According to the Urban Dictionary, a dry sense of humor, dry humor or deadpan humor is a form of comedy delivery in which someone says something humorous or seemingly so, but without exhibiting any change of emotions or facial expression.
It is a nonchalant presentation of an alternative, often positive perspective or point of view which is intrinsically humorous and gives a unique or uncommon perspective to an often negative situation, thus, making the situation seem less negative.
As the name might imply, a dry sense of humor does not come out as funny as most other types of jokes. They may even be perceived as offensive if not well received by the listener or audience. However, they have recently gained popularity in comedy television shows, books, and public speeches.
Origin of dry humor
Dry humor and dry-humor jokes are as old as the English language. It had its roots in Ancient England and was first talked about during the years when irony started becoming an important theatrical device. ‘Irony’ is a figure of speech that emphasizes the opposite of something said or implied typically for humorous or emphatic purposes.
The idea of a dry sense of humor began to garner popular recognition following the widespread use of irony and they have remained linked to this day.
Why are we interested in dry humor?
Due to its origin in England, the British have often been credited with being the inventor of the humorous technique of dry humor, as Britons are frequently caught in the act of saying the opposite of what is meant in a manner that deliberately counteracts the supposed meaning of the statement.
This patent given to the British as the originator of the dry sense of humor relies on their inherent ability to understate, diminish or counteract an idea. This inherent ability or trait is often said to be lacking in most Americans, as they are said to have a more stereotypically loud, open, sincere, and outrageous style of comedy. This indirectly implies that most Americans are incapable of giving a dry sense of humor.
We have seen several public personalities and movie actors practically demonstrate dry humor. It turns out many more people are becoming interested in dry humor, and for those Americans who do not have a dry sense of humor, maybe you might learn how to develop it from here.
If you are not British (according to the assumption), there is a high chance you do not have a dry sense of humor. In this post, you will be able to know clearly if you have a dry sense of humor or not, and how to develop it if you desire it.
Main features of dry humor/deadpan humor
By way of introduction, dry jokes are dry, and may actually not make you laugh. You might giggle or smile a little bit at dry jokes but if you understand exactly what the dry-humorist means, you might end up laughing out loud. This means that dry jokes can be difficult to understand, not only because they are being said sarcastically, but also because the dry humorist often does not give any facial expression that it was meant as a joke.
For example, April Ludgate in the TV series, Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), with an unflinching face, replied to the question, “How is your sister” by saying, “She has the shingles”. Totally unrelated by dryly funny. [Video below]
Dry humor is often intended to diffuse tension evoked by a statement. This is done when the dry humorist highlights the complete opposite of what is being said or inferred.
For example, Steven Wright, an American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and film producer who is hailed on Reddit as the king of short ‘one-liner’ deadpan jokes or dry humor, once said, “So, I got off the plane and I forgot to take off my seatbelt and I’m dragging the plane through the terminal… The wings are knocking people over…”
Wright’s deadpan jokes often elicit a great deal of laughter from his audience but you can easily see how he makes seemingly negative situations feel less tense and more positive. Watch one of his deadpan comedy videos below;
Dry jokes can sometimes be hard to understand (look very dry) or may even come as offensive if not properly understood. But when you finally get the joke, you might be forced to laugh out loud.
More examples of deadpan humor:
- “When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane”.
- Telling a frustrated fellow, “The solution to frustration is to eat rotten apples with scrambled eggs”.
- “Half the people you know are below average”.
- “I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize”.
- “I almost broke both my arms trying to hold open a revolving door for a woman”.
- “I’ve never been married, but I tell people I’m divorced so they won’t think something is wrong with me.” – Elayne Boosler
- “Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Kuwait.” – Whitney Brown
- “A cop stopped me for speeding. He said, ‘Why were you going so fast?’ I said, ‘See this thing my foot is on? It’s called an accelerator. When you push down on it, it sends more gas to the engine. The whole car just takes right off. And see this thing? This steers it.” – Steven Wright
- “The most important thing I would learn in school was that almost everything I would learn in school would be utterly useless. When I was fifteen I knew the principal industries of the Ruhr Valley, the underlying causes of World War One, and what Peig Sayers had for her dinner every day…What I wanted to know when I was fifteen was the best way to chat up girls. That is what I still want to know.” – Joseph O’Connor (from The Secret World of the Irish Male)
- “I broke a mirror in my house and I’m supposed to get seven years of bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five” – Steven Wright
Personality characteristics that highlight your dry humor sense of humor
Steven Wright who is currently 66 years (as of 2022) was a typical deadpan or dry joke comedian. Here are some personality characteristics that made prominent his dry sense of humor.
1. Having a strong personality
People with strong personalities tend to give dry jokes a lot. They are able to maintain an expressionless face while making sarcastic statements not intended to hurt but to make one smile.
2. Antagonistic personality
If you have an antagonistic or sarcastic personality, dry jokes will look good on you. This personality type can be described as one that gravitates toward the opposite side of any idea or statement.
3. Funny outlook
When you look and sound funny but you manage to keep a straight face when you deliver your dry jokes, they can truly come as better.
Where are dry jokes commonly used?
As you may have seen or guessed, dry jokes are commonly used in Television shows, stand-up comedy, and public speech. But suffice to say that deadpan humor is found everywhere. You see people give dry jokes on a daily basis you sometimes smile at.
Many people who do dry jokes can make it seems as if they are angry or irritated but goes on to give their dry jokes anyways. Many times, you are compelled to laugh at the humor just because you think that will make them feel happier and less moody, but no, that’s the way they choose to deliver the jokes.
On a few occasions, you might have delivered some dry humor as well. That does not mean you have a dry sense of humor. Check out the features below to see if your jokes have an element of a dry sense of humor in them.
Signs you have a dry sense of humor
You have a dry sense of humor if you have the following characteristics;
- You use very simple words and phrases commonly understood by laypeople. These may come off as too simple to not evoke any humor in some of your listeners.
- You show minimal or no facial expressions, body language, props, or any other tool to get the point of the joke across.
- You can state absurd or unreasonable facts in a blatantly honest, bland, and plain manner that it becomes hard for the listeners not to laugh.
- You can maintain a very monotonous or unflinching demeanor throughout.
- You mostly use sarcasm and cynicism in your jokes, that is, your jokes have a sense of irony in them.
- A lot of people may consider deadpan humor to be rude because they don’t understand it, but that does not worry you so much.
- You state simple facts and ideas in an extremely plain way. This is the most distinguishing characteristic of deadpan humor
Dry humor in comedy
Dry humor has found application in several areas. It is a skill you can develop for your public speeches and if you are a comedian, you can interlace it into your comedy.
It’s no longer news that deadpan humor occupies a large position in comedy. Outstanding one-liner comedians like Steven Wright, Joseph O’Connor, etc, have dry humor as the core element in their jokes. The sarcastic nature of dry humor sort of evokes some form of humorous response from the listeners who are open enough to understand them.
A place like Nigeria is full of people who are naturally talented in dry humor. They may not all find their way into comedy but they always have a way of putting a smile on the faces of people around them. Now we see that not only are there dry joke comedians but there are also natural dry jokes humorists who just do it for free.
How to develop your dry sense of humor
Mastering deadpan humor might take you some time and effort but here are some tips on how to develop your dry sense of humor starting from now;
1. Be observant of the world around you
I mentioned Trevor Noah in the subtitle of this post, and that is because if you listen to him regularly, you will find out that he comes up with most of his dry jokes by carefully observing the world to stay up to date with the information around the globe.
Some people who are not aware of that information may not understand the jokes but most people would know the backstory so you would get the laughter response you desire.
2. Master the art of wordplay
This is another way most deadpan comedians do the magic. Some common, easy-to-understand words can be used to elicit the greatest response when used rightly. You don’t need very complex words to make deadpan humor. All you need is the ability to play with your words in a way that can sarcastically stimulate your audience’s imagination.
3. Read widely
You need to be up to date to have a lot of ideas to play with. When delivering deadpan humor, creativity is most needed. This can come when you read widely and also read works written by great humorists like Robert Benchley and Steven Wright. This will open you to new ideas and help you develop your dry sense of humor.
4. Let the humor end during the jokes
You should not make your entire life about dry humor, otherwise, people do not see them as interesting anymore. Be normally expressive in real situations and be less sarcastic. So that when you deliver your dry jokes, people would see them as truly valuable, special, and funny.
5. Use sarcasm as your weapon of choice
Sarcasm is about twisting words in the opposite direction to elicit some humor or literary effect. If people naturally identify you as a sarcastic person, you should use that to your advantage by developing it into deadpan humor.
6. Consider yourself an amateur psychologist
Psychologists have been renowned for being able to tell what is going through people’s minds from their actions. You should also develop this ability so that you can interpret people’s reactions and present deadpan jokes that exactly match the situation.
7. Learn to maintain an unshaken attitude while speaking
To be able to deliver deadpan humor successfully, you must have an unshaken attitude. Your audience might not understand your joke initially, or they may find it annoying but if you maintain an unflinching demeanor, they would quickly switch to the joke side and end up laughing at your dry jokes.
8. Know your audience
Knowing your audience will help you understand what they will be familiar with around the world or from recent events, which you can spice up into deadpan humor. For example, if they are professionals in science, you can be certain they will be abreast with the most scientific innovations and events around the world.
9. Accept that not everyone will understand you
Your vibes and interests could potentially be dampened if you always rely on feedback from your audience. You should accept that not everyone will understand your dry jokes, but in any case, keep doing what you do as long as you don’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause anything other than humor.
10. Learn to turn awkward situations into a goldmine
These could be your own experiences or those of other people. To develop your dry sense of humor, you need to learn to be able to convert some of those awkward experiences into rich mines for your dry jokes repertoire.
Reasons your listener might not find your dry jokes amusing
- They did not understand the joke.
- They are not in the mood for laughs.
- They are not on good terms with you.
- It reminds them of a past traumatic or painful event.
- Your joke wasn’t funny. Admit it, it doesn’t hit all the time, does it?
Deadpan humor, dry joke, or a dry sense of humor is a special kind of humor that relies on the power of irony in turning regular expressions into very humorous jokes. The reception of these jokes depends largely on the receiver as well as their understanding of what was meant by the jokes.
A dry sense of humor has had applications in several areas. Some cultures have been noted to have an inherent dry sense of humor, e.g British and African races, but anyone can develop it.
This post has established if you have a dry sense of humor or not. And if you are interested in developing your dry sense of humor for any reason, this got you covered.
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