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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 when the intent, but not the presentation, is humorous, oblique, sarcastic, or the effect is 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; 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 early 40s. It stems from journalism rather than theatre. Today its use is especially common in humour from the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is also very much appreciated in France, South Africa and Finland.
Many popular American sitcoms also use deadpan expressions, most notably Arrested Development 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.
A subtype of deadpan is deadpan violence.
Deadpan violence is used to describe a sentence, group of sentences, phrase or action that 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.
A classic 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."
- Leslie Nielsen was a widely recognized master of deadpan comedy in Airplane! and the The Naked Gun series
- John Cale's mordant narration of The Velvet Underground short story "The Gift" (1968)
- 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
- Actress and comedienne Jane Curtin is commonly referred to as "Queen of the Deadpan"
- David Duchovny as Hank Moody on the Showtime hit series Californication
- Bill Murray's characters are typically flippant and deadpan in their casual sarcasm, insincerity and devil-may-care attitude
- Christopher Walken is known for his intense deadpan manner while delivering humorously bizarre or disturbing dialogue
- Zhang Fengxi, young comedian famous for China's Got Talent
- Zhou Libo, Shanghai comedian
- Johnny Carson known for his low-key monologue with the hard-to-resist deadpan delivery that became an American tradition.
- John McCrea, singer of alternative rock band, Cake.
- The 2003 book by Max Brooks The Zombie Survival Guide
- Quentin Tarantino's black comedy and deadpan violence is used in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown