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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 in something not explicitly spoken. They may even apologize for doing so to a rookie, directly or indirectly stating that what they were laughing at 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. Easter eggs is a way for software developers to put their "signature" on the program, especially in video games, originally during times when they received little or no credit from their employer for their work.

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.