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Comedians’ Quips About Income Taxes and the IRS

Sep 2nd 2016
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With the holiday weekend approaching, and the extension deadline for corporate and individual tax returns looming, let’s take a whimsical look at what some well-known comedians have said about our nation’s tax system.

Columnist Dave Barry explained that “American tax laws are constantly changing as our elected representatives seek new ways to ensure that whatever tax advice we receive is incorrect.”

His explanation of why we should pay taxes: “Your federal government needs your money so that it can perform vital services for you that you would not think up yourself in a million years.”

A Barry motto for the IRS: “We’ll answer the taxpayer assistance hotline when you pry the coffee cup from our cold, dead fingers.”

The Internal Revenue Code, as he understands it: “Every day at 3 p.m. a taxpayer is selected at random, audited, then thrown into this vault. There’s usually a scream, followed by silence, followed by a massive burp. The next day the tax code is bigger.”

Comedienne Paula Poundstone observed: “The wages of sin are death, but by the time taxes are taken out, it’s just sort of a tired feeling.”

Jay Leno clarified why the IRS calls it Form 1040: “For every $50 you earn, you get 10 and they get 40.” Back in 2002, Leno reported that the IRS had launched a crackdown on major league sports teams. He said the IRS ruled that the then last-place Detroit Tigers “can no longer deduct bats and gloves as work-related items.” How come? “Apparently, if you don’t use them, you can’t deduct them.”

From a David Letterman list of “Top 10 Hilarious Pranks to Play on the IRS”: “Check box labeled ‘joint filing.’ Enclose actual joint.”

Comic Jenny Church quipped that the IRS has developed a new computer software called Windows 1040: “Powerful, but it eats up all your money.” Why, she asked, was Sen. John Glenn sent on his final space mission? “To see if Mars is capable of sustaining a tax base.”

Will Rogers and Fred Allen on income taxes. Curmudgeons like me are aware that most of you would react with blank stares to the mentions of Fred Allen and Will Rogers. Only those of you who are of a certain age know and admire them, especially for their comments about taxes.

Allen (1894-1956), an acerbic wit, began his career in the heyday of vaudeville. He was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed program, The Fred Allen Show (1932-1949), made him one of the most popular stars during the golden years of radio.

Allen cogently critiqued capabilities of IRS staffers: “Thank God they’re not doing brain surgery.”

Like Allen, Rogers (1879-1935) started in vaudeville. The folksy, rope-twirling Rogers went on to star in silent films and talkies, until his career was cut short by an airplane crash.

Rogers, the leading political wit of his time, was dubious about income taxes in The Illiterate Digest, 1924: “The Income Tax has made more Liars out of the American people than Golf has. Even when you make one out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a Crook or a Martyr.”

He got around to estate taxes in 1926: “I don’t see why a man shouldn’t pay an inheritance tax. If a Country is good enough to pay taxes to while you are living, it’s good enough to pay in after you die. By the time you die you should be so used to paying taxes that it would just be almost second nature to you.”

And in 1932, he said: “Congress knocked the rich in the creek with a [72 percent raise in the] income tax, then somebody must have told ’em ‘Yes, Congress you got ’em while they are living. But what if they die on you to keep from paying it?’ Congress says, ‘Well, never thought of that, so we will frame one that will get ’em, alive or living, dead or deceased.’ Now they got such a high inheritance tax on ’em that you won’t catch these old rich boys dying promiscuously like they did. This bill makes patriots out of everybody. You sure do die for your country if you die from now on.”

The last time our Constitution was amended for social purposes was in 1920, when alcohol was outlawed. Prohibition was repealed in 1933. While Prohibition was in effect, it spawned outlandish bootlegging and crime problems and made lawbreaking fashionable. That could account for why Rogers said: “We don’t seem to be able to even check crime, so why not legalize it and put a heavy tax on it. We have taxed other industries out of business – it might work here.”

Additional articles. A reminder for accountants who would welcome advice on how to alert clients to tactics that trim taxes for this year and even give a head start for next year: Delve into the archive of my articles (more than 130 and counting).

Stay competitive with your fellow accountants who turn to the articles when, say, they correspond with clients or they want to show clients how to nimbly sidestep pitfalls while capitalizing on opportunities to diminish, delay, or deep-six payments of sizable amounts that would otherwise swell IRS coffers.

Also be mindful of the articles when you strive to build name recognition, a goal attainable only by choosing and implementing strategies that set you apart from ferocious competition. Use the articles to prepare talks to audiences, such as business owners, investors, and retirees.

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