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Ryan North's Jokes Explained Explained

Ryan North is the incredibly funny guy behind Dinosaur Comics. At one point he also wrote Jokes Explained—a web page which explains jokes. But it seems that many people didn't quite understand what Ryan was trying to do with Jokes Explained, so we thought it prudent to provide an explanation.

Without further ado: An explanation of Jokes Explained:

At first sight, Jokes Explained appears to be a serious website, engaging in the oft-needed task of explaining jokes to those people who don't understand them. In fact, for anyone who has failed to understand a joke previously, this site may seem to be the answer to all their prayers. North explains three common jokes in great detail, so that no reader can remain ignorant of all of the aspects of the joke that may be considered funny, and the forms of humour being used to achieve them.

Indeed, North's analysis of "Why did the chicken cross the road?" contains insights that many people would find illuminating, providing a stimulus for re-evaluation of the amount of humour in the joke, and leading to a renewed and enhanced admiration for what must rank as one of the all-time under-appreciated jokes.

But herein lies a contradiction, for it is a well-known fact that explaining a joke destroys the humour inherent within it. So why would a person as outrageously funny as Ryan North—who must surely know of this guiding principle—go to such lengths to explain jokes, apparently with direct intent to flout this Golden Rule of Comedy?

The answer lies in the rhetorical techniques known as satire and parody. A parody is an artistic work that mimics the styles of another work, with controlled elements of exaggeration or difference, for comic effect. In Jokes Explained we see an apparently earnest attempt to explain jokes with enough detail to allow someone who does not understand them to "get" the humour in them. This is a copying of the process undertaken by people when they explain a joke—whether misguidedly, through lack of understanding of the principle that explaining a joke devalues the humour of it, or reluctantly, under the imprecations of someone who doesn't understand the joke and wishes to learn why it should be considered funny.

This in itself is enough for Jokes Explained to carry some humour. But cleverly North goes a step further, by using the parody as a vehicle for satire. Satire is the literary technique of ridiculing a human vice or folly by exposing it to the audience, often in an exaggerated state through apparent adoption of the folly and demonstration of the flaws within it. One method of achieving this is through the aforementioned parody. North is thus attacking the very thing he is parodying: namely, people who explain jokes. This in turn leads to a level of irony, or stating one thing at a literal level, while communicating the opposite intent through the use of literary devices.

We can now see that North has achieved a rather clever level of wit. By adopting the technique of explaining jokes, he shows the folly inherent in explaining jokes. By the Golden Rule of Comedy, his explanation of the jokes should not be funny, but we see beyond this to his satirical expression of this very fact, which in turn provides the humour.

But this is not all. Explaining jokes in itself can be construed as a deconstruction of the art of humour—a very postmodern thing to do. Given the current context of the Internet, the forms of humour to be found on it, and society in general in the early years of the 21st century, Jokes Explained can also be seen as a satire of deconstructionism. In this light, it shows the follies of deconstructing humour, by doing exactly that.

So as you can now appreciate, Ryan North has written a very funny web page indeed.