A chicken, a badger and a narwhal cross the road to go to the library. The chicken realizes she forgot her library card. The badger turns to the narwhal and says, “Why did the chicken cross the road AGAIN?” The narwhal says…

Unfortunately, that’s all we’ve got. We’ve been trying to come up with a good chicken/badger/narwhal joke for April Fools’ Day, but we just can’t seem to think of a final line that pulls it all together. What are we missing? The punch line, of course!

A punch line is the final part of a joke or comedy skit. It’s the last piece of the puzzle that makes the joke funny or causes the audience to laugh. Traditional knock-knock jokes always end with a punch line.

For example, an old joke almost everyone has heard asks the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” The traditional punch line is “to get to the other side!”

As you can see from this example, a punch line is not necessarily funny by itself. “To get to the other side” probably won’t make anyone crack a smile, but paired with the initial question, it will probably elicit at least a grin from most listeners.

Punch lines are often funny because they’re unexpected. When most people hear the chicken crossing the road joke for the first time, they expect the answer to be something unusual and most definitely chicken-related.

That’s why the punch line “to get to the other side” is humorous. It’s unexpected in that it’s so simple and also makes the chicken seem somewhat human by having the same motivations as the rest of us.

If you’re wondering why it’s called a punch line, so are etymologists. Etymologists are people who study the origins of words and phrases. So far, the etymology (origin) of punch line remains a mystery, although there are a few ideas about where it might have come from.

Some believe the term came about as a result of the fact that emphasizing certain parts of a speech is known as “punching up.” In this sense, stressing the last line of a joke to “punch it up” for comedic effect might have led to that last line being called the punch line.

Others believe the term may have come from medieval puppet shows featuring characters named Punch and Judy. However, the comedy style of the Punch and Judy shows didn’t resemble modern jokes.

Whatever the origin of the term, punch lines are an important part of comedy today. However, not all comedy relies upon punch lines to deliver the humor.

Sometimes, comedy sketches simply rely on the humor inherent in situations. Have you ever watched Mr. Bean? His comedy sketches have delighted millions for years, and he often doesn’t have to utter a word!

Slapstick comedy also relies on comical actions and reactions rather than dialog with punch lines. If you’ve ever seen The Three Stooges in action, you know how funny this type of humor can be!

22 Join the Discussion

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  1. Hi! Now I can write my own jokes as much as I want I just need to make a punch line. What should it be??? I really liked today`s wonder of the day it will help me a lot. Do you think you could possibly do a wonder of the day on baby pandas they are so cute.

    • We are super proud of you for writing your own jokes, Tessa! Way to go! We think a future Wonder about pandas is a GREAT idea…thanks for suggesting it! :-)

    • We like your guess for tomorrow’s Wonder, Michelle! Thank you for being a GREAT Wonder Friend and exploring Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Looks like you and Wonder Friend, Michelle, have the same idea about what tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day® might be, Delaney! We think that’s AWESOME! We can’t wait to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if you both were right! :-)

    • There are LOTS of “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes out there, Becca! We guess finding out if the chicken ever made it across the road depends a lot on who’s telling the joke! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • We’re so glad you think so, Gracie! Thank you for hanging out in Wonderopolis today and checking out this Wonder! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you thought about the video for this Wonder, Clay! We are excited that YOU are excited about the next Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Hi, Ashley! The “punch line” is the “payoff” at the end of a joke that makes it funny! We encourage you to re-explore this Wonder of the Day® to learn more about what a punch line is and how it works to bring on the laughs! :-)

    • We’re glad you got a few laughs out of this Wonder of the Day® about punch lines, Sharn! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today and THANKS for sharing your comment with us! :-)

    • Thanks for checking out Wonderopolis today and laughing at our “punch line,” Orion! We thought this Wonder of the Day® was funny, too! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does every joke have a punch line?
  • What is a punch line?
  • Where did the term “punch line” come from?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to be a stand-up comedian? Ask your friends to tell you some of their favorite jokes. When you have collected several good jokes, memorize them so that you can tell them to your family just like a comedian would.

Make sure you build suspense, so that your delivery of the punch line provides maximum laughter. You might also want to practice some gestures or hand movements to go along with your jokes.

If you can’t think of any good jokes, here are a few kneeslappers you can use to entertain your family:

  • Who gave the Liberty Bell to Philadelphia?
    It must have been a duck family
    Really? Why a duck family?
    Didn’t you say there was a quack in it?
  • Teacher: Why are you having a hard time remembering your history lesson?
    Student: Because it all happened before I was born!
  • What do elves have to finish before they can make toys?
    Their gnomework!
  • Why did the chicken cross the basketball court?
    It heard the referee calling fowls!
  • Why do you have to be careful when it rains cats and dogs?
    If you’re not careful, you can step in a poodle!


Still Wondering

Children will get animated as they explore ReadWriteThink’s Gabbing About Garfield: Conversing About Texts With Comic Creator lesson and discuss comics’ features and designs. They’re also sure to enjoy the lesson’s challenging assignment: creating a punch line for a Garfield comic strip.


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Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is kind of dark, but that’s OK. Stop by and we’ll see what develops.

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