Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I Get It

I was thinking the other day about the joke, "why did the chicken cross the road". I think I finally "got" it and I'm going to try to put it into words. "Why did the chicken cross the road" is easily one of the funniest jokes ever.

Everyone uses it as the quintessential joke, so it's actual funniness has drastically depreciated. Perhaps the oddest part about the joke is that it is not actually a joke at all, but a statement. The joke of this joke is that it is not joke. It's a fairly complex use of humor, perhaps the first ironic joke ever. It's weird that the chicken joke is "the joke". The first joke that anyone hears is not a joke, which in turn actually is a joke.

But why is the chicken joke the joke? It can't be the first joke ever, as some would purport, because a background of real jokes are needed before a joke can exist that pokes fun at the structure of conventional jokes. It's also certainly not funny; more of a joke for the teller than the listener. In fact, it is a trick. The trick is that the listener is so prepared for the convention of the joke process that they don't think about the non-jokingness of the chicken joke.

All of this has been lost since the chicken joke is now itself a convention that can be played with. But in its heyday, it was a very clever play on joke form, I'm sure of it. The chicken joke is the anti-joke, except eventually everyone was "in on" the joke, sucking the fun out of it. It was once a bold and daring joke that stood against all the other jokes in the whole melage of jokes. Today, however, it has fallen from grace, becoming itself a commodity that can never return to being cool again. Kinda like emo music. I wonder if there will be a day that dead baby jokes will be like that.


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