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Hey Vsauce, Michael here.
"I've got a question for you: Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"Brilliant question. Let's find out why."
Historically, the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side...has anybody ever
laughed at that joke? Why has it become so famous? And, for that matter, who cares? Why
would you want to investigate why things are funny? As E.B. White said "analyzing humor
is like dissecting a frog- few people are interested, and the frog dies."
But I want to dive into the guts of this chicken joke because today it is so famous, it is
practically shorthand for comedy. And, people frequently consider it either the worst joke
of all time, or the oldest joke. But neither of those is true.
But, first things first, the chicken joke isn't technically even a joke, it's an "anti-joke."
It's a joke about jokes. You see, we expect a joke to surprise us, to flip things around
or use word play. But, to get to the other side is just obvious- it's mundane, which,
by itself, can be pretty funny. To make this more clear, let's take a look at anti-joke
chicken. "What's blue and smells like red paint? Blue paint." You see, you expect a
typical joke-y punch line, but, instead, what you get is hilariously serious. Anti-Joke
Cat is another good one. "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Lettuce." "That's impossible."
"Yo momma's so fat, we are all extremely concerned for her health." Anti-jokes can also be used
for psychological experiments right at home. You may have heard of this one already, the
"no soap, radio" joke. Here's how it works: get a couple of your friends together, and
tell them to all laugh when you're done telling the joke, no matter what. Then, go find a
target who's not in on it and tell them some version of a joke like this: "Two polar bears
were sitting in a bathtub. The first one says "pass the soap." The second one says "no soap,
radio."" At this point, you are your friends should start laughing uproariously, meaning
the target has one of two choices- either be afraid of looking dumb and laugh along
anyway, or, say they're confused, at which point you should tell them "what, you don't
get it??", and keep laughing. You wait until the target gives into peer pressure and succumbs
to mob mentality and joins, despite the fact that "no soap, radio" is actually nonsense.
As for being the oldest joke in the book, "why did the chicken cross the road?" is far
from it- it's only about 160 some odd-years old. It first appeared in print in The Knickerbocker
as a conundrum that really isn't one- an anti-joke. If you want to look for the oldest joke ever
to appear in print, we're going to have to go back 4,000 years to read some ancient Sumerian
The joke is essentially a cautionary tale to never expect anything to be perfect. It
goes like this: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman
did not fart in her husband's embrace." So...yeah, the earliest known joke is a joke about a
woman farting in a guy's lap. So...cool...
All I'm sure of is that our proverbial chicken did not Agyrophobia- that's the fear of crossing
streets. But maybe the chicken should have. I mean, crossing the road could be quite dangerous
for a little bird, which leads us to a quite darker interpretation of the joke- maybe this
chicken knew of the danger of crossing the road. Maybe he knew what could happen. Maybe
he was sad, or lonely, or knew what his fate was. And, so, he decided to take control and
end it himself, and crossed the road to get to the other side.
If you want to continue being morbid, check out DeathClock.com. Answer a few questions
and the site will generate a countdown of the number of seconds you likely have left
to live. You can just sit there and watch them tick away...but let's get back to the
Perhaps a better question than "why" did the chicken cross the road is "why wouldn't chickens
be crossing the road?" I mean, to be sure, the Earth is a big place, and less than 1
percent of it is even paved, but, there are quite a few chickens on Earth.
To put this in perspective, there are about 500,000,000 cats and, as far as we go, there
are 7,000,000,000 humans. But chickens- there are 24 billion chickens. We're outnumbered
more than 3:1. But, if we cooked up every single chicken alive on Earth right now, we
could fill enough KFC 16-piece buckets to form a stack of them going to the Moon and
back, three times. Unbelievable, right? I mean, they all fit so nicely here on Earth's
surface, walking around with their characteristically lean meat which, because fat contributes so
much more flavor to a piece of meat than the muscle does, may explain why chicken is such
a great generic meat flavor, and why so many other exotic meats we try later tend to taste
like chicken.
But, let's get back to the question in this video's title: Why did the chicken cross the
road? Well, to get to the other side, sure, but there are many different motivations a
chicken could have for going to the other side- maybe it was looking for food, maybe
it was being chased by a predator. What matters though is that we can never know because there
is no chicken. It's purely hypothetical, as opposed to the equally famous "Mary Had a
Little Lamb," in which the lamb, and Mary, were real people.
Mary Sawyer was an actual student at The Redstone School in Massachusetts, and one day her brother
encouraged her to bring her lamb to school. Her fellow students were amused, as was visiting
student John Roulstone who wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
We have actual documentation of those real people and events, but this chicken never
even really existed. So, asking why the chicken crossed the road is just like asking "why
did the original writer decide that it should be a chicken crossing a road?" Which means
that the chicken crossed the road because some comedian in the 19th century decided that
you would probably think about it too much, making the mundane "to get to the other side"
answer quite surprising.
To explain this let's look at a computational neural explanation of humor. In order to effectively
manage resources, our brains stay a few steps ahead of what we're hearing, estimating what
kind of outcomes are possible. But when we discover that we're actually being told a
joke, and none of our paths were the correct version of what was being told, all of that
neural network energy needs to dissipate, and, according to some theorists, that energy
moves into motor cortex, causing convulsions: laughter.
Unfortunately our poor chicken friend doesn't illicit that response from us anymore because
we've all heard the joke- we know what to expect when the joke begins. But, we should
be proud of our chicken friend and the unknown author who thought him up, because even though
the joke is so famous it's no longer funny, even at a neurological level, it still stands
as a testament to just how complicated, and clever our comedy can be. Keep laughing, and,
as always, thanks for watching.


Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

2149 タグ追加 保存
ChironLi 2013 年 9 月 25 日 に公開
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