Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

EXPLAINED

This joke is perhaps one of the most often quoted Q/A style jokes, but often people fail to realize exactly what they're saying. The joke is so internalized in most people (at least in North America) before they have developed the critical skills necessary to understand the joke, that years later when the development of these skills has finally borne fruit, many fail to re-examine their understanding of the joke.

For reference, the joke is as follows:

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

Here's how to understand the joke:
This joke works off the fact that the answer, "[t]o get to the other side," is self-evident. To clarify, imagine this joke being prefaces by a slew of similar jokes, but with different, more absurd punchlines. For example:

Q: Why did the cow cross the road?
A: To go to the moooooo-vies!

Q: Why did the bunny cross the road?
A: Because a car was coming!

Now, we attach our subject joke. Notice how this new context affects the punchline:

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

The unexpected, patently obvious answer stands in stark - and, it is expected, humourous - contrast to the other jokes. I speculate that the genesis of the chicken-joke lies in some situation such as the one illustrated above, but over time the original context of the joke was lost, which left the chicken sadly decontextualized.

This joke has become so decontextualized over time that many people don't even know what they're trying to say when they reference the joke. I have observed this joke cited as an example of bad humour1, as "the first joke"2, &c. It is not a side-splitter, it's true, but in its proper context I'd say it's funnier than the jokes that preface it, in the manner of the "Orange you glad I didn't say banana" punchline in the well-known "Knock Knock" joke is the payoff to all the banana "jokes" that have come before. Further, it is highly unlikely that this is the original joke, as humour must have existed before the existance of roads, and perhaps even before the Gallus genus.

Back to the list of Jokes Explained

Footnotes:
1 Eric Dolan, Sept. 13, 1998.
2 Randall North, circa summer 1987.