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A rubber chicken is a replica of a completely plucked but otherwise intact barnyard fowl made from a latex injection mold, much like the latex rubber masks often sold at Halloween. Slapstick and prop comedians traditionally produce a rubber chicken as a crude sight gag, possibly as the anchor of an endless supply of knotted handkerchiefs or a "blackjack" used to slap other performers or hapless audience members.
The origins of the rubber chicken continue to be a bit murky, although there are at least three interesting theories. Some historians suggest that soldiers serving during the French Revolution would attach solid rubber chickens to the ends of their muskets, apparently as talismans or good luck charms. The practice may have also been used as psychological warfare, antagonizing the enemy through silent accusations of cowardice under fire.
Another theory traces the history of the rubber chicken to a pioneer in the slapstick and prop comedy genres who performed during the 1800s. Joseph Grimaldi was a British white-face mime who routinely mocked the excesses of the upper class in his act. Since one of the hallmarks of the upper class lifestyle was gluttony, Grimaldi would stuff his costume with rubber food props, including a rubber chicken produced for comic effect.
While these claims certainly support the idea of rubberized poultry being used for dubious comedic purposes, the modern concept of a rubber chicken could not have been produced without the advent of a latex rubber injection molding system. A fledgling novelty company in the 1930s named Loftus Novelties is often credited with producing the most recognizable rubber chicken, complete with an open mouth, extended neck and outstretched legs. This hollow latex rubber chicken is the model most likely to be used by modern prop comics and jugglers. While the entertainment value of a rubber chicken may have waned in recent years, the prop is still considered a classic among clowns and prop comedians.
The term "rubber chicken" can also apply to certain political and organizational luncheons in which a particularly dry chicken breast is the main entree. Politicians running for office may find themselves traveling from one "rubber chicken" event to another during the course of their campaign.