Dad Jokes was never supposed to be famous. But once Good Morning America got hold of it, there was no turning back.
Created in March by Los Angeles-based producer Patrick Houston, one of the folks behind All Def Digital, Dad Jokes is an online series in which two comedians are pitted against one another in a you-laugh-you-lose format. The comics tell bad, corny, but oh-so-fun dad jokes to score points.
“I created the series really quickly to give me more time for another series I was working on,” says Houston. “We released the first episode on a Saturday with no promotion, no anything. I didn’t have high hopes. But it ended up on Good Morning America. Michael Strahan told a few of the jokes beforehand and then played a clip. That first episode got, like, 3 million views.”
Each episode of Dad Jokes, which features a rotating cast of comedians (including Kevin Fredericks, who came up through the Seattle comedy scene) averages around a million views, with some receiving five or even 10 million. And while there are other “bad joke” series, and other series where contestants try not to laugh, Dad Jokes is markedly different. The competition doesn’t end at one laugh. Instead, they keep going, showing crack-up after crack-up. Also, Dad Jokes keeps score. “I love blooper reels,” Houston explains. “I would watch them all the time with my favorite shows. Also, with Dad Jokes, we added the game element. That really stuck with people.”
There is something innocent and appealing about these corny dad jokes videos. There’s a comfort to their lack of edge. In an age saturated by spiteful internet trolls, dad jokes are safe spaces and universally beloved, Houston says. “Every race has dads trying to be funny,” he notes. “Dad Jokes broke a racial barrier, which is great for us. We’re an urban comedy company and this was our first mainstream hit. It’s very sharable.”
Let’s watch the episode where Houston told a few jokes:
Here’s another with Kevin Fredericks:
Dad Jokes, which has filmed about two dozen episodes to date, has been shared all over the internet’s most popular sites, including hitting number one on Reddit. British and African outlets have copied it, Houston says, and people are playing their own versions at house parties. “I pay really close attention to what the internet already likes,” Houston says. “That’s how I develop my shows. Once I saw people liked corny jokes and puns, I thought we should just bring comedians in to write their own and put their own spin on it.”
While the foundation of the series is innocent and comfortable, Houston says things have gotten a little edgier, like on this episode, subtly named “Dab Jokes,” in which the contestants got high first:
But, says Houston, as the series moves forward, Dad Jokes will double down on its innocent sensibilities. (The series will, however, offer spin-offs, like Dirty Dad Jokes, for more adult punch lines.) There is no need for Dad Jokes itself to be offensive—the whole point is not to be. “What made it take off is that it’s clean,” Houston says. “I don’t review the jokes ahead of time because I think a huge part of the show is that me and the rest of the crew behind the cameras laugh if we think they’re funny. In earlier episodes, a few dirtier jokes got through, but as the series started getting more popular, we made sure to make it cleaner, or we just cut them.”
This series is likely on its way to big things—all based on punch lines that would make a middle schooler’s eyes roll. “We’re experiencing higher stakes than we ever thought,” Houston says. “People get so into it. We’re going to add new elements, like fan-submitted dad jokes.” But, he says, no matter how big the series grows, he’ll always remember the effect that first episode had. “The first one became a hit out of nowhere,” he says. “That was the first big, ‘Oh wow. We’ve got something here.’”