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What is an Inside Joke?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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An inside joke is sometimes called a private joke. The concept of this type of joke is that only a select number of people inside a certain social group understand the joke's meaning. Those on the outside of the group that understands the joke usually don't have any clue as to what it actually means. In many cases, it's just a word or a phrase that refers back to some humorous situation.

For example, an inside joke can be as simple as repeating something one of the participants in the activity said. The other participants are likely to find this funny while outsiders from the shared activity won't understand the significance of the words. In this way, the joke can help members of a group bond. Even when the insiders explain the joke to the outsiders, the humor may not be fully appreciated since the memory of the shared situation adds to the meaning of the joke.

It could be argued that each time a member of the group repeats the joke to the other insider or insiders to the experience that inspired it, the bond between them deepens. Therefore, those on the outside of this connection could feel at least a little disconnected from the others that are part of the inside joke. The shared experience aspect is an important part of the joke. It is both a way of acknowledging an event and finding humor in remembering the shared experience.

Television shows and other forms of entertainment may also include inside jokes. For example, on an episode of the situation comedy, Roseanne, the character of Roseanne's son, DJ, is shown in the future as having a sort of mental block in which he can only repeat "They say she's the same, but she isn't the same." This is an inside joke that only regular viewers would understand, since the line refers not to characters on the show, but to the fact that two different actresses played the same role of DJ's sister, Becky.

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Discussion Comments
By Qohe1et — On Jan 23, 2011

Every joke is like a mental exercise. In advanced cultures, a joke is used to keep people sharp, whether they know it or not. People who are slow are made fun of, since they are unable to know when someone is being serious or trying to mess with their mind. This is particularly common in Ireland and Irish New England. It is sometimes hard to interpret people who are accustomed to this kind of humor, and these kinds of jokers struggle to avoid being understood. Hence the rumor that Freud said the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis.

By Renegade — On Jan 21, 2011

It is common to British humor to have jokes which are hard for most people to understand. This kind of humor is blurred even further when jokes which are impossible to understand, or completely random (as in much American humor) are interchanged with high-context jokes. High context jokes require a previously understood context to understand, and could be considered to be regional inside jokes.

By Armas1313 — On Jan 20, 2011

Inside jokes increase a relationship as they distance another relationship with a third party. The third party will be out of the loop and not get what the two people are sharing. This makes it even more funny, especially in areas where non-sequitur humor is appreciated. This kind of humor is one which engages people's understanding and tries to make it hard to "get it." Laughter signifies that the hearer has figured it out.

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