Often referred to as deadpan humor, dry humor is a comedy technique that is characterized by a calm and straightforward delivery by the performer. This is in contrast to such comedy art forms as slapstick or sketch comedy, which often relies upon broad gestures, exaggerated facial expressions, or an emphasized tone or tenor in order to heighten the comic appeal of the joke or remark. Often, dry humor is associated with what some people refer to as highbrow comedy, as the style requires a degree of restraint in order to be effective. However, good dry humor usually employs words that are easily accessible to persons of just about any educational level and often makes use of everyday terms as part of the content.
With dry humor, the focus is on the actual words that are used, rather than the use of various devices that call attention or emphasis to parts of the delivery process. The construction of the joke or script may in and of itself be slightly mocking or sarcastic in nature, although the vocal delivery will tend to limit the use of inflection or tone to convey those qualities. Instead, the delivery of the humor tends to be in normal casual tones, sometimes accompanied with a slight smile or look that is allowed just a hint of irony. This helps pull the attention of the audience to the words themselves, rather than distracting them with movements or expressions.
The double-entendre is a very common verbal device used in the delivery of dry humor. An excellent example of this device is found in British comedy. Considered by many persons to be masters in the art of dry humor, many British comedy presentations over the years have employed the use of a common term that in fact could have more than one meaning, often one that was considered to be slightly racy. When delivered in a perfectly serious and deadpan mode, this dry humor device can produce riotous responses from an audience, and seems to stay fresh over an extended period of time.
Many successful comedic performers, both British and American, have built careers based on the successful employment of dry humor. Along with stage, television, and movie performers, many writers make use of dry humor in novels, magazine articles, and newspaper columns.
Dry Humor Examples From Renowned Comedians
We all use dry humor from time to time. It can be fun to keep a straight face when situations otherwise call for big reactions. There are many comedians considered legends for this sort of deadpan comedy. Here are three prime examples.
Norm McDonald was famously fired from Saturday Night Live when he was told to stop making such serious jokes about O.J. Simpson. Even after he was warned, Norm still got on the air, looked right into the camera with a straight face, and delivered his punchline about, "you guessed it: O.J. Simpson." He stuck to his comedic principles, though his stoic deliveries cost him a job.
Tig Notaro is notoriously deadpan. She shocked the world during one of her Netflix comedy specials. Early in the show, she removed her jacket in a mundane way. The audience suddenly started whistling and howling as if she were doing a striptease. Without flinching, Tig dryly played along with the escalating catcalls and ended up totally topless for a part of her show. This comedic fearlessness was in part to demonstrate how she holds no shame for being a survivor of breast cancer.
Hanna Gadsby takes dry humor to a whole new level during her renowned show "Nanette." Shortly after taking the stage, Hanna states she is quitting standup, and the show quickly becomes a blend of the meta-awareness of her comedic process and a recounting of personal traumas in life. Her brand of confessional, dry humor evokes tension-breaking laughter from audiences.
Hallmarks of a Dry Sense of Humor Personality
Some people seem to be born with a personality suited to dry humor. "When you have a gift, you give it." That's what my little brother always told me, but only whenever he wanted what I had. Whenever I complained, though, Mom always had my back. She would say, "He's not going to stop pestering you. Make it easy on us all and just give him what he wants." My mother taught me a lot about life and parenting.
If this sounds anything like your sense of humor, then you may be naturally deadpan. Perhaps people cannot tell when you are being funny versus serious. Maybe you find that you are the only one laughing at your joke. Maybe sarcasm is like a second language to you. Here are some signs that you have a personality suited to dry humor:
- Darker humor is your favorite.
- You have an excellent poker face.
- You are quick-witted.
- Cynicism is a part of your worldview.
- Nothing phases you.
- You easily find the funny parts of a bad situation.
- You use intelligence to dissect incidents.
- Mainstream humor isn't funny to you.
Differences Between Dry Humor vs Sarcasm
If you have read this far, congratulations, you now have a basic grasp of the subject. You should make yourself a certificate that says, "Yay! I completed an analysis of Dry Humor!" You could hang it in your office. Put it up next to the many other certifications, credentials, diplomas, accolades, and awards that you have surely achieved by now.
The preceding is simply to demonstrate the subtle difference between dry humor and pointed sarcasm. The statements shifted from adopting a seemingly serious mentality about awarding your efforts to insulting you for the number of achievements in your life. Both are delivered in a straightforward way, but the sarcasm at the end is targeted at an individual. Both suggest something with seriousness but only one is an insult.
Dry humor uses seeming sincerity, often acting straightforward or even bordering on obliviousness. Sarcasm is often delivered the same way but is actually a falsehood, a reversal of truth spoken in irony. This implicit falsehood is a feature that can be used to disparage another. Eager agreement given too readily can be transformed into denigration by maintaining the over-eagerness.
Signs You Have a Sarcastic Sense of Humor
You might have a sarcastic personality if the following ring true:
- You like saying inappropriate things for a laugh.
- Social media evokes a desire to poke fun at the thoughts of others.
- You battle others with your wits and words.
- When you are trying to be serious, others may not realize it or don't trust you.
- When you actually dislike someone, they may not know since you verbally pick on everyone.
- Sentimental or emotional moments inspire you to make jokes for a sense of balance.
- You treat new people nicely since you aren't comfortable enough to jokingly barb them yet.
There is another way to tell if you have a sarcastic sense of humor: You found this article tedious because you think you understand humor better than the experts.