The Meaning of Life Is That Nobody Knows the Meaning of Life

Woody Allen? Ken Kelley? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Philosophers, religious figures, and spiritual gurus have been making claims about the meaning of life for millennia. The comedian Woody Allen apparently offered his own quixotic analysis. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: On July 1, 1976 “Rolling Stone” magazine printed an interview with Woody Allen conducted by Ken Kelley. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Do you believe in reincarnation?

I certainly don’t believe in anything. It’s conceivable, but I don’t believe in it. Perhaps we come back as a deck reshuffling itself. Maybe we turn into birds. Who knows?

What, then, is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life is that nobody knows the meaning of life. We are not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Allen’s remark achieved further circulation when a section of the interview containing the quip was reprinted in the Oakland Tribune of California on July 6, 1976. 2

In 1981 the “Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations” edited by Deborah Davis Eisel and Jill Swanson Reddig included the following entry: 3

ALLEN, Woody.
The meaning of life is that nobody knows the meaning of life.
(Rolling Stone 216:88 July 1, 76)

In 2000 the quotation appeared in “A Thousand Paths to Wisdom” assembled by David Baird: 4

The meaning of life is that nobody knows the meaning of life.
Woody Allen

In 2006 the full interview was reprinted in the collection “Woody Allen: Interviews” edited by Robert E. Kapsis and Kathie Coblentz. 5

In conclusion, Woody Allen deserves credit for this quotation based on the 1976 interview in “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of figure standing adjacent to a question mark from Peggy_Marco at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to anonymous individual whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)


  1. 1976 July 1, Rolling Stone, Issue 216, A conversation with The Real Woody Allen (or someone just like him), Interview of Woody Allen conducted by Ken Kelley, Start Page 34, Quote Page 87 and 88, Rolling Stone, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1976 July 6, Oakland Tribune, The Secret Anxieties of Woody Allen (Interview of Woody Allen conducted by Ken Kelly, Quote Page 17, Column 2 and 3, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1981, Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations, Edited by Deborah Davis Eisel and Jill Swanson Reddig, Entry: Woody Allen, Quote Page 9, John Gordon Burke Publisher, Evanston, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2000 Copyright, A Thousand Paths to Wisdom, Assembled by David Baird, Chapter: Thoughts to Live By, Page Number 427, MQP – MQ Publications Limited, London. (Verified with scans)
  5. 2006, Woody Allen: Interviews by Woody Allen, Edited by Robert E. Kapsis and Kathie Coblentz, Interview Title: A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen, Interviewer: Ken Kelley, Start Page 7, Quote Page 25, (Interview Citation: Rolling Stone, July 1, 1976, Start Page 34), University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified with scans)