Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

‘To get to the other side’ is a bit too simplistic. So, to remedy that, here are a number of interesting and more original replies to this famous – and surprisingly old – anti-humour riddle joke:

‘There are ‘quips and quillets’ which seem actual conundrums, but yet are none. Of such is this: ‘Why does a chicken cross the street?’ – The Knickerbocker, or The New York Monthly, March 1847, p. 283

Douglas Adams: 42.

Aristotle: To actualize its potential. It is the nature of chickens to cross roads.

Buddha: If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature.

Julius Caesar: To come, to see, to conquer.

Howard Cosell: It may very well have been one of the most astonishing events to grace the annals of history. An historic, unprecedented avian biped with the temerity to attempt such an Herculean achievement formerly relegated to Homo sapien pedestrians is truly a remarkable occurrence.

Salvador Dali: A melting fish.

Charles Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees. After all, chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally selected in such a way that they are now genetically disposed to cross roads.

Jacques Derrida: What is the difference? The chicken was merely deferring from one side of the road to other. And how do we get the idea of the chicken in the first place? Does it exist outside of language? Also, any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is dead.

Rene Descartes: It had sufficient reason to believe it was dreaming anyway.

Bob Dylan: How many roads must one chicken cross?

Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: It didn’t cross the road; it transcended it.

Epicurus: For pleasure.

Michel Foucault: It did so because the discourse of crossing the road left it no choice – the police state was oppressing it.

Sigmund Freud: The chicken was obviously female and obviously interpreted the pole on which the crosswalk sign was mounted as a phallic symbol of which she was envious, selbstverständlich. However, the fact that you are at all concerned about why the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: The eternal hen-principle made it do it.

Stephen Jay Gould: It is possible that there is a sociobiological explanation for it, but we have been deluged in recent years with sociobiological stories despite the fact that we have little direct evidence about the genetics of behaviour, and we do not know how to obtain it for the specific behaviours that figure most prominently in sociobiological speculation.

Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.

Heraclitus: A chicken cannot cross the same road twice.

Adolf Hitler: It needed Lebensraum.

David Hume: Out of custom and habit.

Doug Hofstadter: To seek explication of the correspondence between appearance and essence through the mapping of the external road-object onto the internal road-concept.

James Joyce: To forge in the smithy of its soul the uncreated conscience of its race.

Carl Jung: The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.

Immanuel Kant: Because it would have this be a universal law.

Martin Luther King: It had a dream.

Gottfried von Leibniz: In this best possible world, the road was made for it to cross.

Machiavelli: So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken’s dominion maintained. In any case, the end of crossing the road justifies whatever motive there was.

Karl Marx: To escape the bourgeois middle-class struggle. It was a historical inevitability.

Sir Isaac Newton: Chickens at rest tend to stay at rest. Chickens in motion tend to cross the road.

Moses: And the LORD spake unto the chicken, “Thou shalt cross the road.” And the chicken crossed the road.

Pyrrho the Skeptic: What road?

Jean-Paul Sartre: In order to act in good faith and be true to itself, the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.

B.F. Skinner: Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop in such a fashion that it would tend to cross roads, even while believing these actions to be of its own free will.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The chicken, sunlight coruscating off its radiant yellow- white coat of feathers, approached the dark, sullen asphalt road and scrutinized it intently with its obsidian-black eyes. Every detail of the thoroughfare leapt into blinding focus: the rough texture of the surface, over which countless tires had worked their relentless tread through the ages; the innumerable fragments of stone embedded within the lugubrious mass, perhaps quarried from the great pits where the Sons of Man laboured not far from here; the dull black asphalt itself, exuding those waves of heat which distort the sight and bring weakness to the body; the other attributes of the great highway too numerous to give name. And then it crossed it.

Mark Twain: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

Kurt Vonnegut: There is no “why”, there only “is”. So it goes.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road”, and circumstances came into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.

Zeno of Elea: To prove it could never reach the other side.

Presenting Credentials

‘Ah, Mrs. Miggins – am I to gather from your look of pie-eyed exhaustion and the globules of porridge hanging off the walls that my cousin McAdder has presented his credentials?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 329

Blackadder’s Friendship

‘Baldrick, does it have to be this way? Our valued friendship ending with me cutting you into long strips and telling the Prince that you walked over a very sharp cattle grid in an extremely heavy hat?’

– Joseph M. 1998. Blackadder The Whole Damn Dynasty London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (1999) p. 329

On the Power of Humour

“It has always surprised me how little attention philosophers have paid to humour, since it is a more significant process of mind than reason. Reason can only sort out perceptions, but the humour process is involved in changing them.”

– Edward de Bono

Release Theory

‘The release theory sees jokes as a sort of pressure valve: a socially sanctioned way of letting out taboo thoughts and feelings. Like the superiority theory it assumes that the joke is an aggressive social act, but crucially that it is also a subversive act, a rebellion against the constraints of rational adult behaviour.

It can be a useful way to understand people’s penchant for off-colour jokes, and the frequency with which humour is used to mask hostility or fear. It’s also a good way to explain the popularity of comedy clubs, where people go to ‘let off steam’ by laughing. […]

The pleasure that we get from telling a joke, or from laughing at it, comes from satisfying some element of our libido that we can’t openly reveal, because our society forbids us to do so. […] Every joke that really makes you laugh, according to this reading, is either an act of veiled sexual aggression or a cry for help, stemming from some childhood sexual trauma. On a brighter note, the very act of telling a joke is a sort of pressure valve that relieves some of the build-up libidinal steam we’re all repressing.’

– Carr J., Greeves L. 2006. The Naked Jape – Uncovering The Hidden World Of Jokes London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2007) p. 95-97

Superiority Theory

‘The superiority theory implies that the point of joking is to feel better about our sorry selves by mocking people or situations we find ridiculous. This is probably the oldest attempt to explain what’s going on when we tell jokes, dating back at least as far as Aristotle, who called humour ‘educated insolence’.

Seventeenth century stand-up Thomas Hobbes thought that laughter was ‘nothing else but a sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others’. Later refinements of the theory suggest that we also gain some psychological comfort from laughing at people who we purport to be ridiculous, but secretly hate and fear.

The superiority idea was revisited by Henri Bergson in his famous 1900 essay ‘Laughter and the meaning of the Comic’. He thought that in making a joke or at laughing at one we are experiencing a spontaneous failure of empathy: the situations which strike us as comic are those that enable us to see a human being as somehow mechanical, as less than human. For Bergson, joking had a social purpose: to ridicule eccentricity, thus brushing aside any untidy idiosyncrasies and weaknesses which might otherwise constitute triphazards on the pathway of society.

More recently, Charles R. Gruner has developed a new superiority theory which reads joking as a playful game, but one with clear winners and losers. Finding the winner and loser isn’t always simple. Often, the joke-teller ‘wins’ and the audience ‘loses’ – for example, in the case of a riddle where the teller’s intention is to leave his audience stumped. Even simple puns can be seen as expressions of superiority according to this reading, since the punner intends to prove himself intellectually superior to his audience.

“I used to think that the brain was the greatest organ in human body, then I realized ‘Hey! Look what’s telling me that!'”
– Emo Philips

Other jokes have a clearer butt – an Irishman, a lawyer or some other hapless (deserving?) victim – and joke-teller and audience both ‘win’ at the expense of the character in the joke.’

“You cannot have everything. I mean, where would you put it?”
– Steve Wright

– Carr J., Greeves L. 2006. The Naked Jape – Uncovering The Hidden World Of Jokes London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2007) p. 89-90

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