NBA playoffs 2022: Giannis Antetokounmpo -- an MVP and dad joke GOAT

The comedian walks to his stage. It's a late-night set, and he might have new material because he's carrying his joke book. That doesn't affect his confidence. He is ebullient and working his audience.

"Get ready, get ready," he says with a beaming smile, sitting down behind a microphone. The backdrop isn't the stereotypical brick wall of a comedy club -- it's a photo backdrop with the Milwaukee Bucks' logo and sponsors on it.

The comedian has every reason to be confident. He is Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he's got jokes.

"What do you call a cow on the floor?"

"Ground beef."

Antetokounmpo cracks himself up. There are a few chuckles from his audience -- the media members at the Bucks' postgame news conference following a 118-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 29, less than two weeks before the start of the NBA playoffs.

While Jerry Seinfeld works in observational humor and Jerrod Carmichael has a more contemplative and introspective style, Antetokounmpo has his preferred comedic medium: the "dad joke."

The book from which Antetokounmpo read in late March is titled "Dad Jokes: the Good. the Bad. the Terrible." The author, who goes by the pseudonym Jimmy Niro, is a former Milwaukee resident, and he couldn't believe it when his publisher told him that Antetokounmpo was reading from his book.

"Honestly, I'm still shocked," Niro told ESPN. "I did these books for fun, really, so seeing them out in the world and loved by people is truly amazing."

Niro is the father of five children whom he regularly embarrasses with dad jokes. He calls his material "my type of humor," and his joke-writing process involves looking for specific topics or human interests that anyone can relate to, such as food, sports or holidays. According to Niro's experience, his best jokes come from "punderful everyday moments."

Having a celebrity reading his work, however, has changed things for Niro's children. The kids are huge fans of the Bucks, especially Antetokounmpo. When the six-time NBA All-Star arrived at the postgame news conference in March with their father's joke book in his big hands, they took notice.

"For my older kids, who always get this humor, this is the first time they've cared about this project whatsoever," Niro said. "... It's a big deal now."

The cow joke following the game in March wasn't the first time Antetokounmpo has gleefully told one of these groan-worthy, pun-laden gags. Antetokounmpo has told multiple jokes about cows, pasta, football and oranges, often mirthfully bolting from the dais.

Once, recalling the chicken nuggets he bought to celebrate winning the NBA title, he told his own version of a "chicken cross the road" joke.

"Why did the chicken cross the street?"

"It was running away from my dinner plate."

On another occasion, Giannis had this joke for older brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo on a private jet flight:

"What's the hardest thing about learning to ride a bicycle?"

"The pavement."

It's a riff on another joke from Niro's book. The punchline is "The road" in Niro's telling. It's possible Thanasis, a reserve forward for the Bucks, has heard his fair share of these groaners and maybe can't take any more of his brother trying out new material on him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has his own children as well. His first son was born in February 2020, and the second arrived in August 2021. It's natural for any comedian to draw humor from his surroundings. Sometimes, dads make dad jokes.

"I love indoctrinating new dads into the dad joke world, and it's great to see Giannis embrace that and also make this kind of humor something anyone can love," Niro said.

What's wrong with that? Is it wrong to add a little levity to the often rote and mundane news conference? In 1895, the great Mark Twain wrote, "Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away. ..."

Antetokounmpo might agree, and the Bucks might need something to ease the tensions of defending their NBA championship. Milwaukee leads its Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Boston Celtics 3-2, with Game 6 Friday night (7:30 ET on ESPN). While he's probably not about to quit his day job to tour clubs and jump-start his comedy career, that doesn't mean he is going to turn super serious.

"I say dad jokes whenever I feel it's appropriate," Antetokounmpo said on the Bucks' all-access Youtube show last week, and advancing in the playoffs won't stop him from returning to his joke book. "[A dad joke is] always appropriate."