My Jewish husband, who I love so very much, has always been the kind of person to tell a punny, ridiculously silly joke at the most opportune and inopportune moments. When he became a dad — or rather, from the moment I started gestating our future firstborn — that ability went into overdrive. There is not a day that goes by without a Jewish dad joke, and they’re all met with equal levels of love and exasperation (and varying measures of laughter.)
Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman of the United States and a man with a perennial sheepish smile, has obviously told a dad joke or two in his lifetime. He recently vaunted his affection for the popular Jewish dad trope in an official Father’s Day video in which, for the second year in a row, he walked around the White House trying to make people laugh with the schmaltziest of wisecracks.
Where did these jokes come from? Google? Emhoff’s staff? Was he born with an innate knowledge of them that he tapped into in adulthood, like so many Jewish dads? We don’t know. What we do know, from watching the video, is that he is determined to bring them to all corners of the White House, from the pressroom to the oval office. “She laughed!” he exclaims when he manages to make Director of the Domestic Policy Council of the United States Neera Tanden chortle. He has less luck with others, like Senior Advisor to the President Anita Dunn.
Emhoff finds a peer in White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, himself a Jewish dad (and also, I would be remiss not to say, the man who started the Washington bagel and Jew-ish deli chain Call Your Mother.) Zients not only laughs heartily at Emhoff’s joke about the priest who became a lawyer (a father in law!) but shares one of his own. Reading from a car, he asks Emhoff where the second gentleman goes to visit the team before the game before proudly exclaiming “the Dougout!” Emhoff laughs with approval, telling Zients “that’s a good one.”
At the end of the video, we see Emhoff’s wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, respond to his joke about a door — “so corny,” she says with a fond but knowing laugh, suggesting this isn’t the first such joke she’s been subjected to.
Here’s the thing about the Jewish dad joke — its construction, its wisdom, its internal logic, its delivery, even, doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that it makes you smile, or even better, laugh. It takes away from your burdens and worries, just for a little moment. The Jewish dad joke is the equivalent of matzah ball soup for the aching soul (as Jews, we often have those.) And Doug Emhoff has shown himself to be an expert of the artform.
For Father’s Day, I tried to get as many people as I could to laugh at some dad jokes. To all the dads out there doing the same thing, happy Father’s Day. pic.twitter.com/GlZavkc4ad
— Douglas Emhoff (@SecondGentleman) June 18, 2023