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Illustration by Drew Shannon

“Why did the banana go to the hospital?

Because it wasn’t peeling well!”

If you groaned, rolled your eyes or even felt a seed of resentment begin to grow, I wouldn’t blame you. Up until two years ago, I too had come to find such jokes annoying. Until I told them to a lovely young woman, whose infectious laughter wormed its way into my heart. I loved her sense of humour and it was one of the key reasons why I was eager to marry her in the summer of 2022 after a brief period of courtship.

I came to Oshawa, Ont., from India as a student in 2019 and am currently working toward permanent residency status. My wife lives in India, and after a wonderful year together, I returned to Canada where I found a job as a line cook.

Slowly but surely, the stress of living apart and planning our lives over video calls roughened the edges of our still nascent love. We kept reminding ourselves it would only be a few more months before she flew over from India and we began building a life together in Canada.

Lying in bed one day after a particularly difficult conversation about finances, I felt guilty about my needlessly harsh words.

Inspiration struck and I video-called her back.


“I have a joke for you.”

“What?” she said reluctantly.

“Two antennas got married. The wedding was fine …” I said, watching her face in anticipation, “but the reception was amazing!”

She tossed her head back and burst out laughing, her love for a good joke overriding her desire to continue pouting at my rudeness.

So, I thought I’d try to make others laugh, too.

But at work, a colleague’s weak smile deflated my sense of optimism. Maybe the kind of joviality you share with your wife – who is from the same culture, religion and upbringing as yours – can’t be shared with a tired, single mom who’s just trying to drop off dirty dishes before clocking off a long shift?

Later, I tried the same joke with a younger server, then an older front-house manager and even my boss in the kitchen. Their reactions varied only in terms of politeness. No one laughed.

Stand-up comedians often talk about how much it stings when they bomb in front of an audience. I’ve fortunately never had to endure that kind of intense embarrassment, but I’m sure at least a few pizzas I made suffered in quality because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d made a fool of myself.

I’ve often wondered what motivated me to start telling these dad jokes again almost a month later. Was it wounded pride? Was it the fact that my wife’s laughter kept reminding me that a perfectly landed joke is like a perfectly connected swing in golf?

I’m sure all of that played a role. But looking back, I believe the biggest reason is simple yet sounds sappy: making people laugh made me feel good.

Then, one day, that tired server came up to me during a shift. “Okay,” she said, clearly running through the joke in her mind one last time.

“What do you call a pencil that has an eraser on both ends?”

I was already smiling because I couldn’t believe I was a recipient of a joke for a change. “I don’t know. What?”


I burst out laughing. That was all the encouragement I needed.

From then on, I continued to share jokes with strangers. While getting off the bus at 1:30 a.m., I’d turn to the driver and tell him a joke. Even with a plexiglass dividing us, half a dozen drivers either smiled, chuckled, laughed out loud or told me they’d be remembering it to tell their wives when they got home.

Telling jokes is like witnessing a social contagion. Servers who seemed rude and aloof transformed into kind, witty friends. Impatient cashiers became reassuring as I floundered to pull out the right card to pay for my groceries.

Ultimately what started as a silly endeavour to spread some cheer ended up teaching me many things: how to start a conversation, how to enunciate properly when you have an accent, how to read a person’s body language so you know when to joke and when to leave them alone.

I’ve learned that some people laugh out loud not because of my material, but because they’ve been having a bad day, week or month and they needed the unexpected stress relief. Some folks get a twinkle in their eyes when they catch onto the clever jokes, while others reveal innocent spirits when they laugh louder than their kids at the silly ones.

So I’m going to continue. I’ll hunt for and memorize little jokes to brighten my wife’s day and then to share it with strangers and friends alike. Turns out, collecting dad jokes isn’t pointless after all.

Musthafa Azeez lives in Mississauga.

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