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.

Contents

Broadcast

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

During World War II, Ernest Scribbler, a British "manufacturer of jokes" (Michael Palin), creates "the funniest joke in the world" and promptly dies laughing. His mother (Eric Idle) reads the joke, at first believing it to be a suicide note, and also dies laughing. A Scotland Yard inspector (Graham Chapman) retrieves the joke, but despite the playing of sombre music on gramophone records and the chanting of laments by fellow policemen to create a depressing mood, also dies laughing.

The British Army test the joke on Salisbury Plain against a rifleman (Terry Jones), 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 saw two words of the joke and had to spend a few weeks in hospital. This German version is said to be "over 60,000 times as powerful as Britain's great pre-war joke", a reference to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and 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]

To a German speaker, the joke contains a number of nonsense words, and does not translate into anything meaningful.

In the version of the sketch featured in And Now For Something Completely Different, another scene 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 Germans in blood-stained bandages, laughing incessantly.

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