Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

It’s an old riddle, unencumbered by a funny answer.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side.

It’s an anti-joke, even in its (too many) other formulations.

Why did the chicken run across the road?
To get to the other side faster.

Some versions try to up the game with puns. You can determine the success of that effort for yourself.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To bock traffic.

What do you call a chicken crossing the road?
Poultry in motion.

Some versions go sideways (even into a different geological era) but not so far sideways that we lose sight of the original.

Why did the dinosaur cross the road?
Because chickens didn’t exist yet.

OK, that one is a little bit funny, but it wouldn’t be even that little bit funny if you didn’t know what it was riffing on.

Why are we here, pondering anti-jokes? Because I was recently listening to someone comment on Costco’s practice of putting its popular roasted chickens waaaay at the back of their huge stores. It would be better/faster/easier for customers to just grab a chicken near the door, but no. If you want a bargain roast chicken, you have to make your way to the very back, passing all those other attractive products. Twice. They are, in effect, double-dog-daring us to come out of the store with just a chicken.

My contribution to the discussion?

Why did the roast chicken
go to the back of the store?

Yes, I did it, I admit it: I invoked the not-really-funny chicken-crossing-the-road joke, in full confidence that my listeners would get the reference and in the faint hope that they would find that unexpected connection just a little bit funny. Such is verbal culture, I guess: a tangled web of jokes, anti-jokes, historical and artistic references, quotations, songs, expressions, and allusions that we hold more-or-less in common. That most of us get, even when there isn’t much to get, as in this case.

Because the merchandisers chased it there.

It doesn’t have to be knee-slappingly hilarious to serve its purpose: To pull a thread out of our cultural tapestry-cum-hairball and weave it around a new thread, connecting it to the whole. Connecting the past to the future. Connecting each of us to the hairball. And connecting each of us to each other.

This entry was posted in Laughing Frequently, New Perspectives, Thinking Broadly and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – to a humorless engineer I wonder how a dinosaur ever found a road to cross.
    (Just like chickens, Jurassic Park didn’t exist yet.)

  2. What is it about chickens? My folklorist husband was charmed by videos of a young banjo player who plays to her chickens while they (just two, I believe) play to the camera. This music forum certainly is “grass roots” as the cell phone camera sits on the same level as the chickens and she is sitting on the grass.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the rooster was over there!

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