Chickens are funny.

A guy cavorts at a stadium in a chicken suit and everybody cracks up . . .

A comic pulls a naked rubber chicken out of his pants and the audience has a heart attack . . .

An echo-chamber Voice of Doom comes over a Nashville country music station pushing some fast food chain: "Thuh Chicken . . . That Conquered . . . Thuh WORLD . . . " and 47 cars swerve across the double line.

Why is this? What is it about chickens? What did any chicken ever do to deserve all this free publicity? Because -- ask anybody who ever raised 500 chickens in a 4-H project -- chickens are NOT CUTE. They are SMELLY, MORONIC, DISAGREEABLE, UNREASONABLY AGGRESSIVE, MANURE-FOOTED and UNNECESSARILY FRAGILE.

They do make a delicious Sunday dinner. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb

The domestic chicken is descended from Gallus Gallus, a wild red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia who was so stupid that it laid its eggs on the ground. According to Chick-O-Pedia, a book published by the National Broiler Council, it was the first bird to be tamed.

For thousands of years, chickens scrabbled for their own food, accepting grain handouts in a good year from the primitive farmers they hung around with. "Then in the early Thirties," says Chick-O-Pedia, "an industrial miracle began that was to change chicken from the luxury meat of former years to today's best meat value."

In fact, Dr. Max Brunk of Cornell calls the American broiler industry "the world's most advanced system of food production." Neat

There are 3.5 billion chickens in the world, one for every person. You can have mine. Chicken Delinquent

Weirdo is the largest chicken on earth, or was when the 1975 "Guiness Book of Records" came out. He weighed 22 pounds and lived in Calaveras County, Calif. He was born in 1969, a year of campus upheaval and maximum sunspot activity. Since then he murdered his own son, an 18-pound chicken whose name was not available, also crippled a dog, killed two cats and put eight stitches in his owner.

Weirdo was a bad chicken. If chickens wore T-shirts, his would be sleeveless. How Mort Makes It

Morton Berenson of Boston makes a living selling chicken feet and unhatched chicken eggs (the ayelah of authentic Jewish chicken soup).

It's not easy. The government is nervous about chicken feet. To sell them legally, you have to clip the nails and scale and boil them. And ayelah can't be sold retail, only to processors.

Berenson won't tell where he gets his under-the-counter eggs, but he knows his customers won't get sick because they're all Jewish cooks who understand what to do with ayelah. Am I making sense here? Chicken Love Story

I don't know why Hollywood has never done anything with the tempestuous romance of Chaucer's Chauntecleer ("in al the land of crowyng nas his peer") and Pertelote ("curteys she was, discreet and debonaire").

You could work it into a movie on the same author's great examination of the corridors of power, "The Parliament of Fowls." Most

The most chickens were eaten by Edward Abraham (Bozo) Miller of Oakland in 1963. Miller, a professional gourmand who applies 25,000 calories a day to his 5-7, 300-pound frame, ate 27 two-pound pullets at a sitting. His waist is 57 inches around. Educational

They really have done wonders with the chicken. Thirty years ago it took growers 12 weeks to produce a 3-pound broiler. Now they have it down to 7 1/2 weeks, and the weight is 3.8 pounds. It's done with sophisticated feeds that include special vitamins and minerals and, though this has been under attack by the Food and Drug Administration since 1977, certain antibiotics.

You get a better deal at the market now, too: Thirty years ago broilers cost 31 cents a pound wholesale and almost 60 cents retail. Last year they were 44.5 cents wholesale and 66.6 cents retail, a mere 50 percent markup. By contrast, beef now goes at 82 cents wholesale and well over twise as much 182 cents, retail.

No one knows for sure what a chicken's normal lifespan is; they don't get to live that long. Chicken Power

Methane gas from chicken manure is running the generator that lights up an experimental henhouse in Iowa.

Government spokesmen said if you scraped up the total nuisances committed by 160,000 chickens, you could get enough methane to light 200 average houses.

One backer called the $100,000 experiement as seminal as the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk. Classy

Classified ad in The New Republic: "CHICKEN THERAPY. The small book that can change your life. Illustrated. $3. Chicken Therapy, 4107 Barclay Drive, Port Clinton, Ohio 43452." The Welfare State Is Here

Broiler chicks are literally farmed out to growers at the age of one day and are sent along to the processing (that is, killing) plant at 7 1/2 weeks.

The Maurice Laytons of Magee, Miss., are growers, taking on their fuzzy charges in batches of 30,000 and fattening them up like the ogre's wife in the fairy tale. A chain-driven assembly line of computer-formulated meal is run through the chicken houses at regular intervals. Temperature has to be kept just so, or the birds won't eat.

Since broilers also won't eat if it's too dark, growers leave some lights on at night during the summer so their tenants will eat in the cool hours. Lights keep them from bumping into each other and stampeding. (Chicken stampedes bad enough to suffocate hundreds of the imbecile creatures can be caused even by a helicopter passing overhead.)

Approaching the chicken house, Layton always gives a whistle, which instantly silences the chatter inside. They think it's a hawk. (Every day, he does this. Every day they think it's a hawk.) In the blessed moment of quiet he listens for coughing or other signs of sickness.

Since the chicks grow like popcorn in their few weeks -- converting every two pounds of feed into one pound of meat -- the broiler houses have to be designed for tremendous expansion. Even the water troughs are adjusted to the growing height of the birds and are reeled down to ground level again for the next batch.

Then comes the day they were all born for. They are taken to the processing plant and, as one brochure put it, "are disassembled."

They are killed by machine, defeathered by machine, packaged by machine. The feathers, heads, feet and entrails go into feed for future chickens or into pet food. The cleaning and trimming is done by skilled humans under the eyes of government inspectors.

Within 20 minutes of death, the little bodies are chilled. The usable inside parts, wrapped and cooled in ice water, are put back more or less where they were, and the chickens are ready for shipping, quick-freezing or freeze-drying. The Poultry Hall of Fame

Until dispersed just this spring by ever-expanding bureaucracy, the Poultry Hall of Fame dominated a floor of the National Agricultural Library at Beltsville.

Portraits honor the inventor of the Chicken of Tomorrow Contest, the founder of the National Turkey Federation and others.

Colonel Sanders is not there. Nor is Chicken Little. Nor Henny Penny. Proust and Tolstoy didn't win the Nobel Prize either. A Different Drumstrick

You don't have to buy supermarket chicken all bloated with water from the chill bath and lying on a tiny pad soaked in pink slush. At Arrow Live Poultry, 915 Fifth St. NW, you can buy your chicken alive -- you can even pick it out yourself if you can bear to look it in the eye -- and have it dispatched, picked and cleaned on the spot.

These are Amish birds, at least their growers are Amish, and as the people at Arrow say, they're not pumped up with concentrated feed or kep awake till all hours gorging. It might take them as long as four months to grow up to be broilers or a year to become roasters. They cost more, but they have character. They taste like chickens used to taste.

Nearly all the Chinese restaurants in town, plus some Moslems and knowledgeable diplomats, go to Arrow for chicken. Chicken Opera Singer

On the very last Ted Mack Amateur Hour a guy sang the sextet from "lucia di Lammermoor" as it would sound if sung by a chicken. It's not clear whether he sang all six parts at once or in tandem. Some Chicken Greats

A Rhode Island Red named Penny laid 20 eggs in 7 days in 1971. She was owned by Treena White of Buckinghamshire, England. That's nothing. In 1930 a Black Orpington from NewZealand laid 361 eggs in 364 days.

According to Guinness, the largest egg was 16 ounces, double-yoked, laid by a White Leghorn in New Jersey in 1956. The soviets have come up with a nine-yolk egg laid by a chicken in Osh. It was nearly six inches long but didn't quite make a pound.

How about Larry Broomeloo, whose chiclen laid a 9-inch egg, staggered from its nest and died of surprise. Famous Chicken Sayings Don't count your chickens until they hatch. Nobody here but us chickens, Boss. Don't be chicken. Two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot. Children and chickens must always be pickin'. His chickens came home to roost. Why does a chicken cross the road? Etc. Also: chicken-hearted, chicken-livered and the curious description of a middle-aged person as "no spring chicken." Steve Allen's Joke

The answer is: CHICKEN Teriyaki. You're supposed to guess what the question was.

The question was: Who is the world's only surviving kamikaze pilot? Chickens in the News

The man who made the chicken suit a national sensation and a cause was, of course, Ted Giannoulas, the San Diego Chicken, whose personality has so merged with the Chicken's that he can't stop even though he's involved in a tangled legal battle with radio station KGB over the Chicken's identity, origin and residuals. It's the same problem Dr. Jekyll had.

When last heard from, Giannoulas had surfaced in Seattle, born-again, wearing a slightly different outfit.

At Rutgers University, one Robert Squibb insists that chickens are as smart as monkeys, maybe smarter.

"They've put monkeys at the top of the intelligence scale and the bird at the bottom of the heap," said Squibb, adding sexistly, "but he's not so darn dumb. He can really do marvelous things."

The marvelous thing, it turns out, is pushing some buttons to get food.What's so great about that? I knew a cockroach who could run a typewriter.

Everyone knows you can teach a chicken to tap dance. There was one in Werner Herzog's movie "Strozsek." A joyless performance. Everyone also knows you can hypnotize a chicken by drawing an X on the ground and sitting the creature's beak at the intersection.

The chicken thinks it is visualizing infinity and will stand there till it starves to death.

And don't forget the International Chicken Flying Association in Rio Grande, Ohio.

A new world's record was set at this year's meet in May by Lola B, who flew 302 feet 8 inches, shattering Kung Flewk's 1977 mark of 297 feet. Kung Flewk was disqualified this year for flying backwards.

Lola B is owned by Sherwood Costen, of Point Pleasant, W. Va., who said he named her after his 90-year-old aunt when she told him she'd never had anything named for her. A Fortune in Chickens

The biggest chicken ranch seems to be Egg City, Calif., where 2 million eggs are laid daily by 4.5 million chickens. Manure sales alone total $72,000 a year. I Hate Them. I hate Them.

You had to get up before dawn in the winter, go to the barn, fill two pails full of growing mash and laying mash (plus ground-up oyster shells if their eggs were getting soft), fill the troughs, haul the watering pails out to the pump, scrub them clean (chickens not knowing which end is which), pump them full of water, carry them back, gather a pailful of eggs, check for drafts and rats, make sure that no malingerer had fallen off its roost and broken a wing, and generally see that everyone was happy.

And all this time the chickens would be pecking at your hands, going to the bathroom on your shoes, flapping in your face, making you sneeze with their feathers, attacking you for taking their eggs and screaming at you as though you were murdering them. And glaring at you with those little round black soulless eyes, indignant, malevolent, maniacal.

You can love them if you want to. Just don't ever tell me they're cute.