The Funniest Joke in the World

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"The Funniest Joke in the World" is the title most frequently used for written references to a Monty Python's Flying Circus comedy sketch, which is also known by two other phrases that appear within it, "Joke Warfare" and "Killer Joke", the latter being the most commonly spoken title used to refer to it. The premise of the sketch is that the joke is so funny that anyone who reads or hears it promptly dies from laughter.

Broadcast[edit]

The sketch appeared in the first episode of the television show Monty Python's Flying Circus ("Whither Canada"), first shown on October 5, 1969. The sketch was later remade in a shorter version for the film And Now For Something Completely Different; it is also available on the CD-ROM game of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

Summary[edit]

During World War II, Ernest Scribbler, a British manufacturer of jokes (Michael Palin), creates the funniest joke in the world. It is so funny that he promptly dies laughing. His mother (Eric Idle) walks in, finds the note on the body, and reads it, at first believing it to be a suicide note, and also dies laughing. A very brave Scotland Yard inspector (Graham Chapman) tells a reporter that he plans to retrieve the joke, with the playing of very sombre music on gramophone records and the chanting of laments by fellow policemen to create a depressing mood in the event he should read the joke. He goes in, but also dies laughing.

The British Army test the joke on Salisbury Plain against a rifleman (Terry Jones), who snickers and falls dead on the range, then translate it into German. Each translator only translates one word of the joke, so as not to be killed by reading the whole joke. One of them sees two words of the joke and has to spend a few weeks in hospital. This German version is over 60,000 times more powerful than Britain's great pre-war joke (a reference to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his speech concerning the Munich Agreement). The nonsensical German translation is used for the first time on 8 July 1944 in the Ardennes, causing German soldiers to fall down dead from laughter:

Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput![1]

The joke contains a number of nonsensical pseudo-German words, and does not translate into anything meaningful.

Another scene is of the joke being used in open warfare is shown, with Tommies running through an open field amid artillery fire shouting the joke at the Germans, who die laughing in response. Afterward, a German field hospital is shown with uncontrollably laughing German soldiers in blood-stained bandages, being attended to by medics with stoppered ears.

In a following scene, a British officer from the Joke Brigade (Michael Palin) has been taken prisoner and is being interrogated and tortured by Gestapo officers. The torture is completely benign, but the prisoner is eventually persuaded to recite the joke after being tickled. One of the Nazi officers (Graham Chapman) erupts in laughter and dies. The second (John Cleese) retorts "Zat's not funny!" but then he too starts to giggle hysterically before dropping dead. Another captor (Terry Gilliam) notices the two deceased officers and points his gun at Palin, who recites the joke to the captor, who also dies laughing.

The Germans attempt counter-jokes. Eventually their best joke is used in action: "Der ver zwei peanuts, valking down der strasse, and von vas . . . assaulted! peanut.",[1] which proves in English to be ineffective. The British joke is said to have been laid to rest when "peace broke out" at the end of the war, as countries agree to a Joke Warfare ban at the Geneva Convention. In 1950, the last paper copy of the joke is sealed under a monument bearing the inscription "To the Unknown Joke".

Throughout the whole sketch, the English version of the joke is never revealed to the audience, ostensibly because of the fear that the 'audience' might drop dead from laughter, the deaths in the sketch serving to play up the joke's alleged lethality.

Precursors[edit]

A story that ran for several weeks in the Sunday comics of Li'l Abner during 1967 concerned the creation of a joke, never actually revealed, that was so funny that anyone who heard it immediately died laughing. For safety reasons, government agents somehow decided to keep the joke hidden in the protective custody of Abner Yokum. Meanwhile, comedian Bob Hope learns of the existence of this "Funniest Joke in the World", but not about its deadly effects, and decides that he wants to recite it on his next television show. He procures the joke from Abner, and the government agents learn of this development too late to prevent him from reading it on national television. It turns out, however, that before Bob Hope obtained the joke from him, Abner had read the joke, not understood it, and substituted his own favourite joke. It is this joke that Bob Hope reads on the air, to no harmful effect whatsoever.

The 1943 war-time story "Nothing But Gingerbread Left", written decades before by science fiction writer Henry Kuttner, has a very close premise. Rather than a joke, a marching song (in German) is used as a weapon against the German soldiers. Engineered by American linguists, it is by design such a catchy song that the soldiers cannot stop singing it, and eventually they can think of nothing else. At the climax, Adolf Hitler is ready to deliver a critically important speech, but begins chanting the marching song.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ a b Monty Python (Comedy troupe) (1989). The complete Monty Python's flying circus: all the words, Volume 1. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-72647-0. 
  2. ^ Kuttner, Henry (1943). "Nothing But Gingerbread Left". bravehost.com. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved August 24, 2012.