(Opening Scene: A suburban house in a boring looking street.
Zoom into upstairs window. Serious documentary music. Interior of
small room. A bent figure (Michael Palin) huddles over a table,
writing. He is surrounded by bits of paper. The camera is situated
facing the man as he writes with immense concentration lining his
Voice Over : This man is Ernest Scribbler... writer of
jokes. In a few moments, he will have written the funniest joke in
the world... and, as a consequence, he will die ... laughing.
(Ernest stops writing, pauses to look at what he has
written... a smile slowly spreads across his face, turning very,
very slowly to uncontrolled hysterical laughter... he staggers to
his feet and reels across room helpless with mounting mirth and
eventually collapses and dies on the floor.)
Voice Over: It was obvious that this joke was lethal... no
one could read it and live ...
(Ernest's mother (Eric Idle in drag) enters. She sees him
dead, she gives a little cry of horror and bends over his body,
weeping. Brokenly she notices the piece of paper in his hand and
picks it up and reads it between her sobs. Immediately she breaks
out into hysterical laughter, leaps three feet into the air, and
falls down dead without more ado. Cut to news type shot of
commentator standing in front of the house.)
Commentator: This morning, shortly after eleven o'clock,
comedy struck this little house in Dibley Road. Sudden ...violent
... comedy. Police have sealed off the area, and Scotland Yard's
crack inspector is with me now.
Inspector: I shall enter the house and attempt to remove
(About now an upstairs window in the house is flung open and a
doctor, rears his head out, hysterical with laughter, and dies
hanging over the windowsill. The commentator and the inspector look
up and then continue as if they are used to such sights.)
Inspector: I shall be aided by the sound of somber music,
played on gramophone records, and also by the chanting of laments by
the men of Q Division ... (Inspector points to a group of dour
looking policemen standing nearby) The atmosphere thus created
should protect me in the eventuality of me reading the joke. He
gives a signal. The group of policemen start groaning and chanting
biblical laments. The Dead March is heard. The inspector squares his
shoulders and bravely starts walking into the house.
Commentator: There goes a brave man. Whether he comes out
alive or not, this will surely be remembered as one of the most
courageous and gallant acts in police history.
(The inspector suddenly appears at the door, helpless with
laughter, holding the joke aloft. He collapses and dies. Cut to film
of army vans driving along dark roads.)
Voice Over: It was not long before the Army became
interested in the military potential of the Killer Joke. Under top
security, the joke was hurried to a meeting of Allied Commanders at
the Ministry of War.
(Cut to door at Ham House: Soldier on guard comes to attention
as dispatch rider hurries in carrying armored box. (Notice on door:
'Conference. No Admittance'.) Dispatch rider rushes in. A door opens
for him and closes behind him. We hear a mighty roar of laughter...
series of oomphs as the commanders hit the floor or table. Soldier
outside does not move a muscle.)
(Cut to a pillbox on the Salisbury Plain. Track in to slit to see
mustachioed top brass peering anxiously out.)
Voice Over: Top brass were impressed. Tests on Salisbury
Plain confirmed the joke's devastating effectiveness at a range of
up to fifty yards.
(Cut to shot looking out of slit in pillbox. Camera zooms
through slit to distance where a solitary figure is standing on the
windswept plain. He is a bespectacled, weedy lance-corporal (Terry
Jones) looking cold and miserable. Pan across to fifty yards away
where two helmeted soldiers are at their positions beside a
blackboard on an easel covered with a cloth.
Cut in to corporal's face - registering complete lack of
comprehension as well as stupidly. Man on top of pillbox waves flag.
The soldiers reveal the joke to the corporal. He peers at it, thinks
about its meaning, sniggers, and dies. Two watching generals are
Cut to a Colonel talking to camera.
Colonel: All through the winter of '43 we had translators
working, in joke-proof conditions, to try and produce a German
version of the joke. They worked on one word each for greater
safety. One of them saw two words of the joke and spent several
weeks in hospital· But apart from that things went pretty quickly,
and we soon had the joke by January, in a form which our troops
couldn't understand but which the Germans could.
(Cut to a trench in the Ardennes· Members of the joke brigade
are crouched holding pieces of paper with the joke on them.)
Voice Over: So, on July 8th, I944, the joke was first told
to the enemy in the Ardennes...
Commanding NCO: Tell the ... joke.
Joke Brigade: (together) Wenn ist das Nunstrück git
und Slotermeyer? Ja! ... Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt
(Pan out of the British trench across war-torn landscape and
come to rest where presumably the German trench is. There is a pause
and then a group of Germans rear up in hysterics.)
Voice Over: It was a fantastic success. Over sixty
thousand times as powerful as Britain's great pre-war joke ...Cut
to a film of Chamberlain brandishing the 'Peace in our time' bit of
paper ... and one which Hitler just couldn't match.
Film of Hitler rally. Hitler speaks; subtitles are
SUBTITLE: 'MY DOG'S GOT NO NOSE'
A young soldier responds:
SUBTITLE: HOW DOES HE SMELL?
Voice Over: In action it was deadly.
(Cut to a small squad with rifles making their way through
forest. Suddenly one of them sees something and gives signal at
which they all dive for cover. From the cover of a tree he reads
Corporal: Wenn ist das Nunstrück git und Slotermeyer?
Ja! .. Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!
(Sniper falls laughing out of tree.)
Joke Brigade: (charging) Wenn ist das Nunstrück
git und Slotermeyer? Ja! ... Beiherhund das Oder die
(They chant the joke. Germans are put to fight laughing,
some dropping to ground.)
Voice Over: The German casualties were appalling.
(Cut to a German hospital and a ward full of casualties
still laughing hysterically.
Cut to Nazi interrogation room. An officer from the joke brigade
has a light shining in his face. A Gestapo officer is
interrogating him; another stands behind him.)
Nazi: Vott is the big joke?
Officer: I can only give you name, rank, and why did
the chicken cross the road?
Nazi: That's not funny! (slaps him) I vant to
know the joke.
Officer: All right. How do you make a Nazi cross?
Nazi: (momentarily fooled) I don't know ... how
do you make a Nazi cross?
Officer: Tread on his corns. (does so; the Nazi
hops in pain)
Nazi: Gott in Himell; that's not funny! (mimes
cuffing him while the other Nazi claps his hands to provide the
sound effect) Now if you don't tell me the joke, I shall hit
Officer: I can stand physical pain, you know.
Nazi: Ah... you're no fun. All right, Otto.
(Otto starts tickling the officer who starts laughing,)
Officer: Oh no - anything but that please no, all
right I'll tell you.
(They stop tickling him)
Nazi: Quick Otto. The typewriter.
(Otto goes to the typewriter and they wait expectantly.
The officer produces piece of paper out of his breast pocket and
Officer: Wenn ist das Nunstrück git und Slotermeyer?
Ja!... Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput.
(Otto at the typewriter explodes with laughter and dies.)
Nazi: Ach! Zat iss not funny!
(Nazi bursts into laughter and dies. A German guard bursts
in with machine gun, The British officer leaps on the table.)
Officer: (lightning speed) Wenn ist das
Nunstrück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! .. Beiherhund das Oder die
(The guard reels back and collapses laughing. British
officer makes his escape. Cut to a film of German scientists
working in laboratories.)
Voice Over: But at Peenemunde in the Autumn of '44,
the Germans were working on a joke of their own.
(A German general is seated at an imposing desk. Behind
him stands Otto, labeled 'A Different Gestapo Officer'.
Bespectacled German scientist/joke writer enters room. He clears
his throat and reads from card.)
German Joker: Die ist ein Kinnerhunder und zwei Mackel
über und der bitte schön ist den Wunderhaus sprechensie. 'Nein'
sprecht der Herren 'Ist aufern borger mit zveitingen'.
He finishes and looks hopeful.
Otto: We let you know.
(He shoots him.
More stock film of German scientists.)
Voice Over: But by December their joke was ready, and
Hitler gave the order for the German V-Joke to be broadcast in
(Cut to 1940's wartime radio set with couple anxiously
listening to it.)
Radio: (crackly German voice) Der ver zwei
peanuts, valking down der strasse, and von vas... assaulted!
(Radio bunts into 'Deutschland Über Alles'. The couple
look at each other and then in blank amazement at the radio. Cut
to modern BBC 2 interview. The commentator in a woodland glade.)
Commentator (Eric Idle): In 1945 Peace broke out. It
was the end of the Joke. Joke warfare was banned at a special
session of the Geneva Convention, and in 1950 the last remaining
copy of the joke was laid to rest here in the Berkshire
countryside, never to be told again.
(He walks away revealing a monument on which is written:
'To the unknown Joke'.
Camera pulls away slowly through idyllic setting. Patriotic
music reaches crescendo.)