Intimidating Revenue Service

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Superman may be a dick sometimes, but even he pales before the Taxman.[1]
"I'm crazy enough to take on Batman, but the IRS? No, thank you."
The Joker, The New Batman Adventures, "Joker's Millions"

Even daredevil superheroes and hardened villains fear the taxman.

This is specially odd when said characters handle Eldritch Abominations on a regular basis and are able to kill an army like it was nothing. Apparently, going to jail for tax evasion is a fate worse than death. On the plus side, they help the reader relate to the character (taxes are Serious Business in Real Life) and can even make the villain more sympathetic, pitting them against the unfamothable might of... taxes. Even gangsters who get away daily with murder and robbery may fall into the clutches of the law, dead or alive, if they don't pay their income tax. (In fact, that actually happened to Al Capone.)

The trope is named after the Internal Revenue Service, the agency which is charged with this function in the U.S. that, ironically, was under the authority of a tax cheat not one presidential term ago.[2]

Most every country has its own version of this, often depicted the same way. They count as well.

Examples of Intimidating Revenue Service include:

Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • There was an old story about Superman (around the 60's) where the IRS notices that Superman hasn't paid taxes ever, so, long story short, the Man of Steel has to raise a billion dollars fast, or else he will be arrested. Or something (it's hard to tell, he is Superman, for crying out loud). Before you ask, Superman's income comes from the rewards on the criminals he catches and the diamonds he makes when he crushes coal in his hands. He donates everything to charity though. The story ends with the taxman's superior saying that since Superman has dedicated his life to helping the population of Earth, he can literally claim billions of dependents and thus any tax obligations are then effectively canceled. Presumably he only claims the ones who don't pay US taxes (as otherwise no one could claim the standard deduction that requires one not be someone's dependent).
    • Not to mention that his dependents' deduction would be limited on a billion-dollar adjusted gross income.
  • Averted in Lobo "Death and Taxes". He solves the problem with violence as usual.
  • One issue of Marvel Adventures has the Avengers make a bargain with the tax man to waive their back taxes (mostly Wolverine's, who has never paid taxes in his life) in return for rounding up tax dodges and making them pay their taxes.
    • It should be noted, that the deal was that by getting the tax dodgers, the Avengers could file theirs without giving up their secret identities to the government (Tony Stark offered to pay the sum.) At the end of the story, the team gets back at the tax man the only way one can...

Agent Harvey: And with that, gentlemen, your job is finished. Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
Giant-Girl: Hah. You say that now...
Iron-Man: But wait until you get our list of tax deductions for this job.
Giant-Girl: I saved receipts!
Agent Harvey: Urrkkk!

  • At one point, Wally West got a job with the IRS to pay off his massive debt. In the issue of The Flash where this begins, a furious mayor is about to demand compensation for the massive property damage involved in apprehending a supervillain tax evader, but backs off when he flashes his badge. In the next issue, Wally contemplates the possibility of nailing the Joker on this basis.
  • The secondary plotline of a Walter Melon album deals with a tax man showing up at his door for an audit of the last five years. Cue Walter's father with boxes and boxes of receipts, opening discussions upfront with an "iron clad case that those ballpoint pens were a legitimate business expense" and tipping off the tax man that he may be in over his head. By the end of the album, Walter's father is sitting on a mountain of receipts, the tax man is crying his surrender and they've barely gone through the first morning's expenses for the five year period being audited.
  • In Amazing Spider-Man 267 Spider-Man is offered a bribe to let a criminal go. He quips back

"Thanks but no. That'd just put me in a higher tax bracket. I can dodge bullets, but not the IRS.

Film[edit | hide]

"I bet you that is your Porsche that's parked outside, isn't it? Isn't that your Porsche? Is it? How would you like me to have the IRS come down here and crawl up your fuckin' ass with a microscope? 'Cause they'll do it! I've seen them do it! It's not a pretty sight!"

    • Amusingly, that's one of the most legitimate threats he makes in the movie - unexplained or suspicious displays of affluence (such as a guy in that pay grade owning an expensive car) is a perfectly normal reason to conduct an audit, especially of a government employee in a sensitive position.
  • A Taxing Woman stars a female income tax investigator in Japan. A note at the beginning of the English dub says that the top tax bracket in Japan is over 90%, so tax evasion has more or less become a national pastime. She ends up ruining an honest mom-and-pop establishment because their daily meals include food they prepare for themselves at their own restaurant, and makes a grown pachinko arcade operator cry to save himself from a million dollars (!) in back taxes.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Robert Asprin's Phule's Paradise ends with this situation. Having been thwarted in their attempt to take over the casino Phule's Company was hired to protect, and are now part owners of, the bad guys are last seen chortling over the fact that Our Heroes will have come to the attention of the Tax Man.
    • In A Phule and His Money, the Tax Man shows up...and it turns out that Beeker is, among other things, a galaxy-class accountant. By the end, the tax agents admit that they owe Phule a refund.
      • This was almost certainly a specific Take That: When A Phule and His Money was written, the IRS was garnishing writer Robert Asprin's income.
  • In the New Testament of The Bible, particularly throughout the Gospels, certain professions are classified as sinful and worthy of hell simply by practicing them. What's the worst, vilest kind of sin-professional a person can possibly be? A prostitute? A pharisee? A torturer? No. A tax collector. (Why? Because they were the worst kind of traitor: they squeezed money out of their compatriots and handed it over to the Roman occupying forces.)
  • The Auditors of Reality from Discworld are sometimes referred to as, essentially, the most ridiculously anal taxmen in the history of the universe. Particularly in Reaper Man, where Death is able to enlist a country woman's help by playing off her longstanding hatred of "the Revenoo".
  • The protagonist of Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit—Will Travel has a father who appears to like screwing with the IRS just because he can. Highlights include listing his profession as 'spy' (and then, when they object, changing it to 'retired spy'), and "filing" his tax return by mailing them a barrel containing every pay stub, cancelled check, bank statement, and receipt he has accumulated over the past year and cheerfuly saying 'It's all there, but I'll need some assistance in adding it up'.
  • Owen Pitt, the main character of Monster Hunter International, is an accountant before being dropped into the world of monster hunting. When Pitt's new boss at the title company has a talk with him after he assaults a co-worker and talks about him going back to accounting he fears he is going be fired until the boss reveals MHI is getting an IRS audit. The following conversation notes that the IRS is only slightly better than the monsters MHI normally fights.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun the Solomons discover that they have to pay taxes after three years of blissful ignorance. After a funny attempt to commit fraud on their tax declaration, they get audited and get paranoid about the IRS blowing The Masquerade.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "The Man in the Bottle" depicts a couple who thanks to a genie get the chance to have four wishes granted. One of them is to get one million dollars. For a while they're rolling in it, but then an IRS agent shows up and confiscates 90% of it.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Better Than Life", Rimmer discovers that he owed several thousand (unspecified futuristic currency units) in tax when he left Earth, and is horrified.

Lister: Relax, it doesn't matter now. Not gonna catch you now, are they?
Rimmer: What? Just because we're three million years into deep space and the human species is extinct? That means nothing to these people. They'll find us.

    • As it turns out, the tax department never does catch up with him, although later in the episode he has a nightmare vision of a taxman who threatens to smash his thumbs with a hammer if he doesn't pay up immediately.
    • Also Holly plays a prank on Lister claiming that spaceships from the Outland Revenue (the Inland Revenue Recycled in Space) are coming after him for his "crimes against humanity".
  • In The Honeymooners, Ralph is requested to come to the local tax office about a tax issue. Scared that he is in trouble for tax evasion, he scours every minor thing he gained over the year to declare to the tax rep. As it turns out, the tax rep is a nice, understanding man who reassures Ralph that he is satisfied his taxes are in proper order, he simply called Ralph in because he forgot to sign a check he submitted earlier to pay his taxes.
  • Ellen gets audited in Slings and Arrows in the second season. Naturally she's terrified because she's an actress who's clueless about money (and marked off pretty much everything she bought as a work purchase). And ends up having to pay $27k back.
  • Burn Notice has Stacey Connolly, I.R.S., who goes after Sam.

"I do not drink, Mr. Axe. <clicks pen intimidatingly> I audit."

    • Which leads to the hilarious instance where Sam has to explain how he got a gun without paying for it.

Stacey: So the gun was a gift?
Sam: Well, I mean, I got it from the guy, but...he wasn't really in a position to, you know, offer it or complain or anything.
Stacey: Uh...we'll put that under "anonymous donation".

  • True Blood has Sophie Anne, the Vampire Queen of Louisiana, get into trouble because with the end of the vampire masquerade, vampires are citizens and have to pay taxes. Since she does not want to cut back on her lavish lifestyle in desperation she has Eric sell vampire blood to humans which is very lucrative but taboo and very illegal in vampire society.
    • Having to pay taxes is just one reason why many of the vampires are so unhappy with the vampire leadership forcing them to reveal themselves to the public.
  • In Wiseguy (I think in the New York rag trade arc) Vinnie is unable to get the information he needed from one corrupt businessman. McPike then comes in and threatens the business owner, saying "I'm from the US Government, and the IRS eats guys like you for breakfast". They get the information very quickly.
  • In an episode of The Greatest American Hero, an IRS field agent threatens everyone he meets with tax audits, and (because he really doesn't like Pam) subjects Pam to the dreaded Seven-Year Retroactive Audit -- which in the world of this TV show is the worst thing the IRS can do to you short of throwing you in jail.
  • Corner Gas reverses the roles by having the Canada Revenue Service agent (played by Kevin McDonald) being kind, patient and willing to give useful tips while trying to get some simple answers from grumpy old man Oscar.
  • Parks and Recreation gives us Ron Swanson's first ex-wife Tammy 1, an IRS auditor who makes his already-scary second ex-wife Tammy 2 run in fear and turns Ron into a gentle, docile pussycat (as opposed to Tammy 2, who turns him into a sex fiend).
  • In Mad Men Season 5, British Inland Revenue hits Lane Pryce with a very large tax bill. He has been living and working in the US for a while now and he has been paying taxes to the US government instead. Since there are no tax treaties in place yet, he is double taxed because of his expatriate status. Logically he should have just stayed out of Britain until he could settle the matter but instead he panics and in his desperation embezzles the money from the agency. And then when Don Draper finds out, he gives Lane an ultimatum: resign or I'll expose you to the partners, driving Lane to suicide.


Music[edit | hide]

  • The Beatles' song "Taxman," although it's about British taxes instead of U.S. taxes, is all about this trope.

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street;
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat;
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat;
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

Calvin: Gosh, I never get mail! I wonder who sent this. There's no return address! In its place there's a crude human skull with X's for eyes and its tongue hanging out! ...Maybe it's the IRS.

  • FoxTrot had Jason and Marcus wear IRS t-shirts for Halloween one year. One of their neighbors has a heart attack.
  • In Hagar the Horrible, the headsmen in their black hoods do double duty as the tax collectors, and always bring their axes with them on the job in case anybody doesn't pay.
  • Ziggy seems to get audited every week or so.
  • Peanuts; Snoopy doesn't have to pay taxes, but in this Sunday strip, he has to fill out an annual form that's just as much a headache to him as a 401K is, used to parody such forms.

Tabletop RPG[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • The cover of Dragon magazine #48, with a demonic IRS agent awaiting the exit of two treasure-bearing adventurers from a dungeon.
    • Adventure WG7 Castle Greyhawk. The NPC Fudge the Incessant waits at the entrance/exit to the dungeons to collect a tax from any adventurers leaving the dungeons with treasure. He automatically spots any attempt to sneak valuables past him.
  • One of The Munchkin's Guide to Power Gaming's suggestions for dealing with a dragon is pretending that you're the IRS come to audit its hoard. "Even dragons don't mess with the IRS. It's suicide."


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • IRS agents arrive at Dr Fred's mansion in Day of the Tentacle and leave him tied up in the attic (with red tape) while they audit his accounts.
  • Subverted in Mass Effect 2. A C-Sec officer tells Shepard that one of the hoops (s)he'd have to jump through to get his/her legal status changed from "dead" to "alive" is a visit to the tax office, because "spending a year dead" is a popular tax dodge. Then, because that would make for boring gameplay, he offers to just fix everything for him/her.
  • Gaia Online's Ivan the Tax Man started out playing this trope straight, introducing Chance Items he'd repossessed from unusual entities, and threatening to repo the Shop Keeper NPCs' stores as part of the "Save Our Shops" event. However, he became unexpectedly popular with the fans, and has since become a more sympathetic character.
  • Renon from Castlevania 64 starts out as a demon shopkeeper; you can use his contract to summon him if you should happen to find it lying around, and purchase any supplies you need. Just before the final boss, he shows up to let you know you won't see him ever again, but how the story plays out depends on your spending habits; if you were thrifty, he tells you a war is brewing elsewhere, which will give better profit margins than selling chicken drumsticks to a single adventurer. If you spent more than 30000 gold, he reveals that there was some fine print in the contract that Carrie (who reveals that she thought the contract was just a garden-variety summoning talisman) neglected to read; specifically, there's a tax on his services that he has to collect now, and that tax is her soul! Cue fighting for your very life.
  • Strike Commander. The IRS is now the defacto Federal government, and uses military force to collect back taxes from Mega Corps and the Divided States of America. One of your missions gives you the choice between a painful audit or helping them invade the secessionist state of Rhode Island, though there's a happy ending where you blow up IRS One with a missile.

"Commander, the IRS has been called a terrorist enclave. Rest assured, we are."


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Some of the superheroes in Super Stupor get roped into the IRS to make up for their own tax issues.

Tork try to claim his tiny human side as dependent. That shit? It not fly so well.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series the Joker inherits a small fortune from a rival gangster and lives a life of luxuries and general happiness until he receives a letter from the IRS demanding, well, taxes. Cue desperate attempts to raise the money to pay the IRS as a large chunk of the money was fake, as a final screw you from the dead gangster to the Joker, and he cannot just admit that to the government without becoming the laughinstock of the criminal world.

Joker: I may be crazy enough to take on Batman, but the IRS? No-o-o-o, thank you!

  • In Danny Phantom this is almost a running joke. In one episode a doctor (Bertrand in disguise) convinces all the parents, including the Fentons, to let him take their kids to an abandoned hospital by threatening to audit their taxes. The Guys In White pull much the same thing later on.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer whips out a quick tax return by guestimating things as obvious as the number of his kids and ends up getting a severe audit. When called in, he's scared out of his mind and tries to give every excuse under the sun ("an older boy made me do it", etc.), but is ultimately enlisted as a government spy.
  • An episode of The Jetsons had George and Jane winning a large amount of money at the race track thanks to a pair of glasses capable of seeing the near future and then being alerted to some intimidating characters in the crowd. They're told that the two ominous men always demand their cut of the winnings. Fearing that the two shady characters are gangsters or something, George and Jane fly home in their car, followed all the way by the ominous men and breaking the glasses during the chase. Finally, George and Jane are cornered by them in their garage, where the men tell them they're from the Interspace Revenue Service. George breathes a sigh of relief, but is dismayed to find out they end up taking most of their winnings, leaving them with just two dollars.
  • In one part of the first Veggie Tales Christmas special, Larry the Cucumber is waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. While waiting, he receives several other visitors, one after the other: a bank robber, a Viking, and an IRS agent. In the spirit of Christmas, Larry invites the bank robber inside for milk and cookies; the same happens with the Viking. The IRS agent gets the door slammed in his face. (The IRS agent does make off with the last of the cookies, though, after hilarity has ensued.)
  • Willie Nelson's legal troubles with the IRS are well-known, but the first season of King of the Hill exaggerated it, showing his estate being used by IRS agents for recreational use and him living in a trailer parked outside it.
  • One Biker Mice From Mars episode featured Lawrence Limburger having tax problems. To avoid justice, he faked his death and framed Charley for "murdering" him. The mice brought Limburger back, clearing Charley. Limburger managed to get away with the frame-up but the IRS agents confiscated Limburger Plaza (namely took it away with help from helicopters). Limburger claimed that he had power and influence and was told that Al Capone also had it and to look at what happened to him. (See the Real Life section of the trope for details)
  • A mistake caused by a tax agent caused Rock Zilla to lose his fortune in the Broke Episode of My Dad the Rock Star. He got it back in the end.
  • The episode "Team Impossible" of Kim Possible had her father having trouble calculating his takes. He might be an actual rocket scientist, but he is not a rocket scientist (Yes, he says that) and he never does manage to get it right. Thankfully, Kim manages to get him a CPA to help out at the end of the episode.

"Numbers aren't the only thing I crunch."

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • American income taxes are typically considered, especially by honest and law-abiding citizens, a maddeningly, obstructively difficult process to write out and calculate. People without the money to hire a professional accountant tend to never quite feel they've gotten it right, always worrying about whether they took too large a deduction or could have gotten a slightly larger refund.
    • This has gotten a bit better in the Information Age, with computer based systems making it relatively easy to file your taxes, even walking you through your deductions to get you the most money back. In fact, today it is advised to electronically file your return, as it will get processed faster (with direct deposit and e-filing, turnaround can be as little as a week), and prevents transcription errors (as today, all that happens with a paper form is that a clerk transcribes it into the e-filing system.)
  • [3] Infamously, when Al Capone was brought to justice, but was only convicted of tax evasion. However, that was because nothing else would stick, since he had such good lawyers/intimidation that none of the more serious charges would stand up to court scrutiny. (He went to prison, got out after serving his time, and died of natural causes syphilis 7 years later.)
    • caPWNED!
    • This is becoming more and more SOP for police investigations of notorious and/or leading criminals with a lot of conspicuous consumption - the police invite the IRS to look over the suspect's holdings to see if they owe any back taxes. The IRS happily requires criminals to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains - the only thing they can't require is disclosure of the income source (as that would run afoul of the Fifth Amendment prohibition on self-incrimination.) Invariably, many criminals haven't paid their taxes, and the IRS is more than happy to seize their assets to pay the back taxes and the associated penalties.
  • Wesley Snipes has also been jailed for attempting to evade taxes using frivolous arguments. And, allegedly, attempting to pay his taxes by printing his own money.
    • SNIPEed!
    • The IRS and the Tax Courts have heard all the various 'tax protester' arguments over and over, to the point that even using them will not only guarantee you losing the case, but net you a nice shiny contempt of court charge for even trying to argue those particular points.
  • Richard Nixon was infamous for using the IRS as a weapon against his political enemies, which is one specific reason the IRS is no longer entirely beholden to the federal government (they represent it, but do not necessarily answer directly to it).
    • Without naming names, other presidents have been accused of doing the same thing. True or not, it's a difficult accusation to prove. Though people start wondering why outspoken opponents of certain policies get audited up to twice a year when they'd never been audited the entire decade previous.
      • Other presidents have taken flack for joking that they would do the same thing. It's really not a funny joke if you're afraid that you might be a target of such political audits.
        • There's a saying "Don't pay money to trace your family tree, simply enter politics and your opponents will do it for you."
    • And, everything comes around in circles, and [the IRS is at it again]. Even Jon Stewart admits its happening. (starts at 0:24)
  • If you think the IRS is intimidating you should read up on the United States Revenue Cutter Service. A part of the US Treasury department created not long after the revolutionary war it was initially responsible with combating smuggling, piracy and doing stuff the Coast Guard does today(in fact this service was the ancestor of today's US coast guard), but its ships wound up fighting with distinction in actual stand up wars against other nations and between 1790 and 1798 it was the only service America had capable of fighting on the ocean.
  • In Brazil, the IRS chose the lion as the mascot for the income tax, as it represents strength, justice and an animal that's "tame but not foolish". The nickname stuck, but probably due to the lion being a predator as ferocious as the tax itself.
  1. Collateral property damage from saving the world doesn't come cheap ya know.
  2. For those unfamiliar with recent American scandals, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who served from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2013.
  3. As mentioned above...