My daughter turned four this past February and has recently started exploring the boundaries and structure of humor. And me, being the over-analytical type that I am, can’t help but to… Well, over-analyze it.

Rory started telling me sometime last year that a joke was a “funny story.”  This resulted in her telling me some “jokes” that were a bit removed from the premise as we might understand it. Her understanding was that a joke was a funny story, which resulted in her telling funny stories that weren’t exactly funny, nor were they stories so much as the telling of some random event that happened. A conversation would go something like:

“Daddy, I want to tell you a joke.”


“Today at preschool, my friend Charlie pushed me, and Ms. Leslie told him to stop.”

Not exactly gut-busting stuff.

But as her mind vaults through developmental epochs, she’s getting a better grasp of what constitutes a joke, even if she’s yet to comprehend what exactly makes something funny. There are some jokes that she knows that conform to more or less the typical format of a joke; my wife has been grooming her to say, “Guess what? That’s what!” since she was old enough to talk, and she will on occasion deliver the Interrupting Cow knock-knock joke and some other standards.

It’s when she goes off to create jokes all of her own that things go a little awry. Because apparently the chicken crossed to the road to eat leaves, and her version the Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana joke goes straight to either “orange lettuce” or “banana mailbox” (or sometimes “orange mailbox.”).

She apparently thinks this shit is hysterical. Or that our reactions to it  are, at least. Not sure if the latter is the case, though, since I’m pretty deadpan at the best of times.

In a similar vein, she’s been enjoying Mad Libs and the little vignettes they produce. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t know what the parts of speech were when I was four, so even though she struggles with the concept of an adjective, I’m at least impressed on that front. I thought Mad Libs were hilarious when I was about nine or so, so I’m glad she’s able to enjoy them, but I have to say that they try my patience as an adult. I can’t even read them properly to her, as my brain keeps trying to insert sensical words into the thirteen blank spots that have all been filled with “banana.”

I even gave an attempt at “Adult” Mad Libs, and it was more or less the same thing. The sentence structure may have been marginally more refined (it’s frightening how low the bar is), but it’s still the same insert-random-words non-humor. I have an incredibly broad sense of humor, but… I can’t. I just fucking can’t. Fortunately the publisher knows where their bread and butter age range is and these grown up renditions are positively dwarfed by the number of books aimed squarely at third-graders, but even that smattering of forays into the broader age range is succinctly categorized as Things That Should Not Be.

Maybe I just wasn’t drunk enough when I played them. I don’t think I could get drunk enough to enjoy them, but I’m open to it being a remote possibility. At least I can take comfort in the knowledge that Rory will probably stop finding these things amusing ahead of schedule. I know every parent likes to boast about what a brilliant little meat sack their loin spawn is, but in my completely unbiased and impartial opinion, those parents are all full of shit and my kid is the real deal. She’s gigantic for her age, her verbal skills are ridiculously sophisticated (though she no longer speaks with a British accent), and she’ll talk to you about animals all day long. And not just about farm animals, we’re talking shit like okapis and kinkajous where I get texts from my mom asking what the fuck Rory is talking about.

So yeah. I’m sure she’ll figure out the whole joke thing before Christmas.