Residence: Camarillo, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 03/24/19
Primary Language: English
Collector: “Are there any jokes or riddles that you think are funny that you like to tell at school”
SM: “OO YEAH, I have one! And I think it is realllyyy funny!”
Collector: “Okay, what is it?”
SM: ” Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Collector: “Hmm, I’m not really sure. Why?”
SM: ” To get to the other SLIDE!”
The informant is a 6 year old girl who attends a public elementary school. I asked her to explain to me as best as she could the reasons why she would tell this joke to her friends. Other than saying it was funny, she said that they like to tell each other jokes at recess when they have nothing else to do and when they are bored. I also asked her where she heard this joke from and she said she learned it from another person in her class when they were playing outside.
In addition to this job being “funny” there are other explanations to why the timeless “Why did the chicken cross the road” jokes continued and still continue to be passed along through all of these years. To use a historical explanation, this joke/question first appeared in The Knickerbocker, a New York City magazine. The issue mentioned it as an example of a quip that might seem like a joke but is in fact a straightforward and unfunny solution. This joke was basically an example of anti humor and not too long after it was published, the line was modified and adapted to become an actual joke format, employing various puns and variations because everyone had already known the original answer to it. Because this joke plays off of the anti-humor aspect where the teller tells something that is not funny which the audience expect to be funny which creates a sense of ironic comedic value, it is important to analyze why people like to use anti-humor for their jokes and riddles in order to understand why this joke keeps being modified and told. More often than not, young children are the ones making variations to this “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke so I am going to analyze the culture of children and why they tend to use anti humor.
Taking a psychological perspective, young children around the age where they are in preschool and shortly after learn the rhythms and formats of jokes and riddles without really understanding how humor works, resulting in them saying nonsense like it is a joke, but it not really being a joke.
Adding on to this, kids are very reward-based meaning that they begin to realize that when people tell jokes, they joke teller is rewarded with attention and acceptance. So when these young kids tell these kids of anti-humor jokes and riddles that make no sense, they usually get a lot of positive reactions because it is “adorable” even if it is nonsensical (which also partly adds to the adorableness). This positive reaction the is fed to these young children then teaches and encourages them that it is okay to tell more jokes like these, leading to multiple forms and variations of nonsensical jokes, like we see in this collection. Another thing to understand about children who tell jokes is that kids tend to tell unconventional or peculiar jokes because they have not yet understood what exactly a joke is composed of. What makes a joke is that a joke presents some question or situation and then resolves this question. In other words, kids have not grasped the structure of a joke and therefore continue to tell jokes that make no sense to the listener. Kids are also exposed whether it be through school or their families to many jokes that they probably do not understand, so it makes sense that they think it is okay to put random things together into a joke because that is what they believe that people are doing with the jokes that they do not get.
This misunderstanding of the structure of a jokes as well as the attention they receive when they tell a bad joke accidentally leads to kids forming jokes that resemble more of a complex form of humor, that being the anti-joke. In different words, it is in the psychology and culture of kids to form anti-humor jokes and share them amongst each other and their families. For these reasons, this anti-humor then continues to be passed along from playground to home and because it is rooted in the psychology and social culture of the child I believe it will continue to be passed along for years to come.