Those of you who read my little History (or historiogrpahic) exercise about the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke may remember that did not succeed moving back in time very far because of the limitations of Internet search engines. So, I was concluding that the story was older than 1981.
After that, Alex (from Belgium) told me that he had heard the joke in Sesame Street as broadcasted in Europe.
Otheus provided me with some additional elements that I wanted to share with you here and now. First, he found an additonal reference (very clear and precise) to the travelling chicken joke dating back to 1984. But, much more importantly, he discovered in Usenet a marvellous unadultered reference back to a 1919 publication:
And so, you see now, fellas — just why the chicken crossed the road” — prompting the oysters, “these mild minded children of the sea, susceptible to humor, [to] give vent to unrestrained laughter, wide, and open” their mouths, letting the mice prop them open with twigs (so they can’t flee to the sea to escape, lest they drown).
Everything points to a joke that was already well known then (in the beginning of 20th Century) since George Herriman could re-use it without hesitation in “Krazy Kat” dated Sunday, July 27, 1919.
What would be quite interesting to notice is that the joke (and the associated meme) did not really evolve from 1919 (or before) until the 1980’s. But Internet diffusion happened simultaneously to a radical change with the creation of the many variations that we know today.