Being a parent is an exercise in experimenting with variable rewards on a daily basis. Anything that my kid gets used to, he takes for granted; the only solution, then, is to not let him get used to the things that you need to use as rewards.
In my house, the reward is generally device time. We had to scale it way back recently – kiddo was getting that glazed-over look too much of the time, which is to say at all – but, at the same time, the device is a pretty useful crutch for us as parents when we need to do adult things like take a call or go to the doctor.
The other day, I was driving with him, and he'd already run through a lot of his allotted time for the day (an hour, if you're curious). He wanted "free" device time, which wasn't going to happen, and so I tried to get him to tell me a story instead. When I was young, I'd constantly tell stories to entertain myself, and he does this from time to time, too.
This time, though, no dice. He wanted nothing to do with a story. So, as we settled into what could have been an uncomfortably silent car ride, I thought to myself: I'm a dad. I should just start telling dad jokes.
Here's one: What do you get when you cross a car with a bridge? A carbridge!
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They're dad jokes. They're only funny through repetition, which is what I did.
What do you get when you cross a car with a truck? (a cartruck!). What do you get when you cross a bridge with a bird? (a bridgebird!). What do you get when you cross a couch with a sausage? (a couch sausage!). Yes, all of these were part of it, and there were fifty more. And, no, there was no creative answer to any – just combining the first and last thing I said, which was entirely based on what I saw out the window.
This went better than I would have thought, which is to say he didn't throw anything at my head and genuinely started cracking up for a while. Then I started losing him, so for my next joke – what do you get when you combine an owl and a boulder? – I changed it up. I got sad and said, "dead owl."
Kiddo perked up a lot at that. So, for the next one, I changed it to a guy named Jeff, which must have been the name of a realtor on a billboard, and, for the next ten minutes, anything that Jeff interacted with killed him:
The dead Jeff jokes have pretty much run their course in our house now, although that particular doodle got a fair amount of chuckles.
This joke, like all dad jokes, isn't for everyone. In fact, I wasn't really going to write about it, or draw it, until I had a meeting with a potential client who told me that the doodles weren't his cup of tea. Actually... a lot of clients have said that.
I actually really loved hearing that. I had been feeling sick – bad reaction to the J&J shot – but that comment really reinvigorated me, because when people don't like your stuff enough to tell you that, it lets you know that you've hit a nerve. People, in general, are nice, and are going to tell you nice things about yourself unless you give them reason not to.
I was pretty excited to have given him a reason not to, because it meant that I'd hit on something that was maybe a little more real than I thought it was when I drew it (I had thought it was pretty innocuous). I spent a while trying to figure out what that nerve actually was.
That brought me all the way back to my wholly inappropriate dead Jeff jokes. They're funny (if you think they're funny) both because they're absurd, a little sad, and a little scary, because all the random things that kill Jeff are things that we interact with all day, every day.
But, they're not for everyone.
For the people they are for, they are really for them. This is the what it means to create and market stuff: you find the people who care, and you focus on them. You don't waste your energy on the people that don't.