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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 or cantankerous voice and expressing an unflappably calm, archly insincere or artificially grave demeanor, often in spite of the ridiculousness of the subject matter. This delivery is also called dry humor or dry wit; when the intent, but not the presentation, is humorous, blunt, oblique, sarcastic, or 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). The oldest usage recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary comes from the New York Times (1928), which defines the term as "playing a rôle with expressionless face". 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. The usage of deadpan as a verb ('to speak, act, or utter in a deadpan manner; to maintain a dead pan') is recorded at least as far back as 1942.
Many popular American sitcoms also use deadpan expressions to deliver dry humor, most notably Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Office and Seinfeld. Dry humor is often confused with highbrow or egghead humor, because the humor in dry humor does not exist in the words, their delivery, or both. Instead, the listener must look for humor in the contradiction between words, delivery, and context. Failure to include the context or to identify the contradiction results in the listener finding the dry humor unfunny. However, the term "deadpan" itself actually only refers to the method of delivery.
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