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An in-joke, also known as an inside joke or a private joke, is a joke whose humour is understandable only to members of an ingroup, that is, people who are in a particular social group, occupation, or other community of shared interest. It is an esoteric joke that is humorous only to those who are aware of the circumstances behind it.

In-jokes may exist within a small social clique, such as a group of friends, or extend to an entire profession such as the film or professional wrestling industries, or a particular sporting field or chess team. Ethnic or religious groups usually have their own in-jokes.[1]


In-jokes are cryptic allusions to shared common ground that act as triggers; only those who have shared the common ground provide an appropriate response.[2] An in-joke works to build community, sometimes at the expense of outsiders. Part of the power of an in-joke is that its audience knows that there are those who do not understand the joke.[3]

An in-joke can also be used as a subtext, where people in the know may find humour with something not explicitly spoken. They may even apologise for doing so to a rookie, directly or indirectly stating that what they were laughing at what was an in-joke.[4]

Computer industry[edit]

In the computer industry some computer programmers hide in-jokes within the code of software in the form of Easter eggs, i.e., hidden content that can be revealed only by following a specific sequence of inputs.

The Jargon File is a glossary of hacker slang, much of which is in-jokes or is based on in-jokes.

Pop culture[edit]

  • Many TV shows, like The Simpsons and 30 Rock, insert numerous in-jokes per episode, often referring to other TV shows, movies, or even the show itself.
  • The 2009 movie Star Trek contained multiple references to the 1960s Star Trek TV series, with the references constituting in-jokes for those familiar with the series.
  • Noticeable in many animated films is A113, a classroom used by graphic design students at CalArts, whose alumni include John Lasseter and Brad Bird.
  • The Wilhelm Scream is a notable in-joke that has appeared in over 200 different movies, TV shows, and video games.
  • Rival action movie actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone would often include references to each other or their movies when acting in their own.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wales Online: "Are the Welsh Really Funny?", 14 October 2006. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  2. ^ Randy Y. Hirokawa and Marshall Scott Poole (1996). Communication and Group Decision Making. Sage Publications Inc. p. 96. ISBN 076190462X. 
  3. ^ Paul Brooks Duff (2001). Who Rides the Beast?: Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse. Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 019513835X. 
  4. ^ Ben Tousey (2003). Acting Your Dreams: Use Acting Techniques to Interpret Your Dreams. Ben Tousey. pp. 118–119. ISBN 1-4140-0542-3.