What is Deadpan Comedy?
Think back to your school days. The students considered funniest, the “class clowns”, tended to be loud-mouths, right? Chances are your schoolmates thought the confident, “cocky” kids were utterly hilarious – and maybe they were.
But being funny isn’t always about Jim Carey-style slapstick and thigh-slapping. In fact, some of the world’s most famous comedians are deadpan – think Bill Murray or Bill Hicks. There’s something about the cynicism of deadpan comedians, with their ability to sarcastically identify the dark side of life, that we as audiences instantly relate to.
Take a look at “textbook deadpan” man himself, Steven Wright:
Isn’t It Ironic…
A technique deadpan comedians use is irony, which occurs when our expectations of something and our actual experience are contrary. Ironic comedy can lead to an audience literally rolling around in stitches. The English are fabulously ironic and deadpan – check out Fawlty Towers and The Office. Ricky Gervais, as a ridiculous British boss, leads to a contemptuous and eye-rolling workplace.
Awkward is Good
Deadpan comedians embrace absurdity. They seem to feel more comfortable with experiences or things that are a little weird, awkward or uncomfortable. Monty Python do a great job at this kind of comedy, turning death into a mere triviality and the illogical into an inversion of common sense.
One-liners or callbacks are hallmarks of a deadpan comedian, especially when they’re delivered with an expressionless face. These are best delivered when people aren’t expected a response at all, let alone a humorous one. One-liners can be very clever and witty.
Check out Rebel Wilson’s hilariously deadpan BAFTAs speech, full of one-liners, here:
Sarcasm as a Comedic Mechanism
American animated TV show Daria was the pinnacle of deadpan. As savvy and dour-faced teen Daria made her way through a superficial, moronic high school environment, her monotone voice and sarcastic quips made her instantly relatable.
Deadpan comedians are highly observant. They tend to pick up on the tiny, strange details of everyday life that everyone notices – but not consciously. They then bring these to people’s attention at the right time, resulting in comedy gold.
Who is your favourite deadpan comedian? Comment below and let us know!