buster keaton

Deadpan is a form of comic delivery in which humor is presented without a change in emotion or body language, usually speaking in a casual, monotone, solemn, blunt, disgusted or matter-of-fact voice and expressing an unflappably calm, archly insincere or artificially grave demeanor.

This delivery is also called dry wit when the intent, but not the presentation, is humorous, oblique, sarcastic, or apparently unintentional. The term ‘deadpan’ first emerged as an adjective or adverb in the 1920s, as a compound word (‘pan’ was a slang term for ‘face’).

Many popular American sitcoms also use deadpan expressions, most notably ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Seinfeld.’ Dry humor is often confused with highbrow or egghead humor. Although these forms of humor are often dry, the term dry humor actually only refers to the method of delivery, not necessarily the content.

‘Deadpan violence’ involves someone threatening or reacting to violence in an unemotional, detached way that comes across as jaded and blasé. This may be done to create a comic effect, by being out of place and in an unrealistic context. A classic example of deadpan violence as humor occurs in one of the variations on Monty Python’s skit ‘Cheese Shop.’ After a long and civil discussion on the quantity of cheese available in the cheese shop, Mr. Mousebender tells the cheese merchant ‘I’m going to ask you that question [‘Do you have any cheese?’] once more, and if you say ‘no’ I’m going to shoot you through the head. Now, do you have any cheese at all?’ The merchant responds with a casual ‘no’ and, true to his word, Mousebender shoots him.

Another example is in the 1993 film ‘Falling Down,’ in which the main character William Foster (played by Michael Douglas) is insulted by a man who has been waiting to use the phone booth previously occupied by Foster. He voices his irritation at Foster’s prolonged use of the booth by saying ‘People have been waiting to use the phone.’ Foster responds to this by saying, ‘Well, you know what?,’ and using a submachine gun to destroy the phone, adds, ‘I think it’s out of order.’


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