Why Do Kids Think Potatoes Are So Funny?

An elder millennial investigates the comedic potential of spuds among Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

Parents, fellow humans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Should you be spared the musical stylings of Parry Gripp in your carpools or earbuds, DO NOT INVESTIGATE. This "artist" creates ear worms so invasive, you wonder if you've had an actual virus of sound injected into your eardrums. Second only to "It's Raining Tacos," my children and those in my carpool insist on listening to "Oh Potato Dog," which is about, you guessed it, a dog that looks and acts like a potato.

I asked why it's funny and they said "Because potato." I asked for clarification and they said, "Is potato." This phrase ("is potato") is a running joke on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which is inexplicable because my children neither have cable nor stay awake for late night programming. My children's potato jokes are basically a copy of a copy of a copy. They like the potato joke because someone else liked the joke. This doesn't explain, however, the comedic origins of the great and mighty spud.

Is potato? Why potato?

"It's funny because it's funny" really doesn't make sense, and yet that's always accounted for a big chunk of what we laugh at. The Colbert potato joke is funny because other people find it so. In the case of the potato, the joke persists because of the humor of repetition, also known as "comic torture," and that's a format Gen Z and Gen Alpha are primed to like because that's basically what memes are. To those annoyed by a particular meme or joke, the comedy does often feel torturous. But as jokes come and go, the potato persists.


The potato meme has survived, much like potatoes themselves. Reddit, that hub of opinions on all things, speculates on why "potato" is inherently funny. Unfortunately, most of the top comments say it's funny because "potato." Psychologists say that some words are just inherently funny due to either their meaning or form. So, which is potato? Meaning or form?

It’s the word itself

In research about whether or not a word would be funny, which someone thought to study with neuroscience, they say a word is funny if it pertains to one of six categories: sex, bodily functions, insults, swear words, partying, and animals. Unless you're committing some kind of atrocity, a potato is... none of these things.


Researchers have also studied how the phonetic structure, certain letters and their sounds, are funnier than others. The word "potato," with its "plosive P" and satisfying double long "O" sounds, is a linguistic treat. Saying the word feels good in your mouth, much like actual potato products do.

Look at this oft repeated "Poh-tay-toes!" clip from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, in which Sam explains to Gollum what a potato is and what to do with one ("Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew"). His over-pronunciation of the word is the comedy, even two decades after the film's release. However, lists of the "funniest words in the English language" don't usually contain our starchy friend.

It’s the form of the word (or lack thereof)

Many funny words are funny due to their meaning alone, or their meaning paired with their sound, as with many words associated with sex. However, a potato is funny due to its perceived nothingness, its lack of personality, its indistinct lumpishness. There are many things that are lumpy and boring, but no one thinks to make a joke about something being "oatmeal" or "old mattress." At least not with as much success as all these jokes about potatoes.


Potato humor is likely, primarily, a form of "anti humor," a joke that's funny because it's not a joke, much like "Why did the chicken cross the road?" or "What's brown and looks like a stick?" You laugh because it's dumb and "random," as we elder millennials used to say. The irony in the unexpected contrast between something that is vibrant and interesting and a potato, something that is inherently not, is where the joke lives.

Verdict from the field

I asked three child psychologists to weigh in on this, and no one felt they could tell me in their professional capacity why "potato" is the anti-joke the kids have clung to—but they all said their kids do find potatoes funny.


I am currently teaching a seventh-grade writing class, so I asked my students. I figured the youths would tell me all I needed to know.

They informed me that the joke was from "like 2017." I told them that, while they no longer found the potato meme to be "of the moment" enough, the kids I hang out with who are now catching up on the joke were only one, two, and three in 2017. (I for sure compared my baby to a potato during that timeframe, but he was extra potato-like, even for a baby.) 

The students simply reiterated the findings from research above about the word itself and the "I don't know" factor of it all. Finally, one had the astute observation that it's funny because it's ugly. Much in the way that "ugly shoes" were cool for a while, they explained.


Many comedy trends have come and gone since the bygone days of 2017, but the potato resolutely remains, despite or because of its innocuous and ugly form. Or maybe it's those fun P sounds. More than anything, it's simply the mystery of the great and mighty potato.