Dry Humor Shows & Movies- A Parent’s Guide


Anyone with kids, or in charge of kids, will most likely find themselves looking for family-friendly entertainment, so it’s important to feel confident and knowledgeable about the TV shows and movies selected for children. So with that being said, are dry humor shows and movies appropriate for kids?

Dry humor movies and shows are generally not appropriate for kids up until teen years, and even then, caution is warranted. Albeit exceptions exist, dry humor comedies often rely on sarcasm, crude or rude language, and/or mature situations that are too advanced for most children.

As a mom of four and longtime public school teacher, I’ve made it a point to be careful about what I select for kids’ viewing. It’s surprising, or maybe not, what I’ve learned: that many so-called family-friendly ‘dry humor’ movies aren’t really for kids at all!

Dry Humor Examples

For starters, parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, or anyone in charge of kids, should know what dry humor actually means. For many, dry humor is thought to be in the realm of kid-appropriate because of it’s calmer tone. But that’s not always the case! What are dry humor examples?

Dry humor, also known as deadpan humor, examples are those kinds of humor that has a calm, matter-of-fact delivery, often with the punchline left unsaid and up to the audience to fill-in-the-blank mentally. Dry humor examples frequently are observational, tongue-in-cheek, and ironic or sarcastic.

As an adult, it’s common to enjoy dry humor because it’s less overt and not prone to too much silliness. It’s almost like listening to a speech or just having a conversation that just happens to have a humorous bent.

deadpan: also known as dry humor is “marked by an impassive matter-of-fact manner, style, or expression”

Merriam-Webster

Now the very definition of dry or deadpan humor is precisely what makes it less appealing for kids comedically, not addressing the advanced content usually attached. Kids’ sense of humor develops overtime. It starts with overt, slapstick that is undeniable in it’s humor-quality and gradually progresses to more underlying, subtle comedy.

One way to build humor with your kids is to use it strategically through routines or regular activities. For instance, our Fun Jokes For Kids Coloring Book is a great tool for embedding humor through kid-friendly activity.

But the key word is ‘gradual.’

Developmentally, kids don’t comprehend or ‘get’ irony and sarcasm until much older. Teachers begin to teach irony in upper-elementary, and I can tell you from experience, it’s very challenging for the average kiddo to figure it out.

Teachers rely mostly on direct explanation, telling ‘this is ironic because…’ and kids are usually only expected to point out an example of irony from multiple choices options with the correct answer veering on blatant. It’s not until late middle school and high school that kids are expected to delve deeper into the concept of irony.

Irony is often used as a technique for dry or deadpan humor. But irony is an advanced figurative language device, difficult for most kids up to teens. Isn’t that ironic?

That’s not to say parents, grandparents, teachers, etc… can’t help kids along with humor!

Kids Who Laugh : How to Develop Your Child’s Sense of Humor by Louis Franzini (available on Amazon Kindle or paperback) explains the importance of developing a sense of humor in kids, something parents especially often overlook, thinking it’s impossible. You either have a sense of humor or not, right? Wrong!

Teachers are also encouraged to use humor in the classroom, with studies showing it improves relationships as well as learning. I enjoyed infusing humor throughout all my lessons, even though I’m not naturally a funny person.

For instance, I often began lessons with a Knock-Knock joke. These are really easy for kids to understand because of the patterns and so they find them naturally funny. And I really liked using jokes with play on words or puns, as that’s particularly helpful for language learners and kids with reading disabilities.

As well, I used comedic media to grab students’ attention and help them make connections to real life from what I was trying to teach them. From SpongeBob clips to snippets of Disney or Nickelodeon tween shows, kids enjoy anything that doesn’t look ‘academic’ when in school.

Yet, teachers need to be careful about incorporating outside media and should vet it beforehand.

However, another complication with dry or deadpan humor for kids is its use of sarcasm. It’s no shock to anyone who knows a teen (or was one themselves), that sarcasm has great teen appeal.

With it’s affiliation to passive-aggressiveness and rudeness, those in the middle of their turbulent teen years see it as way to lash out or talk back without being considered overtly disrespectful. So movies involving sarcastic humor is a draw for them!

Yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they understand the use of sarcasm in context. And it doesn’t mean they appreciate sarcasm directed back at them either!

As for pre-adolescent children, sarcasm is often misunderstood. So much so, that teachers are urged to avoid it (though, this doesn’t mean that happens, either!). So all in all, it’s with much reservation, that dry, deadpan movies are used for children, despite what Hollywood thinks.

Examples of Dry or Deadpan Humor (Source: UpJokes):

  • Call someone to tell them you can’t talk right now.
  • Buy a donut and complain that there’s a hole in it.
  • Put up a “Lost Dog” poster with a picture of a cat on it.
  • Call McDonalds asking for directions to Burger King.

And my husband’s favorite… Go to any fast food restaurant and order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Dry Humor Movies

Dry humor movies are generally written with adults in mind, but often the advertising is directed toward kids, making it a challenge to decipher appropriateness. What do adults need to know about dry deadpan humor movies?

Dry humor movies, also known as deadpan comedy, are movies that are known for sarcasm, irony, play on words, puns, subtlety, and expected expressions and rely on the viewer to figure out the punchline or comedic meaning. Because of this, the humor is difficult for children to grasp.

And if children struggle to find the movie funny, then it’s not going to be an enjoyable experience for them or the accompanying adults.

Children find movies with overt, slapstick humor naturally funny. Movies such as Mr. Bean or SpongeBob SquarePants is riddled with slapstick humor that’s cognitively appropriate for kids’ sense of humor.

Examples of Dry Humor Movies that are NOT appropriate for most kids, but enjoyed by many adults:

  • Airplane! (1980)- Though it’s rated for kids at PG, much of the humor will fly over kids’ heads, and the bits that they find funny, like a nun punching a woman in the face, is not really for the reasons it’s intended.
  • Spaceballs (1987)- This comedy is a parody of Star Wars, which is certainly going to attract the attention of many under 13s and it’s rated a kid-friendly PG. However, it includes many sexual innuendos and foul language for laughs.
  • The Naked Gun: from the Files of Police Squad!(1988)- Another movie featuring comedy fan-favorite, Leslie Nielson, is described at IMdB as a movie starring an incompetent policeman disastrously trying to foil an assassination attempt on royalty. It’s more appropriately rated PG-13, so parents can be wise to the mature themes.
  • Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993)- This dry humor movie is another parody; this one of the original, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This one is also PG-13, providing some caution for parents just by the rating alone. And when consulting the IMDb Parent’s Guide, you’ll find it rates ‘moderate’ in the sex and nudity, as well as profanity categories.

For further related reading, I highly recommend these other articles on our site:

Dry Humor TV Shows

Long running TV show, Seinfeld, from the 1990s, is well-known for its dry and sarcastic observational humor.

Dry humor TV shows were the rage in the 1990s and early 2000s. Shows like Seinfeld, and its naughtier version, Curb Your Enthusiasm, ran for many seasons and enjoyed both critical and popular acclaim, resulting in many TV awards. So what do parents need to know about dry humor TV shows?

Dry humor TV shows, like dry humor movies, are not recommended for most children and should only be used with pre-teens and teens with advanced understanding of humor. Recognized for subtle play on words, use of irony and sarcasm, as well as deadpan expressions, dry humor TV is best left for adults.

So how can parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so on) know what dry humor movies are appropriate for their kids? Especially when given that movie ratings can’t really be trusted as reliable!

Tips for knowing if a comedy is appropriate for your child:

  • Check IMDb’s Parent Guide: This is much more clear than a rating system. The Parent Guide divides information into categories such as profanity; sex and nudity; violence and gore; and alcohol and drugs. This way parents (or anyone else interested) can find out not only what kinds of instances are in the movie but also how many!
  • Review it on Common Sense Media: Unlike IMDb, Common Sense Media is a nonprofit, that uses experts and research as its basis for providing information to parents and teachers regarding kid media.
  • Vet it yourself: Ultimately, you are the best judge for what your children view. Whether a parent or grandparent, or a teacher in charge of a classroom of kids, you are the guardian for the kids in your charge, so take that seriously. Spend some time previewing what you select before showing or sharing it with minors. This way you can truly feel confident about the content.

TV ShowContentAppropriate for Kids Under 13?Appropriate for Kids Over 13?
SeinfeldA comedian’s ‘show about nothing’No, even though it’s rated PG, it has many sexual innuendos and situations not okay for the tween and under crowd.It’s prudent to be aware of the sexual situations and use best judgment when presenting with your over 13 kids. Teachers as well should avoid most content in the classroom, as the humor is somewhat ‘dated’ and directed to adults.
The OfficeThe daily travails of the workers of a failing paper companyNo, it’s rated TV-14 and therefore, not appropriate for children 13 and under.Again, it’s a show that has many sexual situations and talk. Parents should use caution and teachers should avoid for the same reasons as avoiding Seinfeld.
FrasierA show about a recently divorced psychiatrist who shares his home with his elderly fatherIt’s rated PG for TV but only some episodes are suitable for under 13. Parents should vet beforehand.Just as with kids under 13, this show could be appropriate for teens but it’s prudent to vet beforehand and select only certain episodes for minors’ viewing. It’s possible some clips could be used in the classroom as long as teacher’s prep in advance.
Modern FamilyA multi-generational family’s day-to-day lives including the trials of everyone getting alongYes, this show is rated PG for TV and all in all, it’s appropriate for elementary-aged kiddos to watch with their family. Those younger will not enjoy it. Parents should be advised that parts of the show deal with controversial topics, so that could be a concern depending on the individual.Just as with the under 13 group, Modern Family is appropriate for older teens. However, parents should be aware of controversial thematic sub-plots and use their own judgment for actual viewing.
SuperstoreAbout the employees’ lives as they work in a big-box storeNo, it’s rated TV-14 and therefore, not appropriate for children 13 and under.Parents may feel okay about watching this with their teens. However, it does have some mild profanity; sex and nudity; and drug and alcohol references, so keep that in mind when deciding. Teachers could potentially use short clips for certain lessons, with previewing of course.
Boy Meets WorldAbout a tween/teen navigating puberty and embarking on what’s aheadThis TV show is rated G and it’s target audience is older elementary-aged kids and tweens. Overall, it’s appropriate for under 13 viewing but there are many subplots about growing up that parents may need to address before or after. As well, this show is not going to appeal to very young children.Yes, this show is perfectly suitable for teens. Parents and teens could watch together, but it’s also mild enough for teens to view on their own. Teachers can certainly use clips of the show for instruction connections without worry or concern.
Rick and MortyAn animated show about the (mis)adventures of a genius scientist and his not-so-genius grandsonThough animation appeals to kids- it’s not appropriate as it’s rated TV-Mature and has severe violence, profanity, etc…Most late teens have heard all the words by now, and played a many video games prone to violence, it’s worthy for parents to vet before promoting it with their teens; and teachers are wise to avoid this show for instructional purposes.
Table to consider some popular dry humor/deadpan TV shows for kid appropriateness

Dry Humor Shows & Movies- A Parent’s Guide Takeaway

The takeaway for parents, et al is to be vigilant about what you decide to put in front of your children at home or the classroom. And keep in mind that dry humor/deadpan movies and TV shows are generally not the best bet for minors under 13 as the humor approach is not aligned with their development.

However, with proper vetting either using resources like IMDb, Common Sense Media, or just simply previewing it yourself, you can feel confident in your choices. After all, your children and students are worth the extra bit of time it takes!

For further related reading, I highly recommend these other articles on our site:

Jackie Booe

A mother to four kids, grandmother ("Oma") to a growing number, a retired teacher for over 18 years, and a wife to Mat since 1994, Jackie knows kids and laughter. She holds a license to teach in 3 states and is certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners, with practical experience at all levels. She holds three degrees in the field of education and has taught education courses online at the university level as an adjunct professor, too. She has mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, in addition to homeschooling her own children.

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