders of Dad Humor are Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the cult comedy duo behind the beautifully deranged Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, a surrealist sketch series on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. At once demented and oddly humane, the show simulates the feeling of spending your childhood glued to the TV without really comprehending any of it. Mothers are curiously absent from the show's frame of reference, but longing for Dad's attention is a recurring theme.

Here, Tim and Eric dance to an exercise video that devolves into a reverie about their dads. Notice how unhappy they look while thinking about their dads:
The same man appears in another episode, leading another exercise video that soon collapses in on itself in Dad-longing. "I can't stop thinking about your dad," he says. "You're gonna give me your dad's e-mail address" -- an excellent touch, as though today's TV viewers are so alienated from each other that the closest contact they can imagine is over the Internet.
Here's a little song that is truly haunting in the way it captures the near-erotic nature of a child's awe and loneliness for his dad. What child among us hasn't done, at one point or another, what the boy does in the video? Note, as well, the surreally disproportionate smallness of the child.
This Tim-and-Eric sketch, an instant classic, takes dad issues to an Impressionistic extreme. Tim, the good son, whispers "I love you" to his omnipotent father figure and is ultimately rewarded with closeness; Eric, the bad son, disappoints his own father with gruesome results.
Dozens more examples of Dad Humor can be drawn from the work of Tim and Eric, but let's leave them aside for the moment and turn to another Next Big Thing in American comedy: the sketch troupe The Whitest Kids U'Know. I was lucky enough to see them perform live, where the following sketch was a near-revelatory experience for the whole audience; it can also be seen on their TV show, which plays on the Fuse channel. Here, too, the very idea of a "dad" is used as a punchline in itself, and the humor comes from the uncomfortable way that the dad figure is imbued with both oppressive authority and comic powerlessness.

For the ultimate example of Dad Humor, though, we'll have to travel back in time to a previous generation of comedians -- and not even American ones, but Canadians. Unfortunately this sketch doesn't exist on YouTube, so we'll have to make do with a transcript (see here for a complete transcript). Below, a classic Kids in the Hall sketch demonstrates a prescient epitome of modern dad humor:

Scott: Hey, any of you guys ever beat up your dad?

[Assorted "What?"s.]

Dave: What are you talking about?

Scott: Ever beat up your dad?

Dave: No, I haven't.

[Chorus of "No"s.]

Scott: Not once?

Kevin: No.

Scott: Surely you've thought about it, though.

All: Well. . .

Scott: Yeah, I thought so. Okay.

Dave: Well, maybe.

Scott: If you were going to do it right, do you think you could take him? Could you beat up your old man? Think about it.

Dave: Yeah. Yeah, I guess I could take him. I guess I could beat up my father. 'Course, he's seventy.

Kevin: I couldn't do it. But I'm just uncomfortable with emotion. That's my problem.

Bruce: But, I know your father. I think Hammy's been asking for it for years.

[Kevin nods.]

Mark: I don't know. My dad? He's wily. He's one wily commuter, you know?

Scott: Really. Can't be that wily, Mark. If you were going to try it, though, right? How would you do it? Just what if.

Dave: Yeah, what if, just what if?

Mark: Drunk, at a wedding. Ask him to dance. Get him out on the dance floor and then POW! [Stands and kicks leg] "Stay down, please, sir!"

[All laugh.]

Kevin: Good one.

Dave: I guess I'd wait till he was in the den.

[Assorted "yeah"s.]

Dave: Yeah, wait till he's in the den watching Alf, eating off a TV tray, wearing those slippers.

[Assorted "yeah"s.]

Dave: And then I, and then I'd blind him with salt, bash him on the head with the channel changer and, and then I'd take down that big marlin over the bar. You know that stuffed marlin I've been staring at all my life. I'd take that baby down and, well, "No more Alf today, Daddy!"

Kevin: Oh, ho! . . .I'd let him beat me up.

All: What?

Kevin: Oh, and then I'd let his guilt tear him apart.

Dave: I don't know.

Mark: No, that counts. Passive aggressive. That counts.

Bruce: I'd drop from a tree. It's so obvious I'd have to get the jump on old Ian. I'd sleep in the tree; and then I'd wait till he was going to work; and then I'd just fall. And then I'd pick up some of his lawn and club him with it. I'd shame him with his own lawn! And, and as he stood there with his corduroy pants wiggling like legs of a sick insect I'd take the chip off my shoulder and shove it down his throat!

Kevin: Ho ho!

Mark: That's pretty.

Dave: That's really nice.

Mark: That's good.

Scott: Ha ha ha.

Dave: [to Scott] What about you?

Scott: Me?

Dave and Kevin: Yeah.

Scott: Beat up my father? Are you kidding? I love my dad, guys. Okay?

Dave: We all love our fathers.

[All agree.]

Scott: Oh, you do, do you? Well, have you ever told him that?

[Chorus of "no"s.]

Mark: He doesn't want to hear that.

Kevin: How embarrassing.

Scott: Yeah, yeah, really? Well, if you ever had the guts, how would you do it?

Mark: Drunk at a wedding. Ask him to dance. Get him out on the dance floor and then POW! "I love you, Daddy!"

Kevin: I'd get my mom to do it.

All: Coward.

Happy Fathers' Day, everyone!