33: Self-reference

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


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. (Do you get it?)

The title text is just another humorous self-reference.

Self-references has been used most famously later in 688: Self-Description, but was already used in 6: Irony and also in other comics.


[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.


  • This was the 35th comic originally posted to LiveJournal.
  • Original title: "Friday's Drawing - Self-reference"
    • Randall had some issues around this time. The Friday comic from the week before (and also this week) came out on a Saturday.
    • And this comic is a Monday comic, released on a Monday morning.
  • There was no original Randall quote for this comic.
  • This comic was posted on xkcd when the web site opened on Sunday the 1st of January 2006.
    • It was posted along with all 41 comics posted before that on LiveJournal as well as a few others.
    • The latter explaining why the numbers of these 41 LiveJournal comics ranges from 1-44.
  • One of the original drawings drawn on checkered paper.
  • The web comic Comic JK made this spoof of the comic:
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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)