Deadpan

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Deadpan, dry humour, or dry-wit humour [1] is the deliberate display of emotional neutrality or no emotion, commonly as a form of comedic delivery to contrast with the ridiculousness or absurdity of the subject matter. The delivery is meant to be blunt, ironic, laconic, or apparently unintentional.

Contents

Etymology

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]

Examples

Rat Pack comedians Joey Bishop and Brad Jewell, noted for their deadpan style, with Jennie and Terrie Frankel (Doublemint Twins), Sig Sakowicz, Tony Diamond, Sara Sue, Tippi Hedren and Mel Bishop USO Vietnam 1968 Troop - Jennie Frankel, Tony Diamond, Sara Sue, Sig Sakowitz, Joey Bishop, Tippi Hedren, Mel Bishop, Jennie Frankel.jpg
Rat Pack comedians Joey Bishop and Brad Jewell, noted for their deadpan style, with Jennie and Terrie Frankel (Doublemint Twins), Sig Sakowicz, Tony Diamond, Sara Sue, Tippi Hedren and Mel Bishop

Early in his vaudeville days, Buster Keaton developed his deadpan expression. Keaton realised that audiences responded better to his stony expression than when he smiled, and he carried this style into his silent film career. [3] The 1928 Vitaphone short film The Beau Brummels, with vaudeville comics Al Shaw and Sam Lee, was performed entirely in deadpan. [4] The 1980 film Airplane! was performed almost entirely in deadpan. [5] Actor and comedian Bill Murray is known for his deadpan delivery. [6]

Many popular American sitcoms use deadpan expressions to deliver dry humour, including Curb Your Enthusiasm , Arrested Development , and My Name Is Earl . More recent examples are Andre Braugher as Captain Raymond Holt from the TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine , Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in Friends , Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation , Jennette McCurdy as Sam Puckett in iCarly , and Louis C.K. in Louie . Another example is the comedy of Steven Wright. [7]

Deadpan delivery runs throughout British humour. [8] In television sitcoms, John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers and Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder are both frustrated figures who display little facial expression in their put-downs. [9] Atkinson also plays authority figures (especially priests) while speaking absurd lines with a deadpan delivery. Monty Python include it in their work, such as "The Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch. [10] For his deadpan delivery Peter Sellers received a BAFTA for Best Actor for I'm All Right Jack (1959). A leading figure of the British satire boom of the 1960s, Peter Cook delivered deadpan monologues in his double act with Dudley Moore. [11] In his various roles Ricky Gervais often draws humour from an exasperated sigh. [12] While in his various guises such as Ali G and Borat, the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen interacts with unsuspecting subjects not realising they have been set up for self-revealing ridicule; on this The Observer states, "his career has been built on winding people up, while keeping a deadpan face." [13]

Dry humour is often confused with highbrow or egghead humour, because the humour in dry humour does not exist in the words or delivery. Instead, the listener must look for humour 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 humour unfunny. However, the term "deadpan" itself actually refers only to the method of delivery.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Fawlty Towers</i> BBC television sitcom

Fawlty Towers is a British television sitcom written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Two series of six episodes each were made. The show was ranked first on a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000 and, in 2019, it was named the 'greatest ever British TV sitcom' by a panel of comedy experts compiled by the Radio Times.

Graham Chapman English comedian, writer and actor

Graham Chapman was an English comedian, writer, actor, and author and was one of the six members of the British surreal comedy group Monty Python. He played authority figures such as the Colonel and the lead role in two Python films, Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979).

John Cleese English comedian and actor

John Marwood Cleese is an English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer. Emerging from the Cambridge Footlights in the 1960s, he first achieved success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report. In the late 1960s, he co-founded Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus. Along with his Python co-stars Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman, Cleese starred in Monty Python films, which include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983).

Monty Python British surreal comedy group

Monty Python were a British surreal comedy troupe who created the sketch comedy television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, which first aired on the BBC in 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series. The Python phenomenon developed from the television series into something larger in scope and influence, including touring stage shows, films, albums, books and musicals. The Pythons' influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles' influence on music. Regarded as an enduring icon of 1970s pop culture, their sketch show has been referred to as being "an important moment in the evolution of television comedy".

Dead Parrot sketch Monty Python sketch

The "Dead Parrot Sketch", alternatively and originally known as the "Pet Shop Sketch" or "Parrot Sketch", is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus about a non-existent species of parrot, called a "Norwegian Blue". A satire on poor customer service, it was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman and initially performed in the show's first series, in the eighth episode.

<i>Monty Python and the Holy Grail</i> 1975 British comedy film

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Buster Keaton American actor and filmmaker

Joseph Frank Keaton, known professionally as Buster Keaton, was an American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer. He is best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression that earned him the nickname "The Great Stone Face". Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton's "extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929" when he "worked without interruption" on a series of films that made him "the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies".

Terry Jones Welsh actor, comedian, director, historian, screenwriter and writer

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British humour

British humour carries a strong element of satire aimed at the absurdity of everyday life. Common themes include sarcasm, insults, self-deprecation, taboo subjects, puns, innuendo, wit, and the British class system. These are often accompanied by a deadpan delivery which is present throughout the British sense of humour. It may be used to bury emotions in a way that seems unkind in the eyes of other cultures. Jokes are told about everything and almost no subject is off-limits, though a lack of subtlety when discussing controversial issues is sometimes considered insensitive. Many British comedy series have become internationally popular, serving as a representation of British culture to international audiences.

Argument Clinic Monty Python sketch

"Argument Clinic" is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. The sketch was originally broadcast as part of the television series and has subsequently been performed live by the group. It relies heavily on wordplay and dialogue, and has been used as an example of how language works.

Basil Fawlty Character in the British comedy series Fawlty Towers

Basil Fawlty is the main character of the 1970s British sitcom Fawlty Towers, played by John Cleese. The proprietor of the hotel Fawlty Towers, he is a cynical and misanthropic snob, desperate to belong to a higher social class. His attempts to run the hotel often end in farce. Possessing a dry, sarcastic wit, Basil has become an iconic British comedy character who remains widely known to the public despite only 12 half-hour episodes ever having been made. In a 2001 poll conducted by Channel 4 Basil was ranked second on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.

Donald Sinclair (hotel owner) British hotel owner

Donald William Sinclair was the co-proprietor of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, England. He helped manage the hotel after an extensive career as an officer in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy. During the Second World War, Sinclair twice survived the sinking of the ships on which he was serving.

Rowan Atkinson British actor, comedian, and screenwriter

Rowan Sebastian Atkinson is an English actor, comedian, and writer. He is best known for his work on the sitcoms Blackadder (1983–1989) and Mr. Bean (1990–1995). Atkinson first came to prominence in the BBC sketch comedy show Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979–1982), receiving the 1981 BAFTA for Best Entertainment Performance, and via his participation in The Secret Policeman's Ball (1979). His other work includes the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), playing a bumbling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), voicing the red-billed hornbill Zazu in The Lion King (1994), and playing jewellery salesman Rufus in Love Actually (2003). Atkinson also featured in the BBC sitcom The Thin Blue Line (1995–1996). His work in theatre includes the role of Fagin in the 2009 West End revival of the musical Oliver!.

Comedy Genre of dramatic works intended to be humorous

Comedy is a genre of fiction consisting of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, film, stand-up comedy, television, radio, books, or any other entertainment medium. The term originated in Ancient Greece: in Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by political satire performed by comic poets in theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance pitting two groups, ages, genders, or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions posing obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth then becomes constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to resort to ruses which engender dramatic irony, which provokes laughter.

<i>Monty Pythons Flying Circus</i> British sketch comedy television series

Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, aka the "Pythons". The first episode was recorded at the BBC on 7 September 1969 and premiered on 5 October on BBC1, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV.

<i>Holy Flying Circus</i>

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Gleneagles Hotel, Torquay

The Gleneagles Hotel was a hotel in Torquay, Devon, England. The 41-bed establishment, which opened in the 1960s, was the inspiration for Fawlty Towers, a British situation comedy first broadcast in the mid-1970s. John Cleese, and his then wife Connie Booth, were inspired to write the series after they had stayed at the hotel and witnessed the eccentric behaviour of its owner, Donald Sinclair. Later the hotel was managed by Best Western. In February 2015 the hotel closed. It will be replaced by retirement apartments.

<i>Monty Python Live (Mostly)</i> 2014 film by Eric Idle

Monty Python Live (Mostly) was a variety show by the Monty Python comedy group at The O2 in London in July 2014. Planned as a single performance for 1 July, it was expanded to 10 shows due to the high demand for tickets. It was their first live performance together in 16 years, the second without member Graham Chapman and the last with Terry Jones before his death in 2020.

References

  1. Rishel, Mary Ann (2002). Writing humor. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 166. ISBN   0-8143-2959-4.
  2. 1 2 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 . CBC.ca. 17 April 1964. Archived from the original on 2016-01-01. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  4. Knipfel, Jim (29 May 2015). "Shaw and Lee: Vaudeville's Loony Futurists". OZY. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  5. Dudek, Duane. "25 years and still laughing; 'Airplane!' maintains its cruising". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . Archived from the original on 30 April 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  6. Bernstein, Jonathan (October 30, 2015). "Will Bill Murray ever make another good movie?". The Daily Telegraph . Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  7. Thomas, E. C. (2014). The Everything Big Book of Jokes: Hundreds of the Shortest, Longest, Silliest, Smartest, Most Hilarious Jokes You've Never Heard!. Adams Media. p. 16. ISBN   978-1-4405-7698-0 . Retrieved June 29, 2017.
  8. Andy Bloxham (10 March 2008). "British humour 'dictated by genetics'", Daily Telegraph. Accessed 31 July 2019
  9. "Blackadder rides again in festive schedule". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  10. "John Cleese and Mick Jagger are wrong – Monty Python's silly walks are still hilarious". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  11. "Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, The 25 best comedy duos". The Telegraph. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  12. "The king of deadpan". The Irish News. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  13. "Sacha Baron Cohen: Our man from Kazakhstan". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.