Deadpan is a form of comic
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 delivery in which humor is presented without a change in emotion or body language
Body language
Body language is a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously....

, usually speaking
Voice may refer to:* Human voice* Voice control or voice activation* Writer's voice* Voice acting* Voice vote* Voice message-In film:* Voice , a 2005 South Korean film* The Voice , a 2010 Turkish horror film directed by Ümit Ünal...

 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
Sarcasm is “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt.” Though irony and understatement is usually the immediate context, most authorities distinguish sarcasm from irony; however, others argue that sarcasm may or often does involve irony or employs...

 or apparently unintentional.


The term "deadpan" first emerged as an adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

 or adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

 in the 1920s, as a compound word combining "dead" and "pan" (a slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 term for the face). It was first recorded as a noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

 in Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair (magazine)
Vanity Fair is a magazine of pop culture, fashion, and current affairs published by Condé Nast. The present Vanity Fair has been published since 1983 and there have been editions for four European countries as well as the U.S. edition. This revived the title which had ceased publication in 1935...

in 1927; a dead pan was thus 'a face or facial expression displaying no emotion, animation, or humour'. The verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

 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
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, IreIand
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

; it is also very much appreciated in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 and Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...


Many popular American sitcoms also use deadpan expressions, most notably Arrested Development, The Office and Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

. Dry humour is often confused with highbrow
Used colloquially as a noun or adjective, highbrow is synonymous with intellectual; as an adjective, it also means elite, and generally carries a connotation of high culture. The word draws its metonymy from the pseudoscience of phrenology, and was originally simply a physical descriptor...

 or egghead
In the slang of the United States, egghead is an anti-intellectual epithet, directed at people considered too out-of-touch with ordinary people and too lacking in realism, common sense, virility, etc. on account of their intellectual interests. The British equivalent is boffin...

 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
Monty Python
Monty Python was a British surreal comedy group who created their influential Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series...

's skit "Cheese Shop
Cheese Shop sketch
The Cheese Shop is a well-known sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.It appears in episode 33, "Salad Days". The script for the sketch is included in the book The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus : All the Words, Volume 2.-Origins:...

". 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
Falling Down
Falling Down is a 1993 crime-drama film directed by Joel Schumacher. The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster , a divorcee and unemployed former defense engineer...

, in which the main character William Foster (played by Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas
Michael Kirk Douglas is an American actor and producer, primarily in movies and television. He has won three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards; first as producer of 1975's Best Picture, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and as Best Actor in 1987 for his role in Wall Street. Douglas received the...

) 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
    John Cale
    John Davies Cale, OBE is a Welsh musician, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a founding member of the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground....

    's mordant narration of The Velvet Underground
    The Velvet Underground
    The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City. First active from 1964 to 1973, their best-known members were Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists. Although experiencing little commercial success while together, the band is often cited...

     short story "The Gift" (1968)
  • Johnny Carson
    Johnny Carson
    John William "Johnny" Carson was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years . Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987...

     known for his low-key monologue with the hard-to-resist deadpan delivery that became an American tradition
  • Steve Carell
    Steve Carell
    Steven John "Steve" Carell is an American comedian, actor, voice artist, producer, writer, and director. Although Carell is notable for his role on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he found greater fame in the late 2000s for playing Michael Scott on The Office...

     is known for his deadpan humor in movies and in his TV show (i.e. his show "The Office").
  • Aki Kaurismäki
    Aki Kaurismäki
    -Career:After studying Media Studies at the University of Tampere, Aki Kaurismäki started his career as a co-director in the films of his elder brother Mika Kaurismäki. His debut as an independent director was Crime and Punishment , Dostoyevsky's famous crime story set in modern-day Helsinki...

     is known for his deadpan humor in his movies
  • Graham Chapman
    Graham Chapman
    Graham Arthur Chapman was a British comedian, physician, writer, actor, and one of the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe.-Early life and education:...

     as "the colonel", and in several other roles as "stiff upper lip
    Stiff upper lip
    One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom "keep a stiff upper lip", and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people ,...

    " authority figures, on Monty Python's Flying Circus
    Monty Python's Flying Circus
    Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a BBC TV sketch comedy series. The shows were composed of surreality, risqué or innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines...

  • Stephen Colbert
    Stephen Colbert
    Stephen Tyrone Colbert is an American political satirist, writer, comedian, television host, and actor. He is the host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, a satirical news show in which Colbert portrays a caricatured version of conservative political pundits.Colbert originally studied to be an...

     delivers humorous political commentary in a mock-serious deadpan manner
  • Jane Curtin
    Jane Curtin
    Jane Therese Curtin is an American actress and comedienne. She is commonly referred to as Queen of the Deadpan.First coming to prominence as an original cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1975, she went on to win back-to-back Emmy Awards for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series on the 1980s...

    , best known for her work on Saturday Night Live
    Saturday Night Live
    Saturday Night Live is a live American late-night television sketch comedy and variety show developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title of NBC's Saturday Night.The show's sketches often parody contemporary American culture...

    , is commonly referred to as the "Queen of the Deadpan"
  • David Duchovny
    David Duchovny
    David William Duchovny is an American actor, writer and director. He has won Golden Globe awards for his work as FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files and as Hank Moody on Californication.-Early life:...

     as Hank Moody
    Hank Moody
    Henry James "Hank" Moody, portrayed by David Duchovny, is a fictional character who serves as the protagonist of the Showtime television series Californication...

     on the Showtime hit series Californication
    Californication (TV series)
    Californication is an American comedy-drama that premiered on Showtime on August 13, 2007. The show was created by Tom Kapinos. The protagonist, Hank Moody , is a troubled novelist whose move to California, coupled with his writer's block, complicates his relationships with his longtime girlfriend...

  • Eugenio, a Spanish comedian who delivered jokes in a such a manner
  • Stewart Francis
    Stewart Francis
    Stewart Francis is a Canadian stand-up comedian, actor and writer. In addition to his work in Canada and the USA, he frequently tours in the UK and appears on British television...

     uses a deadpan style in his stand up routine consisting entirely of cleverly worded one-liners.
  • Miss Kittin
    Miss Kittin
    Miss Kittin is an electronic music DJ, vocalist, and songwriter. Since rising to prominence in 1998 for her singles "1982" and "Frank Sinatra" with The Hacker, she has worked with other musicians such as Chicks on Speed, Felix da Housecat and Golden Boy...

     is known for her deadpan lyrics and vocals in songs such as "Frank Sinatra
    Frank Sinatra (Miss Kittin & The Hacker song)
    "Frank Sinatra" is a song by French recording duo Miss Kittin & The Hacker. It is the second single from their debut album as a duo First Album . The song was originally included on the duo's 1998 EP Champagne and became an anthem of the electroclash scene...

  • Bill Murray
    Bill Murray
    William James "Bill" Murray is an American actor and comedian. He first gained national exposure on Saturday Night Live in which he earned an Emmy Award and later went on to star in a number of critically and commercially successful comedic films, including Caddyshack , Ghostbusters , and...

    's characters are typically flippant and deadpan in their casual sarcasm, insincerity and devil-may-care attitude
  • Leslie Nielsen
    Leslie Nielsen
    Leslie William Nielsen, OC was a Canadian and naturalized American actor and comedian. Nielsen appeared in more than one hundred films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying more than 220 characters...

     was widely recognized as a master of deadpan comedy in Airplane!
    Airplane! is a 1980 American satirical comedy film directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker and released by Paramount Pictures...

    and The Naked Gun
    The Naked Gun
    The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a 1988 American comedy film that is the first in a The Naked Gun series of films starring Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, and O. J. Simpson...

  • Virginia O'Brien
    Virginia O'Brien
    Virginia Lee O'Brien was a popular American actress, singer, and radio personality known for her comedic roles in MGM musicals of the 1940s.-Life and career:...

     referred to as 'The Diva of Deadpan', was noted for her beauty albeit expressionless face and humorous singing style.
  • William Shatner
    William Shatner
    William Alan Shatner is a Canadian actor, musician, recording artist, and author. He gained worldwide fame and became a cultural icon for his portrayal of James T...

     is known for his deadpan style while delivering humorously bizarre or disturbing dialogue (see Boston Legal
    Boston Legal
    Boston Legal is an American legal dramedy created by David E. Kelley, which was produced in association with 20th Century Fox Television for the ABC...

  • Charlie Sheen
    Charlie Sheen
    Carlos Irwin Estevez , better known by his stage name Charlie Sheen, is an American film and television actor. He is the youngest son of actor Martin Sheen....

     affects a laconic, overintense manner when delivering silly dialogue in the Hot Shots!
    Hot Shots!
    Hot Shots! is a 1991 comedy spoof film starring Charlie Sheen, Cary Elwes, Valeria Golino, Lloyd Bridges, Kevin Dunn, Jon Cryer and Ryan Stiles . It was directed by Jim Abrahams, co-director of Airplane! , and was written by Abrahams and Pat Proft...

    movies, as well as in some other comedic performances
  • Quentin Tarantino
    Quentin Tarantino
    Quentin Jerome Tarantino is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer and actor. In the early 1990s, he began his career as an independent filmmaker with films employing nonlinear storylines and the aestheticization of violence...

    's makes frequent use of black comedy and deadpan violence in his films; deadpan violence is similarly a staple in many of Robert Rodriguez
    Robert Rodriguez
    Robert Anthony Rodríguez is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor and musician. He shoots and produces many of his films in his native Texas and Mexico. He has directed such films as Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn, The Faculty, Spy Kids, Sin City, Planet...

    's films
  • Mark Twain
    Mark Twain
    Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

     was famous for never cracking a smile while making jokes
  • Christopher Walken
    Christopher Walken
    Christopher Walken is an American stage and screen actor. He has appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows, including Joe Dirt, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, The Prophecy trilogy, The Dogs of War, Sleepy Hollow, Brainstorm, The Dead Zone, A View to a Kill, At Close Range, King of New...

     is known for his intense deadpan manner while delivering humorously bizarre or disturbing dialogue
  • Steven Wright
    Steven Wright
    Steven Alexander Wright is an American comedian, actor and writer. He is known for his distinctly lethargic voice and slow, deadpan delivery of ironic, philosophical and sometimes nonsensical jokes and one-liners with contrived situations.-Early life and career:Wright was born in Mount Auburn...

    , stand-up comedian and actor for whom the deadpan joke delivery is a trademark
  • Zooey Deschanel
    Zooey Deschanel
    Zooey Claire Deschanel is an American actress, musician, and singer-songwriter. In 1999, Deschanel made her film debut in Mumford, followed by her breakout role as young protagonist William Miller's troubled older sister Anita in Cameron Crowe's 2000 semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous...

    , actress known for her deadpan comedic delivery.
  • Heather Morris, actress/dancer who portrays a deadpan character in the hit show, Glee
    Glee (TV series)
    Glee is an American musical comedy-drama television series that airs on Fox in the United States, and on GlobalTV in Canada. It focuses on the high school glee club New Directions competing on the show choir competition circuit, while its members deal with relationships, sexuality and social issues...

  • Aubrey Plaza, actress/comedienne known for her portrayal of deadpan characters, such as April Ludgate
    April Ludgate
    April Roberta Ludgate is a fictional character in the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation. She is an apathetic college student employed by the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation as Ron Swanson's assistant. She is married to Andy Dwyer. She is portrayed by Aubrey Plaza...

     in Parks and Recreation
    Parks and Recreation
    Parks and Recreation is an American comedy television series on NBC that focuses on Leslie Knope , a mid-level bureaucrat in the parks department of Pawnee, a fictional town in Indiana. Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, the series debuted on April 9, 2009; it has run for three seasons and...

  • GLaDOS
    GLaDOS, short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, is a fictional artificially intelligent computer system in Valve Software's Half-Life video game series and the main antagonist in the video games Portal and Portal 2. She was created by Erik Wolpaw and Kim Swift and is voiced by Ellen...

    , a character in Portal and Portal 2
    Portal 2
    Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle-platform video game developed and published by Valve Corporation. The sequel to the 2007 video game Portal, it was announced on March 5, 2010, following a week-long alternate reality game based on new patches to the original game...

     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
    Jack Benny
    Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, and actor for radio, television, and film...

     was known to rescue failed jokes by simply staring patiently at the audience until they laughed.
  • Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

     is known for his deadpan humor during political speeches and events
  • Daria Morgendorffer
    Daria Morgendorffer
    Daria Morgendorffer is a fictional animated character from MTV's animated series Beavis and Butt-head and its spin-off Daria. In 2002, Daria placed at number 41 on the list of the Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of all Time by TV Guide for her role in the two shows...

     was known for her dry wit and sarcastic delivery of social commentary on the MTV show Daria.
  • Carter Veldhuizen
  • Todd Barry
    Todd Barry
    -Biography:Barry was born in The Bronx, New York, and grew up in Florida. In 1999, his Comedy Central Presents aired. He wrote, directed and starred in the short film Borrowing Saffron , which co-starred H. Jon Benjamin. He has made a variety of guest appearances on shows like Dr...

    , American comedian, is known for his deadpan style and delivery.
  • Eric Forman
    Eric Forman
    Eric Albert Forman is a fictional character and the male lead on the Fox Network's That '70s Show between seasons one through seven. Portrayed by Topher Grace, Eric is based on the adolescence of show creator Mark Brazill. Most of the show takes place at the Formans' home, particularly in the...

    , a fictional character in the television series That 70's Show, uses deadpan humor.
  • Buster Keaton
    Buster Keaton
    Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".Keaton was recognized as the...

    , 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
    David Letterman
    David Michael Letterman is an American television host and comedian. He hosts the late night television talk show, Late Show with David Letterman, broadcast on CBS. Letterman has been a fixture on late night television since the 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC...

     on The Late Show With David Letterman
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