The Dad Joke Filter

Sometimes your lyrics lack punch or impact, and it’s difficult to know why. Try running it through the dad joke filter. 

Let me explain.  

A well-crafted song is often like a dad joke. Take this one I heard recently. 


Where do generals keep their armies? 


In their sleevies. 

I laughed the first time I heard that joke. And that was the point. To make me laugh, or at least be amused. But let’s pretend the writer of the joke decided it should go like this:  


Where do American, four-star generals, who are over the age of 57 and have a good sense of humor––where do they, especially during wartimes, keep their armies? 


In their sleevies. 

Huh? The joke doesn’t work, does it. 

Instead of priming the listener for the punch line, it has them way off thinking about other things. The only information they need to hear is information that leads them to the punch line. 

Like jokes, songs can only be about one thing. Not a punch line, per se, but a controlling idea or theme. All the information should point to that in some relevant way. If it doesn’t, the song becomes diluted. 

This is most difficult when you’ve come up with lines you’re proud of, but then realize in the context of the entire song they don’t work. A mature songwriter will get rid of them. A less-mature one will hang on to them. 

This happens to me a lot. I get so zoomed in on a line or two that I forget people won’t be experiencing the song under a microscope. So I have to constantly zoom in and out of my lyrics to get perspective. I play it down from the top. I take a break. I grab my yo-yo.  

Ever heard the writing advice “kill your darlings”? Apply it. Nix those lines. Unnecessary information––no matter how good you think it is––is superfluous, just like all the extra info about the generals. 

Write songs like a dad joke.