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Deadpan is an adjective, describing a deliberately emotionless and otherwise impassive, matter-of-fact manner. It is also a form of comic delivery in which humor is presented without a change in emotion or body language. It is usually spoken in a casual, monotone, or cantankerous voice, and expresses a calm, sincere, or grave demeanor, often in spite of the ridiculousness of the subject matter. This delivery is also called dry humor or dry wit,[1] when the intent, but not the presentation, is humorous, blunt, oblique, sarcastic, laconic, 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). The oldest usage recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary comes from The New York Times (1928), which defines the term as "playing a role with expressionless face".[2] An 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 does not inadvertently alert anyone else in the room as to the importance of what the gangster is about to say. The usage of deadpan as a verb ("to speak, act, or utter in a deadpan manner; to maintain a dead pan") is recorded at least as far back as 1942.[2]


Rat Pack comedian Joey Bishop, noted for his deadpan style, with Jennie and Terrie Frankel (Doublemint Twins), Sig Sakowitz, Tony Diamond, Sara Sue, Tippi Hedren and Mel Bishop.

Early in his vaudeville days, Buster Keaton developed his deadpan expression. Keaton realized that audiences responded better to his stony expression than when he smiled, and he carried this style into his silent film career.[3] Many popular American sitcoms use deadpan expressions to deliver dry humor, including Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Office, and My Name Is Earl. Some good current examples are the characters April Ludgate from the TV show Parks and Recreation played by Aubrey Plaza, or Bob Newhart as Arthur Jeffries in The Big Bang Theory. Another example is the often-philosophical comedy of Steven Wright. Dry humor is often confused with highbrow or egghead humor, because the humor in dry humor does not exist in the words, their delivery, or both. Instead, the listener must look for humor in the contradiction between words, delivery and context. Failure to include the context or to identify the contradiction results in the listener finding the dry humor unfunny. However, the term "deadpan" itself actually refers only to the method of delivery.

Other deadpan comedians:

Styles within deadpan

Deadpan can vary in subtlety. Obvious deadpan uses a high amount of contrast either with characters or situations. It may also take the role of mirror to characters who are unaware of their folly. More subtle deadpan can test the observational limits of the audience and even play off the audience's awareness (and thus off the implied intelligence of the audience).

See also


  1. Rishel, Mary Ann (2002). Writing humor. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 166. ISBN 0-8143-2959-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Oxford English Dictionary. "dead-pan, adj., n., adv., and v." Second edition, 1989; online version December 2011. accessed 17 February 2012. First published in A Supplement to the OED I, 1972
  3. "Deadpan: the comedy of Buster Keaton". Telescope. 17 April 1964. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  4. Feeney, Nolan (2 April 2015). "Aubrey Plaza on Life After Parks, Playing a Witch and Hating the Word ‘Deadpan’". Time. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
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  10. Hogan, Jil (19 June 2014). "Dave Hughes in Canberra as part of Australia tour". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  11. Dionne, Zack (22 January 2010). "A Very Important Conversation with Demetri Martin". GQ. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  12. Dekel, Jon (8 January 2015). "H. Jon Benjamin’s voice work sets the tone on Archer, the silly spy cartoon for adults that could". National Post. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  13. Bassett, Kate (24 May 1997). "Mr Deadpan loosens up". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  14. Mclaren, Leah (9 August 2013). "Jack Handey deploys drone strikes in the war against clichés". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  15. Cochran, Amanda (26 July 2013). ""Queen of Deadpan" Jane Curtin on old school "SNL"". CBS News. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  16. Smith, Patrick (22 May 2013). "Jason Bateman interview: 'Arrested Development gave me a new life'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  17. Wedel, Mark (15 April 2010). "Jim Gaffigan's deadpan humor to heat up Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium". Kalamazoo Gazette. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  18. Groskop, Vic (23 June 2012). "Jimmy Carr: Laughing on the other side of his face". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  19. Thompson, Ben (23 October 2011). "the interview JO BRAND, COMEDIAN, TALKS TO". The Independent. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  20. Brown, Emma (29 November 2010). "Leslie Nielsen, serious actor who became a master of deadpan comedy, dies at 84". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  21. Shakespeare, J. C. (19 February 1999). "Dude, It's Mitch Hedberg!". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  22. Tamplin, Harley (19 March 2015). "Review: Russell Kane, Romesh Ranganathan and Charlie Baker at Christ’s Hospital". West Sussex County Times. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  23. Anderson, Sam (10 November 2005). "Irony Maiden". Slate. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  24. Whelan, Edward (19 March 2010). "In Profile: Sean Lock". The Skinny. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  25. author= (9 September 2015). "‘Hello Nation!’ Stephen Colbert Debuts On New ‘The Late Show’". WCBS-TV. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  26. Leatherman, Benjamin (8 May 2012). "Comedian Steven Wright on His Deadpan Style, Getting Inspired By Salvador Dali, Working With Quentin Tarantino, and More". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  27. Marantz, Andrew (7 November 2014). "Tig Notaro’s Topless Set". The New Yorker. 
  28. Mendex, David (10 May 2012). "Deadpan Laughs". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 3 November 2015.