33: Self-reference

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Original title: Friday's Drawing - Self-reference
I think about self-reference a lot. Example: this comment.
Title text: I think about self-reference a lot. Example: this comment.


This was the thirty-fifth comic originally posted to LiveJournal. The previous one was 32: Pillar, and the next one was 41: Old Drawing.

Self-reference is a situation where something (a comic, a drawing, a musical work, a novel, a mathematical theorem) refers to itself in some manner. This can be a powerful technique in art, music, mathematics, and computer science (it is the basis of recursion). In this comic, Cueball promises not to use self-reference for humor, and then realizes after a beat panel that, since this comic is referring to the series of comics he is part of, he is using self-reference, thus breaking his promise. Without the last panel, this comic wouldn't be funny, and therefore wouldn't break the promise about using self-reference for humor. But with it, and his realization that he is breaking his promise, it does break that promise. Self-references have been used most famously later in 688: Self-Description, but was already used in 6: Irony and also in other comics. The webcomic Comic JK made a spoof of this comic.

The title text is just another humorous[citation needed] self-reference.


[Cueball is standing alone.]
Cueball: I promise to never again squeeze humor out of self-reference.
[Beat panel.]
[Cueball is standing alone.]
Cueball: God dammit.


The original title of the comic was wrong, as this comic was released on a Monday, not a Friday. The previous comic was actually supposed to come out on a Friday, but Randall forgot to post it in time and released in on a Saturday. See more on that comic's explanation.

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  • This comic is not exactly clear to me. What is the self-reference, or what is the humour? TheHYPO (talk) 14:29, 21 August 2012 (UTC)
    • I added a bit. Does that help clarify? Of course, one of the hallmarks of self-reference is that clarity tends to be lost. Blaisepascal (talk) 14:44, 21 August 2012 (UTC)

What if I don't find this humorous, then he's not squeezing humor! -- 00:09, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

But wouldn't it still be squeezing if he tried? That would mean that whenever he tries, he succeeds. Fabian42 (talk) 08:08, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

But the most famous use of self reference is, of course, the sentence (this) where explainxkcd explained the sentence where explainxkcd explained xkcd's self reference of its own self reference.--TheTimeBandit (talk) 21:54, 27 October 2017 (UTC)

Actually, it would be funny without the last panel, just more subtle. — Kazvorpal (talk) 01:18, 21 January 2024 (UTC)