It is finally given over to the British Army which sends a motorcycle courier to collect it. The joke is then tested on a dim witted and bespectacled army lance corporal (Terry Jones) on Salisbury Plain. After a few seconds while he comprehends it, sniggers, and promptly falls over dead. This impresses the senior officers, observing in a bunker at safe distance , with Eric Idle uttering "Fantastic!" to John Cleese. The joke is then translated into German, which the narrator says was sixty thousand times more powerful than Britain's "great pre-war joke," upon which the scene cuts to the famous newsreel shot of PM Neville Chamberlain returning to the United Kingdom holding the Munich Agreement, in reference to its failure to prevent Hitler from annexing any more land. During the winter of 1943, the joke was translated with each word translated by a different person — because seeing too much of the joke would prove fatal. The narrator (Chapman) adds that one translator accidentally caught a glimpse of two words and was hospitalized for weeks.
The translation is given to British soldiers who do not speak German, because not understanding what they are saying is the only way to survive reading the joke aloud. The joke is used for the first time on 8 July 1944 in the Ardennes by the soldiers, who read the German version aloud on the battlefield, and the German soldiers simply fall over dead from laughter. (In reality, in July 1944 the Allies were still in Normandy; they did not reach the Ardennes until the autumn, with the Battle of the Bulge starting on December 16, 1944.)
In the television version, a British soldier (Palin) is captured and forced to tell the joke to the Germans. Initially, Palin tells his German captors, "How do you make a Nazi Cross?" Upon the Wehrmacht officer saying no, Palin steps on his foot. Then in order to gain the information, a Gestapo Officer tickles Palin into telling the joke. However, as hearing the joke proves deadly, his captors (John Cleese, Chapman, and Terry Gilliam) die laughing and he escapes (despite Cleese's character initially yelling "That's not funny!"). The Germans work to produce an equally deadly joke; two Gestapo officers in charge of the "killer joke" effort (Chapman and Terry Jones) are seen shooting scientists who bring in jokes that aren't funny.
In the movie version, another scene of the joke being tested in open warfare is shown with Doughboys running through an open field amid artillery fire shouting the joke at the Germans, who fall over dead laughing in response. Afterward, a German Field Hospital is shown with several dozen German soldiers with bandages on their heads with blood stains, laughing incessantly. German doctors, attending to their "wounds", have gauze balls inserted in their ears to block out the laughter.
The nonsensical German "translation" of the joke (including words that are inauthentic German):
The 16 Ton Monty Python Megaset has the joke written under "useless tidbits" for episode 1 volume 1 as exactly:
The Germans soon formulate a counter-joke, which is translated into English and played over the radio to London, but with no success. (The joke is: "There were zwei [two] peanuts walking down der strasse [street]. Und one was assaulted (a salted)... peanut!") (Erratum: Although the preceding narration gives the counter-joke's creation as being in the autumn of 1944, the scene in which the joke is broadcast is captioned "1942 ... SOMEWHERE IN LONDON.") Also of note, the opening strains of "Deutschland über alles" can be heard at the conclusion of the counter-joke.
Different jokes are used in the television and film versions of the sketch. Footage from "Triumph of the Will" is used where it seems like Adolf Hitler is announcing the counter-joke to his soldiers: "My dog has no nose." "How does it smell?" "Awful!"
The joke is finally laid to rest when "peace broke out" at the end of the war. All countries agree to a Joke Warfare ban at a "special session of the Geneva convention". The last paper copy of the joke is under a monument bearing the inscription "To the Unknown Joke" (as compared with the British Unknown Warrior or the American Unknown Soldier); however, in the film version, the whole thing ends with Hitler's attempt, followed by a Terry Gilliam animated sequence showing a facial of Erasmus apologizing "for the poor taste of the previous sketch ... excuse me, please...." (a woman was flashing her breasts at him, which explains the line "excuse me, please").