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 and 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. Tt’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 proverbs. 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 have 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 joke. 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 million cats and, as far as we go, there are 7 billion 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.