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[citation needed] 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 combining "dead" and "pan" (a slang term for the face). It was first recorded as a noun in Vanity Fair in 1927;[citation needed] a dead pan was thus 'a face or facial expression displaying no emotion, animation, or humour'. The verb deadpan 'to speak, act, or utter in a deadpan manner; to maintain a dead pan' rose in the 1930s. A good example of this usage is in a scene from the 1934 film "The Gay Bride" in which a gangster tells a man on the other end of a phone conversation to "Give it a dead pan," (with the emphasis on "pan") so that the man doesn't inadvertently alert anyone else in the room as to the importance of what the gangster is about to say.

Today its use is especially common in humour from the United Kingdom, IreIand, United States, Canada and Australia; it is also very much appreciated in France, South Africa, Finland and Scandinavia.[citation needed]

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

Deadpan violence

"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.

One example of deadpan violence as humour 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."

Usage examples

  • John Cale's mordant narration of The Velvet Underground short story "The Gift" (1968)
  • Johnny Carson known for his low-key monologue with the hard-to-resist deadpan delivery that became an American tradition
  • Steve Carell is known for his deadpan humor in movies and in his TV show (i.e. his show "The Office").
  • Aki Kaurismäki is known for his deadpan humor in his movies
  • Graham Chapman as "the colonel", and in several other roles as "stiff upper lip" authority figures, on Monty Python's Flying Circus
  • Stephen Colbert delivers humorous political commentary in a mock-serious deadpan manner
  • Jane Curtin, best known for her work on Saturday Night Live, is commonly referred to as the "Queen of the Deadpan"[citation needed]
  • David Duchovny as Hank Moody on the Showtime hit series Californication
  • Eugenio, a Spanish comedian who delivered jokes in a such a manner
  • Stewart Francis uses a deadpan style in his stand up routine consisting entirely of cleverly worded one-liners.
  • Miss Kittin is known for her deadpan lyrics and vocals in songs such as "Frank Sinatra"[1]
  • Bill Murray's characters are typically flippant and deadpan in their casual sarcasm, insincerity and devil-may-care attitude
  • Leslie Nielsen was widely recognized as a master of deadpan comedy in Airplane! and The Naked Gun series
  • Virginia O'Brien referred to as 'The Diva of Deadpan', was noted for her beauty albeit expressionless face and humorous singing style.
  • William Shatner is known for his deadpan style while delivering humorously bizarre or disturbing dialogue (see Boston Legal)
  • Charlie Sheen affects a laconic, overintense manner when delivering silly dialogue in the Hot Shots! movies, as well as in some other comedic performances
  • Quentin Tarantino's makes frequent use of black comedy and deadpan violence in his films;[2] deadpan violence is similarly a staple in many of Robert Rodriguez's films
  • Mark Twain was famous for never cracking a smile while making jokes
  • Christopher Walken is known for his intense deadpan manner while delivering humorously bizarre or disturbing dialogue
  • Steven Wright, stand-up comedian and actor for whom the deadpan joke delivery is a trademark
  • Zooey Deschanel, actress known for her deadpan comedic delivery.
  • Heather Morris, actress/dancer who portrays a deadpan character in the hit show, Glee.
  • Aubrey Plaza, actress/comedienne known for her portrayal of deadpan characters, such as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation.
  • GLaDOS, a character in Portal and Portal 2 often uses deadpan humor.
  • Stuart Ashens, a British Comedian and Reviewer, uses deadpan humor when reviewing knock-offs of popular gadgets and gaming devices.
  • Jack Benny was known to rescue failed jokes by simply staring patiently at the audience until they laughed.
  • Barack Obama is known for his deadpan humor during political speeches and events
  • Daria Morgendorffer was known for her dry wit and sarcastic delivery of social commentary on the MTV show Daria.
  • Carter Veldhuizen
  • Todd Barry, American comedian, is known for his deadpan style and delivery.
  • Eric Forman, a fictional character in the television series That 70's Show, uses deadpan humor.
  • Buster Keaton, American silent-film comedian also known as the "great stone face" and the 20th century's first important mass popularizer of the deadpan delivery
  • David Letterman on The Late Show With David Letterman

See also

  • Dark humor
  • Unintentional humour


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  • deadpan — ☆ deadpan [ded′pan΄ ] n. 1. an expressionless face 2. a person, as an actor, who has or assumes such a face adj., adv. without expression or show of emotion; blank(ly) vt., vi. deadpanned, deadpanning to do or say (something) in a deadpan manner …   English World dictionary

  • deadpan — index inexpressive, inscrutable Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • deadpan — 1928, from DEAD (Cf. dead) + PAN (Cf. pan) in slang sense of face …   Etymology dictionary

  • deadpan — [adj] expressionless blank, impassive, nobody home*, poker faced, serious, stony, straight faced, unreadable, vacant, wooden; concept 406 …   New thesaurus

  • deadpan — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ impassive or expressionless …   English terms dictionary

  • deadpan — 1. n. <an expressionless face.> (See also pan.) □ This guy has a super deadpan. □ Remember the deadpan she used to put on? 2. n. a person with an expressionless face. □ The guy’s a perfect deadpan …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • deadpan — dead panner. /ded pan /, adj., adv., v., deadpanned, deadpanning, n. adj. 1. marked by or accomplished with a careful pretense of seriousness or calm detachment; impassive or expressionless: deadpan humor. 2. displaying no emotional or personal… …   Universalium

  • deadpan — I. adjective Date: circa 1928 marked by an impassive matter of fact manner, style, or expression < a deadpan comedy > • deadpan adverb II. noun Date: circa 1930 1. a completely expressionless face 2. a deadpan manner of behavior or presentation …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • deadpan — 1. adjective /ˈdɛdpæn/ a) Deliberately impassive or expressionless (as a face or look). b) Having such a face or look (as a person). Syn: poker faced …   Wiktionary

  • deadpan — [[t]de̱dpæn[/t]] ADJ GRADED Deadpan humour is when you appear to be serious and are hiding the fact that you are joking or teasing someone. ...her natural capacity for irony and deadpan humour... She put the letter on the desk in front of me, her …   English dictionary

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