There's one for you, 19 for me.
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman!"
Congratulations! Through either winning a sweepstakes, the lottery, or an Unexpected Inheritance, you're suddenly rich! But, don't celebrate too soon; a man from the Intimidating Revenue Service will be along shortly to inform you that after federal taxes, state taxes, employment taxes, property taxes, and miscellaneous additional fees, your winnings have dwindled down to nothing. Heck, you may even owe money.
Basically the government's equivalent to Cut a Slice, Take the Rest. This is almost exclusively an American trope, given the reputation the Internal Revenue Service has (justified or not) for coming up with any reason at all to seize large chunks of money from the suddenly wealthy. This may be because it's a lot easier than reforming tax laws to make the long-term wealthy pay properly. The US is also fairly rare in that its lottery jackpots are still taxed as regular income.note Story-wise, this trope can be used to keep a character in Perpetual Poverty and maintain the status quo while giving them a small taste of the wealthy life. But of course, woe be to the character who already started spending large sums of their cash before they get the news that they can't keep most of it.
A somewhat rare variant involves someone finding Buried Treasure, which is Truth in Television for a lot of countries because anything of significant archaeological value is automatically seized by the state in order that it be studied by qualified historians and eventually placed in a museum. However, in real life this tends to include a finder's fee, often equal or even greater than what the item would fetch at auction. Fictional examples often forget to mention this for Rule of Funny purposes.
Mildly Truth in Television, as prizes are part of Other Income on US tax forms, which, unless you're obscenely wealthy or extremely bad at filling taxes out, isn't going to lose more than 30% to taxes, and inheritance taxes only kick in for the part that's above $5 million since 2011, so both would leave plenty of value for the recipient. For perspective, in France, prizes are not considered income on the year you win them, whereas inheritance taxes and deductions can vary a lot depending on your relation to the deceased person, from nothing if you are the widow(er) or legal partner of the deceased, to 60% for an unrelated (i.e. without family ties) stranger. Fiction just likes to exaggerate it for comedic purposes.
- The Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! story "The Galleon Ghost" (Gold Key #2, June 1970) dealt with the gang coming across a band of pirates in a Florida swamp. They are unmasked to be gypsies who were only trying to keep the gold they found a secret for fear that the IRS will take it. Fred assures them that the IRS will only take part of the gold, leaving the gypsies well off after all.
- In one early Judge Dredd storyline, the Judges quell a riot by granting everyone involved a small sum of money - only to later take it away again (plus a bit of extra to cover expenses) in taxes.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- In "The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark", an addendum story to The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Scrooge tells the story of how he nearly made it rich in his youth by selling a pair of purebred longhorn racing bulls to a sultan, only to lose his earnings to the local colonial government. Unusually, this was actually justified as the taxes were fines Scrooge was forced to pay for trashing half the city while pursuing his stolen bulls in a prototype car.
- Another Don Rosa story, The Last King Of El Dorado, has this happen to Scrooge again. He discovers the treasure of El Dorado; in reality, an ancient lakebed full of golden artifacts left behind by the tribe that served as inspiration for the legend of the Golden City, who used to dump the gold in their sacred lake as sacrifices for the gods. The plot starts with Scrooge coming across an old document of ownership for the area set up by a 16th-century bank, which gave legal ownership of the land and its content. After a rival chase with Flintheart Glomgold to the treasure, Scrooge finds the gold, only to be interrupted by officials representing the government of Peru, who explains that though Scrooge is the technical owner of the property holding, no taxes had been paid on the land since the last holder died 300 years before, and the property was rescinded to the government a few decades after that. Like the previous story, a case of Reality Ensues.
- An Italian Donald Duck story has Donald and his cousin Gladstone and Fethry compete with each other to win the castle of a deceased relative. They are required to stay in the castle for the night, not knowing that its actually a Secret Test of Character — the relative wanted his heir to be like him; lazy and plagued by bad luck. Gladstone is lazy but has great luck, Donald has bad luck but is hardworking when he wants to be, so the inheritance goes to Fethry, who is just like him. He then finds out that his relative died with substantial debt, and even selling the castle won't be enough to pay all of it off. And unfortunately for Donald, he and Fethry had made a deal to share the inheritance if either of them won.
- Subverted in another Italian story: Donald has a large winning at a lottery and the taxman takes most of what Donald has...after he paid all his debts to Scrooge, he bought a safe to keep all his winnings rather than bringing them all in bank, had to repair his home when a crazy thief with a bulldozer stole the safe and all it contained (right after Scrooge had warned him that keeping so much money in his home without the immense defensive set of the Money Bin could get him robbed), and had to pay the damage caused by recovering the money a second time when the Beagle Boys replaced the armored van he had leased to bring the money to the bank safely (in fact the taxman intercepts him when Donald is sneaking around to bring what he still had to the bank). Thankfully, he still had enough to pay for the vacation he had promised Daisy.
- In yet again another Italian story, Scrooge and family find the bronze wolf cubs that (in this story) were originally part of the Capitoline Wolf, buried in a wheat field Scrooge owns in Italy. Knowing that Italian law establishes any archaeological finding is property of the state, the Triplets suggest to immediately turn them in, while Donald suggests to smuggle them to the US, reveal them to the public, and then "donate" them to Italy to cash in on the publicity. Scrooge goes with Donald's suggestion, but they're caught in the act by the police (warned by a historian that had previously tried to take the wolves for himself but had come back to his senses after Scrooge recovered the wolves) and brought to a judge, who orders the seizing of the wolves, tells Scrooge of the finder's fee... And that for attempting to smuggle the wolves he's instead receiving a hefty fine.
- The Three Stooges:
- In the short "Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb" (providing the page image above), Curly wins $50,000 in a radio sweepstakes, and the stooges think they have it made. That is until they find out that after taxes Curly is only left with $4.85, leaving them unable to pay for the damages to the expensive hotel they're living in. This scenario was repeated in "A Missed Fortune", a remake featuring Shemp.note
- In "Three Pests in a Mess" a trio of con artists (not the Stooges) learn of a man (also not one of the Stooges) who won $100,000 in a contest. They later learn that after paying his income taxes he had only $12 left.
- In "Cactus Makes Perfect", another con artist sells the boys the rights to a "lost mine" loaded with "a hundred thousand tons of pure gold worth $35 an ounce." Curly determines that after taxes said gold is worth "$27."
- In "No Census No Feeling", the stooges, who work as census takers, spot a football field where a game is in progress:
Moe: Boy, there must be a 100,000 people in there! We'll make a fortune! (to Curly) How much is 4 cents times a 100,000?Curly: (imitates an adding machine, then pulls a long strip of paper out of his jacket) A dollar and a half.Moe: A dollar and a half?Curly: That's without tax.Moe: (unamused) Without tax...(punches Curly in the belly)
- Variation: Due to the events of the film Uncovered, the heroine Julia ends up with ownership of an old Spanish estate. The banker then informs her that she has also ended up with the mountain of debts attached to it and she promptly has to sell the whole thing off. Her boyfriend remarks:
Domenec: Easy come. Easy go.
- In between the first and second National Treasure movies, this happens to Riley Poole and at the beginning of the second film, his Ferrari is impounded by the IRS while he is signing copies of his book. As thanks for the team finding Cíbola and looking something up for him in the eponymous President's Book, the President pardons the debt...and Riley promptly puts the Ferrari in the wrong gear and backs it into a parked car.
Riley Poole: [to Ben] Do you know what the taxes are on 5 million dollars? 6 million dollars.
- In The Shawshank Redemption, Byron Hadley, the sadistic captain of the prison guard, receives an inheritance of $35,000, but he complains about taxes coming to take most of it away, even if he decides to buy something with it. The main character, Andy Dufresne, overhears him and offers to guide him through a financial loophole to allow him to keep the whole sum.
Hadley: Thirty five thousand. That's what he left me.Guard: Holy shit, that's great! That's like winning the sweepstakes...isn't it?Hadley: Dumb shit, what do you think the government's gonna do to me? Take a big wet bite out of my ass is what!
- In "Champagne for Caeser" Ronald Colman is on the verge of bankrupting a soap company through their game show and is being shadowed by two sinister men in dark suits. Since the company president has already tried to sabotage him he's naturally paranoid about them. Finally, he confronts them and finds out they are from the IRS. When he asks how much he'll owe, one says "Let's just say you're in the battleship class."
- A variation in the Soviet-Italian film Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia, in which a group of Italians are chasing a treasure hidden in Leningrad by the grandmother of one of the protagonists (who emigrated from Russia during the Communist Revolution). They are soon joined by Andrei, a man, who claims to be a tour guide. In fact, he's an undercover cop, who seems to be aware of what they're looking for. In the end, the treasure is found, and the Soviet police are closing in on the Italians. They are finally cornered. Andrei reveals himself and explains that, by Soviet law, all treasure found in the USSR belongs to the state, but the Italians get a finder's fee equal to 25% of the treasure's worth. Thus, the Soviet state ends up taking a 75% "tax" on their discovery.
- Accidental Detectives: In The Missing Map of Pirates Haven while the government doesn't exactly take all of the treasure it's mentioned that they want their cut and will need years to appraise and distribute it properly before the people who found it get any.
- In The Accidental Spaceship, Vernon and Junior Smith are accidentally delivered a spaceship due to a clerical error. Before they can determine where it came from or what to do with it, a tax collector arrives demanding $1,000,000 in taxes, leading them to flee in the spaceship.
- Pomperipossa in the World Of Money is a satirical short story lampooning the similar tendency of the Swedish tax laws of the time. It was written by the famous children author Astrid Lindgren when she found that her tax rate in 1976 was actually 102%.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones had the twins Castor and Pollux make a large sale on Mars. After some adventures (including being jailed for avoiding import duties and taxes), they end up with "a dozen small coins" (implied to be less than a current US dollar). When Hazel expresses astonishment at the tiny amount, they admit that this is their net "after taxes".
- Referenced in Puss in Boots as told by Charles Perrault. The brothers had to divide the inheritance without lawyers' help:
A certain miller had three sons, and when he died the sole worldly goods which he bequeathed to them were his mill, his ass, and his cat. This little legacy was very quickly divided up, and you may be quite sure that neither notary nor attorney were called in to help, for they would speedily have grabbed it all for themselves.
- Referenced in Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, in which the title character plans to use special powers to win money from casinos, to set up orphanages over the world. His accountant tells him that he could not operate from England, as the taxman would have it all.
- The Andy Griffith Show: In "Aunt Bee on TV", Aunt Bee wins the grand prize on a game show: an entire kitchen full of new appliances and a full-length mink coat. Unfortunately, a taxman decides to pay a visit to Mayberry to remind Andy how much tax is due on the winnings. Aunt Bee ends up selling most of the appliances as well as the mink coat; but still she has enough left to promise to treat Andy and Opie to a vacation on her.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Man in the Bottle". The Castles' second wish is for a million dollars in cash. After they give away some of the money, an IRS agent shows up and gives them a bill for the taxes (Federal and state) they owe on it. This leaves them with only five dollars. Why exactly they don't just wish for an even greater sum of money and not give it all away before taxes come is never addressed.
- Emergency! had one episode where a wealthy guy left John and Roy a fortune after they rescued him. But he asked that some go to someone else, and gets some, and after taxes get taken out, the paramedics have a few bucks left and that's it.
- The 1993 remake of Route 66 starts the plot like this. Nick's estranged father dies and leaves him everything; after inheritance taxes and lawyer fees, he actually owes a little money, leaving him with nothing except his dad's classic Corvette.
- In many American game shows, contestants that win any prizes (money, a car, a vacation, etc) will have to pay taxes for it since the prizes are considered to be taxable under U.S. laws. Contestants usually sign a form before the show acknowledging the possible taxes. Sometimes, a person who wins a prize can opt to take the monetary equivalent instead and use some of it to pay off the taxes so that they can walk away with at least something.
This is the dark side of talk shows that randomly give away prizes to the audience. Most audience members don't realize that they owe taxes on anything they get on the show. So, when Oprah gave out cars to all audience members at an airing of her show as a publicity stunt, they all owed several thousand dollars in tax on them and either sold the cars or paid from their own pockets. This is because Oprah filed the cars on her tax return as "prizes", meaning the recipients are the ones who have to pay the taxes on them. When asked why she didn't file them as "gifts" (since the show makes it seem as if they are), she pointed out that she shouldn't have to pay taxes for the cars on top of giving them away. The problem is, she didn't actually buy the cars. They were donated by the manufacturer specifically to be given away. Thus, Oprah gets free publicity and a tax write-off.
- A short-lived Canadian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? used this as a selling point: since the Canada Revenue Agency does not take any taxes from lotteries or game show winnings, CTV was quick to point out that a top-prize winner could actually be a millionaire and keep all their money.
- The November 7, 2017 episode of The Price Is Right had a playing of Let 'Em Roll where the contestant bailed out on the first roll with $1,500 instead of trying for the car. While he was roundly ridiculed for what was seen as a stupid decision, some have pointed out he probably did so to avoid paying the taxes on the new car.
- Lottery! has an IRS rep as one of the main characters of the series to ensure the taxes for all lottery winnings are accounted for. However, he only takes a strict portion and no one really argues with him. In fact, a group of people who were bilked by a con man and then got lottery winnings got the better of the crook by making sure he hears the tax bill for the winnings out of context, thinking it is a competitive bid, and tricking him into topping it.
- Super Force, an early 1990s syndicated sci-fi/superhero show, has the protagonist win a $1 billion lottery only to find out that the government has a 101% tax on income of $1 billion dollars or more, so he actually ended up owing THEM $10 million.
- In an episode of The Suite Life on Deck Cody wins a check in a yo-yoing competition, only for Moseby to take it to pay off the damages that Zack accidentally caused with a homemade towel gun.
- In the original series, Zack and Cody started a nightclub that was highly successful, only for things to start going wrong during a "theme night" that ends up with all of the money going towards covering various medical expenses, paying the entertainers, and more, leaving the boys with 300 dollars, which Moseby then takes to cover the half of the damages that it would pay for due to the damage done to the hotel's showroom by the party.
- The Beatles' song "Taxman" from Revolver is a scathing critique on taxes. Ironically in the UK winnings from the lottery, gambling or a game show are tax-free anyway.
- Serge Gainsbourg once protested against taxes by burning a money bill live on the air during a TV interview. He felt he would rather burn this high amount of money than give it away to the tax institute.
- In Peter Schickele's A Cappella cantata Go for Broke, an IRS agent shows up to claim much of John Q. Public's lottery winnings, followed by state and city taxmen singing in counterpoint.
- In The Goon Show episode "Robin Hood and his Mirry Mon", Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham have caught Robin. Grytpype and Moriarty, who sold Robin out to the authorities, ask for the advertised reward:
Grytpype: Your majesty, may we crave the reward of one golden splunder?
Prince John: One? Well, I offered a hundred and a hundred you shall have.
Sheriff: Ah, thank you, sire. Here, steaming churls, one golden splunder.
Moriarty: One out of a hundred? We've been taken for charlies!
Grytpype: Wait a minute - Who cops the other ninety-nine?
Sheriff: Inland Revenue.
Grytpype: I've never heard of them.
Sheriff: They've heard of me.
- In Monopoly, it's possible on the same move to receive £200 by passing 'Go' and then land on 'Income Tax - pay £200'.
- In In the Heights, in the song "$96,000", where it's been announced that someone won the lottery, and everyone is fantasizing about what they'd do with the money, Usnavi points out "You'll have a knapsack full of jack after taxes".
- In the 8-bit computer game MULE, one of the possible windfalls that players can gain is stated as follows:
A DISTANT RELATIVE DIED AND LEFT YOU A VAST FORTUNE. BUT AFTER TAXES YOU ONLY GOT $<insert random amount here>.
- A Rocky and Bullwinkle videogame sums up its plot as "Get our heros[sic] to Abominable Mansion, and collect Bullwinkle's inheritance!". The victory screen shows our two protagonists with a single dollar bill and an IRS agent with a "$" bag.
- Pajama Sam No Need To Hide When It's Dark Outside has a scene where Sam spontaneously gains tons of money and jewels thanks to a potion. Then an IRS Agent takes everything and leaves him with a piece of moldy cheese, which in turn gets stolen by a mouse on a skateboard.
- In Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk, the 8000 GP reward the team won after two difficult seasons is drastically cut short in the season finale. First, the level 8 warrior who briefly helped them during the adventure (though they never asked her in the first place) come and claims her 3000 GP mercenary payment. Then the "Dungeons Fund" claims the mandatory 25% tax, and so does the League of Thieves and Assassins, and they end up with only 1000 GP.
- At the end of the Barney Bear cartoon "Heir Bear", the taxman comes to take "Uncle Sam's share" from the treasure Barney had just uncovered. He takes a coin...for Barney to keep while he collects the rest.
- In one episode of Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice and Lydia are chasing after a treasure, and find a giant gold nugget the size of a boulder. Immediately upon finding it, a little ghostly bureaucrat from the "Eternal Revenue Service" appears to take their share, he chips off a tiny nugget of the boulder, and gives it to Beetlejuice, while disappearing with the rest of the gold.
- In the Looney Tunes short "The Wabbit Who Came to Supper", Elmer Fudd expects to inherit $3 Million from his Uncle Louie. But when Louie dies, Elmer has to pay an Inheritance Tax, State Tax, County Tax, Defense Tax, Special Tax, Property Tax, and a ridiculous Attorney Fee...leaving him owing the government $1.98. This makes this a "Shaggy Dog" Story as he was forced to take care of Bugs Bunny or lose the inheritance and, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon years later, Elmer stood to lose this if anything came to harm to the rabbit and Bugs took advantage of it.
Bugs Bunny: You don't get da dough, do ya, butterball?
Elmer Fudd: No, but I'm gonna get you!
- On closer examination of the second telegram◊, we discover that Writers Cannot Do Math, since the taxes would amount to $2,097,067.36, and $3 million minus the taxes and the attorney's fee would leave a net of $902,934.04 cents, which is somehow misprinted as $9,754.31 before the $9,756.29 attorney's fee that results in a $1.98 IOU.
- An episode of The Jetsons has Jane and George making it big on betting in races (using a pair of glasses that can see a few minutes into the future) and running away from a pair of men that they think belongs to The Mafia...only to find out that the men belong to the Intergalactic Revenue Service and that the government's cut of their winnings leaves them with only one (space) dollar.
- This was part of King Barlow's posthumous revenge against The Joker in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Millions". Barlow left the Joker a fortune, but most of the money was fake. He figured that the Joker would quickly blow through the real money, and then the government would come for the taxes, and he'd either go to jail for tax evasion or be forced to admit that he got conned by a dead man.
- In the TaleSpin "The Balooest of the Blue Bloods", Baloo stands to inherit a ton of money from a distant relative, but he has to survive a night in a haunted, cursed house. After he survives the night, all the money is lost due to the "real family curse" - decades of unpaid land taxes.
- In The Simpsons, Homer wins the lottery but for plot-relevant reasons has Barney turn in the ticket for the winnings. Barney gets a Giant Novelty Check, and the IRS guys get another Giant Novelty Check for their portion. Unusually for this trope, the amount they're shown to take wasn't THAT big, about 30% of the winnings, but the trope is still played straight for the joke. What makes this funnier is that they plan to spend their take of the winnings on a survey to decide what to do with the money (which would have already been spent on the survey).
- "The Trouble With Trillions", set on Tax Day, has The Sea Captain stuffing the tax envelope full of jewels and gold from a small treasure chest, remarking that he wonders why he bothers plundering at all.
- This turned out to be the motive behind one of the Monster of the Week schemes on Scooby-Doo. The perpetrators had discovered a sunken treasure and were trying to smuggle it out without declaring it because if they did, Uncle Sam would come in and take more than half of it.
- In Phineas and Ferb, season 4, "Druselsteinoween", when Doofenshmirtz inherits a Drusselsteinian castle from his great aunt, he enlists Perry to help him find a large, hidden treasure that his Great Aunt has placed somewhere within the castle. After they find the treasure, in the form of bags of money, various local officials come to his castle and make Doofenshmirtz pay a bunch of fees for owning a castle. He gives each of the officials a bag of money which leaves him penniless.
- The Disneyland television show "The Goofy Success Story" has Goofy receiving a paycheck for appearing in his first movie, only for several men to collect money for taxes until Goofy has to pay them.
- The Heckle and Jeckle cartoon "Pirate's Gold" has the two birds invading a pirate ship and making off with his treasure. A mousy little man who turned up frequently shows up at the end and identifies himself as a tax collector. He glomps all but one coin ("This is yours...after taxes.")
Heckle: [to us] Ya can't escape it. Even in a cartoon!
- South Park: Cartman inherits one million dollars in one episode and a good part of it is taken by tax collectors. The rest is taken as a damage settlement for the McCormicks due to Kenny dying at Cartman's amusement park.
- Jem: Roxy once won one million dollars thanks to a lottery ticket she found. She lost half to the IRS.
- Paramount's Modern Madcap characters Jeepers and Creepers in "Busy Buddies" had Creepers trying to win some money in a prizefight contest so he can pay his IRS debt. He wins and pays it off, but now he still owes for the money he just won.
- Zig-zag: in The Hair Bear Bunch episode "Ark Lark," the bears and the other zoo inhabitants are holed up in a resort island hotel room. They enter Stripes the Zebra in a horse race held on the resort (using shoe polish to disguise him as a horse) and win the $50,000 cash prize—which is immediately seized by the hotel manager for the royal suite, room service, and damages.
- In Roboroach one episode revolved around the recovery of a winning lottery ticket of about $1,000,000, which they successfully get, but after cashing it in, a long list of taxes are listed for it before Reg reads the amount they actually won: $2.11 .
- In Wakko's Wish, the corrupt Baron Von Plotz overhears the town of Acme Falls celebrating in song after Wakko returns from a yearlong journey for riches with a ha'penny (apparently a lot of money in their country). He quickly confronts Wakko in town and invents a series of phony taxes, including an "insulting the king" tax after Wakko calls the king a jerk, to take Wakko's ha'penny.
- One of the music videos in a Tiny Toon Adventures episode, set to the Barrett Strong song "Money (That's What I Want)," ended with Montana Max gesturing ecstatically as piles of money literally rained from the heavens to fill the background. Then a truck labeled IRS drives by. He's left with a single coin, which he donates to a charity's collection cup.
- In the Gravity Falls episode "Boss Mabel", Stan and Mabel make a bet to see whether or not Dipper, Mabel, Soos, and Wendy can make more money running the Mystery Shack for 3 days than Stan can get from a game show. On the last day, the former accrue a ton of money, but after accounting for the repairs they'll need to make on the shack, they're left with $1. However, they still beat Stan after he lost all the money he gained due to failing a question with an obvious answer ("Please").
- An episode of The Garfield Show had Garfield become rich after finding a leprechaun's pot of gold. Unfortunately, not only did he have to deal with an IRS agent trying to collect back-taxes, but entrepreneurs trying to get him to invest in their Zany Schemes and various cats claiming to be long-lost relatives trying to get a cut of the fortune.