One of the oldest Stock Jokes ever told, this is a joke that involves the classic setup as this: "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Sometimes, this may also be accompanied by the classic punchline "To get to the other side", though the punchline may vary sometimes. There are also times where an actual chicken may be involved.
A common variant is to simply substitute the chicken with another creature. (Why did the duck cross the road? It was the chicken's day off.) Or in an alien culture, someone might ask why the Smeerp crossed the road.
Where the joke originally came from is not entirely certain. Most folklorists believe it was originally an example of Anti-Humor, with the setup leading the listener to expect a traditional punchline but the answer being a mundane factual explanation. As such, it makes a very bad example of a joke to use as an introduction to humor (as it is often used in media), since it requires the listener to already be familiar with the concept of a joke in order to understand the "punchline" at all.
Either way, of course, these days everyone and their grandmother has heard it a million times ever since they were far too young to grasp the concept of humor, rendering the joke itself a case of "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny.
- Referenced in a series of commercials asking you to "cross the road" for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- Dragon Ball Z referenced this when Goku was tasked with making his trainer, King Kai, laugh. His desperate (and epically ill-delivered) attempt at a joke was "Why... did the chicken... CROSS THE ROAD!" After King Kai guesses the obvious, Goku counters with an actual plausible punchline instead: "It was too far to fly!"
- From Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe, in which he illustrates the origin of language, which soon led to the first jokes:
First Caveman: Why chicken cross road? Yuk yuk
Second Caveman: Hmph. That one old already.
- In Toy Story 2, the toys have been walking for a long, long time now to reach Al’s Toy Barn, whose mascot is a giant chicken. At one point, when complaining about how exhausting the trip is, Ham says, ‘Why did the toys cross the road? To get to the chicken on the other side!’ and points out that they’re right across the street from it.
- Happy, Texas begins with the protagonists Working on the Chain Gang. One of them raises the question, "Why did the armadillo cross the road?" This turns out to be a trick question, as the armadillo is roadkill.
- A variation from Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird.
Kermit: Okay, why did the chicken not cross the road? Because he was chicken, get it?
- Stripes: John Winger leads a squad of soldiers in a close drill where they recite this joke:
John Winger: Why'd the chicken cross the road?Soldiers: To get from the left to the rightJohn Winger: He stepped out of rank, got hit by a tankSoldiers: He ain't no chicken no more
- In Alien Nation, Newcomers sometimes have problems with human humor, but George has learned one joke he considers extremely funny. "Stop me if you've heard this one..."
- Many variant forms have been created, usually switching the punchline for a pun or other twist on the concept.
- Why did the chicken cross the road? It was too far to walk around.
- Why did the chicken cross the road? It was stapled to the punk rocker.
- Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide.
- Why did the turkey cross the road? To prove he's no chicken.
- Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum it could be done.
- Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the same side.
- Why did the libertarian cross the road? None of your damn business; am I being detained?
- Why did the New-Age Retro Hippie cross the road? To break on through to the other side.
- A widely circulated text version collects answers as proposed by various philosophers and literary figures. There are dozens of variant versions online. One example:
Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
- Played with in Terry Pratchett's short story "Hollywood Chickens", in which a flock of chickens get stranded on a road island in the middle of a busy Los Angeles freeway after falling off the truck that was transporting them. As the narrator notes, in this case the question is not "why?" but "how?".
- In the third The Dark Tower book, The Waste Lands the protagonists are exchanging riddles, and then Eddy Dean tells this one: "Why did the dead baby cross the road? ... Because it was stapled to the chicken". As riddles are Serious Business in his culture, Roland is not amused.
- It serves again in the fourth book Wizard and Glass, when the characters travel inside Blaine, a sentient schizophrenic train which asks them riddles (it'll commit suicide with all its passengers if they don't manage to tell a riddle that it would be unable to solve). Blaine is eventually defeated by Eddie, who told it a series of jokes and various nonsense, including the chicken joke mentioned above.
- Clue: In book #7, The Picture-Perfect Crime, Mr. Boddy has been telling several jokes, including one of these. His guests are not amused.
Boddy: "Why did the chicken cross the playground?" ... "To get to the other slide!"
- In the A is for Amber books from the Amber Brown series, Amber's best friend Justin declares that first grade is the "year of the Chicken Joke" and tells only chicken jokes the whole year. This was a form of Author Appeal, as series author Paula Danziger stated in the About the Author section of one of the original books "I love chicken jokes."
- In the Myth-O-Mania book Have a Hot Time, Hades!, Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, shares one after introducing herself to her uncles and aunts, Zeus' siblings:
Thalia: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hera: To be sacrificed to the gods, of course.
Thalia: Wrong! To get to the other side!
- The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon tells this joke: "Why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip? To get to the same side."
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: The "One Fowl Day" episode features Discord attacking in the form of a gigantic chicken which prompts the exchange:
Barnabus: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Autolycus: To kill us all!
- In Mongrels, Nelson (a fox) helps a chicken across the road, and says he has to ask; why she was doing so? The chicken replies that it was because she saw a black man coming and was afraid he might mug her.
Nelson: Turns out she was just a casual racist.
- Welcome Back, Kotter: Julie tries to tell some jokes but she mixes up the punchline of this joke with the punchline of "Why do firemen wear suspenders?" a less famous but very similar joke.
- Parodied on an episode of Night Court. Harry is depressed because his girlfriend has been forced into the Witness Protection Program. The others try to cheer him up by arranging for him to try a jaywalking case involving a man named De Shicken. (Spelling unknown.) They end up asking "Why did De Shicken cross the road?"
- In one episode of The Muppet Show, the Swedish Chef does his "Spring Chicken" sketch which ends in bouncing chickens escaping and the Chef pursuing them. Immediately afterward, Fozzie goes up to a stressed Kermit and starts to ask, Why did the chickens cross the road?" Kermit answers, "Because an angry Swede was chasing them with a cleaver!"
- When the question "Where did Mr Chickennote live?" came up in the "Common Knowledge" episode of QI, Sean guessed "The other side of the road?"
- In the eighth season of Knightmare, a dungeoneer named Duncan was given the task of giving Motley the fool some new material:
Dunstan: Why did the dragon cross the road?
Motley: I don't know.
Dunstan: To get his pension.
Motley: I don't get it.
Dunstan: Neither did the dragon — he wasn't 65.
- One of Jo Anne Worley's catch phrases on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In was "Is this another chicken joke?"
- Lampshaded on a 1968 telecast of The Match Game where Jo Anne was a team captain. A question posed was "Chicken ______," to which everyone assumed Jo Anne would say "Joke." Her answer: "Soup."
- Older Than Radio: The March 1847 edition of The Knickerbocker was the earliest appearance of the joke in print, where it was presented this way:
"Why does a chicken cross the street? Are you 'out of town?' Do you 'give it up?' Well, then: 'Because it wants to get on the other side!'"
- By 1892 the joke was well known enough that Potter's American Monthly could do a pun-based spoof:
"Why should not a chicken cross the road? It would be a fowl proceeding."
- Referenced in George M. Cohan's song "Forty-five Minutes from Broadway":
You tell them old jokes and they laugh till they sicken;There's giggles and grins here to let.I told them that one about "Why does a chicken"—The rubens are all laughing yet.
- One Get Fuzzy strip had Bucky attempt to tell this joke as "Why did THIS chicken cross the road?", with Rob telling Bucky to knock it off as that joke confuses Satchel. Sure enough, Satchel ends up confused from the joke, trying to figure out which road the chicken was trying to cross.
- A Running Gag in Buckles has the eponymous dog attempting a "Why did the cat cross the road?" joke to Arden, while struggling to come up with a punchline. Then it was played with in a strip from June 20, 2013 where Arden attempts the same joke to Buckles, who reacts by panicking with his fear of cats and runs away screaming, to which Arden responds with "Forget it!...You're the joke!".
- The one panel comic roadkill by mite farmand, where the chicken has "gone to the other side".
- This B.C. strip where the chicken who just have crossed the road asks the turtle not to ask.
- The Far Side:
- One strip shows a chicken looking across a road at a sign that reads "THE OTHER SIDE. Why do you need a reason?"
- Another strip had a chicken couple confronting each other at their home's threshold: "Oh, I see! You return covered with blond feathers, and I'm supposed to believe you crossed the road just to get to the other side?"
- In episode 3 of the 2015 series of The Vote Now Show, former Conservative Party campaigner Danny Finklestein told the true story of how, during the 1997 election campaign, the Conservatives sent a man in a chicken suit to follow Tony Blair around, because he was "chicken" to debate John Major. And then the party started worrying that spending all that time with Blair might make the chicken more sympathetic towards Labour, so Finklestein had to have regular lunches with him to ensure he was still on-message. He concluded the story with "We lost the election, but the chicken did not cross the road."
- In the pre-show for Muppet*Vision 3D, Fozzie calls the penguins to the stage. When a chicken follows them, he stops her, noting that chickens are supposed to stay on the other side of the road. When he asks to someone "Why did this chicken cross the road?", the chicken clucks the answer, which Fozzie finds funny and goes to tell the others.
- Gabriel Iglesias used this joke as an example to show how his mother, when he performs his material to her, would question the jokes and ruin them in the process:
Gabriel: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Mom: Who let out the chicken!?
Gabriel: It's a joke, mom.
Mom: It's no joke, baboso, you know how much I pay for those chickens!?
- In the Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? (1997) level featuring Johannes Gutenberg the alchemist tells you the following joke if you try to drop the sooty chicken on his equally sooty oil lamp:
"Why did the chicken cross the road? Because she did not want to get roasted on an oil lamp!"
- In Octodad: Dadliest Catch, we have the following conversation between two sailors:
- Crossy Road may be reminiscent of Frogger, but the starting player character is a chicken.
- Activision's Freeway is basically both games' predecessor.
- Two strips of Arthur, King of Time and Space have Merlin asking the question and the other characters giving answers that reflect their personalities.
- Referenced in this Skin Horse strip, where Tip's new job is covertly injecting chickens with radiographic trackers.
Tip: Who cares why they cross the road?
- In Freefall, Dvorak spent two weeks studying it, but was pleased with how it paid off when Florence thought he was developing a sense of humor.
- In the xkcd strip Super Bowl Context, the Alt Text shows how the character who overexplains everything might tell the Chicken Joke:
"Why did the chicken cross the road? It begins over five thousand years ago with the domestication of the red junglefowl in southeast Asia and the development of paved roads in the Sumerian city of Ur."
- SCP Foundation has a rather dark version of this with a tape that changes the peception of people who see it: after seeing a particular scene, the watcher will percieve every character, fictional or not, watched on TV or in a movie, hear on radio, or read about, to choke and die. This includes incredibly short jokes as well.
Subject: (Reading a joke written in a candy wrapper) Why did the chicken cross the road? Who cares, halfway across the road, it fell over and choked and died. Haha.
- Michael Stevens of VSauce did a video about the joke, appropriately called "Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?".
- This joke was also presented as a minor Visual Pun in the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: C.L.O.W.N.", as Numbuhs Two and Five encounter an actual chicken trying to cross the road. When Numbuh Five wonders why the chicken is trying to cross the road, Numbuh Two struggles not to give the punchline, as earlier in the episode, he had been warned by a clown not to tell any jokes. Naturally, after Numbuh Five leaves, Numbuh Two gives in and blurts out, "To get to the other side!"
- A variant in the Garfield and Friends episode "How To Be Funny", where Garfield claims that the very first joke, which had been told by a caveman comedian, was roughly translated as "Why did the brontosaurus cross the road?"
- The Season 1 finale of Robot Chicken ended with a You Can't Do That on Television parody that resulted in the titular Robot Chicken and the Mad Scientist using signs to tell the joke.
Scientist: "Why did the Chicken cross the road?"Robot Chicken: "Bawk-bawk?"Scientist: "TO DIE IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE!"
- On an episode of The Mighty B!, Bessie sees a driver speeding, and cries, "He could've hurt a chicken crossing the road!".
- The "Honesty" episode of Adventures from the Book of Virtues has Aristotle telling the joke "Why did the bobcat cross the road? To bother somebody else for a change!".
- Also, Pepper from Littlest Pet Shop (2012) (as well as pet celebrity Old Bananas) crack a few jokes of this variety on the show.
- There was a Looney Tunes short where Foghorn Leghorn is trying to eliminate a baby rooster. Foghorn tells him that the chicken crossed the road "to have a ball", and throws a ball into a busy 2-lane road to have him retrieve it. The baby rooster calmly walks out and gets the ball while narrowly avoiding speeding cars, then asks Foghorn to show him how to do it properly. Naturally, Foghorn gets his feathers plucked by two passing vehicles.
- Beast Boy invokes this trope in the Teen Titans Go! episode "Video Game References". Beast Boy is within a Frogger-like game and he has trouble crossing a road. He gets past all the cars no problem when he turns into a chicken.
- In the Steven Universe episode "Log Date 7-15-2", Peridot tries to acclimate to life on Earth by practicing telling jokes, including the old "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke. She not only stumbles over the punchline, but after awkwardly laughing at herself she wonders "What's a chicken?"
- In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Mathmagic", Janna tells Star this joke during math class. Having never heard the chicken joke before, Star finds it hilarious that instead of a punchline, the answer is simply logic. When Star gets stuck in an unstable "Groundhog Day" Loop, one of the things that keeps changing is the punchline to Janna's joke.
I dream of a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.