Ever heard the one about the joke that’s worth US$50 billion?

In 2013, two friends created Dogecoin — a parody of a cryptocurrency that was meant to be worthless. Its mascot is a meme-worthy Shiba-Inu that can’t quite spell or get its grammar right.

It definitely did not stay worthless. Dogecoin’s value has rocketed up 18,000 per cent over the past year. Even as Bitcoin dipped dramatically over the weekend, Dogecoin was trading near all-time highs. As the Shiba-Inu would say: “Wow. Much inexplicable.”

Elon Musk tweets about it. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes it’s educational and entertaining. And crypto bull Mike Novogratz says he’d be “very, very worried” if one of his friends was investing in it.

On Tuesday, Dogecoin was trading near 35 cents. Earlier it had risen above 42 cents — evidence that not everyone is paying heed to Novogratz’s skepticism. Many are even seeing unexpected gains.

Some retail investors are profiting...

Those include Alyssa Vazquez, a 26-year-old accountant from Dallas.

Vazquez originally bought US$600 worth of Dogecoin in January and February with her husband as a joke, thinking that they probably wouldn’t get anything out of it. “When we started, we agreed that we would never put in more than we could afford to lose,” she said. Now, they are up around US$6,000.

“We got into it around the time that GameStop went off. We started reading tweets about how this coin was up,” she said in a phone interview. When the currency rallied she was completely taken by surprise. “My husband text me like: ‘Did you see this?’ I was just shocked.”

Vazquez and her husband had previously invested in Litecoin and Ethereum, but said they hadn’t dabbled much further. “We didn’t really trust it back then,” she said. “The blow-up of Bitcoin changed our opinion.”

The couple are trying to figure out the best time to get out of Doge. They hope to use their earnings to pay off some debt, including student loans. But before then, they will probably buy more. And they have already started investing in another new cryptocurrency: SafeMoon. They’ve put in around US$500.

Brayden Johnson, 26, an electrician from Alberta, Canada, bought Dogecoin in memory of his Shiba Inu named Hudson who passed away last year at age 15.

 “I actually think about him anytime someone says the word doge,” Johnson wrote in an email. “I can picture in my head all the times that I’ve seen him do the goofy face of the meme and all his fur get scrunched up in his collar.”

When Johnson saw that Dogecoin was up big, he was really excited and did not expect it to gain so much at such a rapid rate.

“It feels good to be up, because who couldn’t use some extra money?” he said. “It feels a little sweeter that an investment made because I missed my dog has paid such nice dividends.”

...but why is this happening?

This week’s surge may appear confounding. How can a joke be worth so much?

FOMO has a lot to do with it.

“People are trying to recapture that magic that Bitcoin created for those who were there early,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading. “The key differentiator here is Bitcoin is going to be capped, there’s going to be a limited number of coins.”

Since its start in 2009, Bitcoin has had a fixed supply of 21 million coins that will ever be minted. Not so for Dogecoin: There is no limit to the amount that can be created.

Ardent enthusiasts might use this fact to draw comparisons between Dogecoin and fiat currencies. Of course, there isn’t a Bitcoin-like cap on the number of, say, dollars that the U.S. government can print. Yet while Dogecoin has a lot of memes and jokes behind it, the dollar has the U.S. economy and population. O’Rourke says this explains why there is so much trust in the dollar.

“I still don’t know what the purpose of Dogecoin is other than a speculative instrument,” he said. “You’re speculating on something that is there just because people are speculating on it. That’s a very dangerous mix.”

Plus, there was a campaign to rally Dogecoin’s price up to 69 cents on or by April 20 — the 4/20 holiday associated with weed smoking.

Dare you Doge?

So, should you get in on the Dogecoin action?

“It’s almost irresponsible to lend credence to the speculation by even asking that question,” said David Trainer, chief executive of New Constructs, an independent securities research firm based in Nashville.

But people are asking it after seeing their friends’ pocket money without doing all that much work or research. Trainer says everyone’s situation is different.

“If you have excess funds that you like to speculate with instead of betting on the Yankees, and you want to put it into cryptocurrencies, then maybe, yeah, that would make sense,” he said. “As long as you’re not afraid to lose it all.”

What may be clouding investors’ vision, Trainer says, is the fact that for all the recent talk of how overvalued some stocks and cryptocurrencies are, the excitement has really yet to subside. It’s unclear how much longer this can go on for.

“I think the root cause of all this is that people have forgotten the difference, the distinction, between investing and speculating,” he said.

Some have compared the Dogecoin surge — with its memes and explosive growth — to the burst of interest in GameStop Corp. earlier this year. But Brent Weiss, a financial planner and co-founder of Facet Wealth in Baltimore says Dogecoin falls into an entirely different — even less serious — investment category.

“When it comes to Dogecoin as a cryptocurrency, that is an absolute joke,” he said.

Weiss is no fan of GameStop as an investment, either, but says that at least with stocks for the video-game company, there was an underlying company with tangible underlying assets.

“Every Doge has its day,” Weiss said. “But today is not the day to make Doge part of your portfolio.”