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A shtick (Yiddish: שטיק) (or schtick) is a comic theme or gimmick. "Shtick" is derived from the Yiddish word shtik (שטיק), meaning "piece"; the closely related German word Stück has the same meaning. The English word "piece" itself is also sometimes used in a similar context. Another variant is "bits of business" or just "bits"; comic mannerisms such as Laurel and Hardy's fiddling with their ties, or one of them looking into the camera shaking his head while the other one would ramble on. A shtick can also refer to an adopted persona, usually for comedy performances, that is maintained consistently (though not necessarily exclusively) across the performer's career. In this usage, the recurring personalities adopted by Laurel and Hardy through all of their many comedy films (despite the fact that they often played characters with different names and professions) would qualify as their shtick. A comedian might maintain several different shticks of this sort, particularly if they appear in a variety show that encourages them to develop multiple characters, such as Saturday Night Live.
In common usage, the word shtick has also come to mean any talent, style, habit, or other eccentricity for which a person is particularly well-known, even if not intended for comedic purposes. For example, a person who is known locally for his or her ability to eat dozens of hot dogs quickly might say that it was their shtick.
Shtick as an appellation
Because of its roots in comedy and show business, the word shtick has a connotation of a contrived and often-used act—something done deliberately, but perhaps not sincerely. For this reason, journalists and commentators often apply the word disparagingly to politicians and their positions, such as the Village Voice's reference to a perceived change in Rudy Giuliani's position ("Rudy Adopts New Shtick") or Slate.com's subtitle for a criticism of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's presentation of his Mormonism ("Mitt Romney's Clumsy Mormon Shtick"). Reviews or critiques of artistic or journalistic works have also used the word in this manner, usually to imply a shallow repetitiveness in the work of the reviewed, such as New York Magazine calling The White Stripes' 2007 Canadian tour a "one-note shtick".
Famous comedy shticks
- Jack Benny's character on his radio program was notoriously both stingy and a bad violin player, as well as being perpetually 39 years old. In real life, Benny was known as an expert violinist and lavish tipper, and kept celebrating his 39th birthday each year publicly because "there's nothing funny about 40".
- Three of The Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo, all had well-honed shticks by the time they started making movies.
- Groucho, with his stooped walk, greasepaint mustache, lascivious eyebrow raising, and his cigar;
- Chico, with his fake Italian accent, his "shooting the keys" style of piano playing, and borderline moronic behavior; and
- Harpo, with his pantomime routines, the seemingly bottomless pockets of his trench coat, and his ability to play the harp.
- The fourth performing brother, Zeppo, never developed a shtick and thus was a straight man in their movies — though some have argued that his blandness and "normality" was indeed his shtick.
- W.C. Fields nurtured a character that was not far from himself in real life, being misanthropic, misogynistic, and a hard drinker, as well as lovingly massaging the English language through the utterly unique bellow of his voice and his famous bulbous nose.
- Many of the performers over the course of Saturday Night Live's long broadcast history have developed shticks that were popular enough to be developed into feature films. The earliest of these was The Blues Brothers, the dark-suited alter egos of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, which spawned two movies and several actual blues albums. Of the movies that followed in later years, some met with similar success (such as Mike Myers' Wayne's World), while others are regarded as critical and commercial disasters (Julia Sweeney's It's Pat!).
- Henny Youngman's standard line "Take my wife — please" was part of his schtick. It consisted of several one-liners delivered in rapid-fire sequence.
- Johnny Carson's many shticks include his role as "Carnac the Magnificent", an Indian fortune teller who could divine answers to questions sealed in envelopes and "kept in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on the front porch of Funk & Wagnalls since noon today". His signature imaginary golf swing at the end of his monologue would also qualify.
- Chris Berman's shtick in his ESPN commentary was his tendency to give additional nicknames to players based on their last names (often intended as puns or pop culture references). Berman was also known to often say a football player "could — go — all — the — way" on long touchdown plays (parodying Howard Cosell's delivery).
- Andrew Dice Clay's shtick in his comedy routines is his crude, misogynist themed humor, and sometimes vulgar reinterpretations of nursery rhymes.
- Rodney Dangerfield's shtick was centered around his famous catchphrase, "I don't get no respect," accompanied by his characteristic facial gesture and yanking or straightening his scarlet necktie.
- Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G, Borat and Brüno alter-egos can be considered shticks.
- Stephen Colbert has referred to his character as a shtick.
- Andy Kaufman was a particularly rigorous practitioner of shtick. Kaufman almost never appeared in public, other than as one of his shtick characters, such as "Foreign Man" or Tony Clifton. When he did appear as himself, he still acted out some shtick routine, with one notable example being a long-running professional wrestling feud with Jerry Lawler.
- The Rubberbandits are Irish "comedians" who wear plastic bags over their faces as Shtick.
- Yakov Smirnoff's shtick is the Russian Reversal, a joke which is better known than the actual comedian.
- Lewis Black's shtick is the crescendo of rage upon which his routines are built; another is bewailing the rise in his blood pressure due to the presumed strain of these outbursts.
- Bob Newhart's shtick is his long phone calls with imaginary or historical persons. Hearing only Newhart's deadpan comments, the audience is left to infer what the other person is saying.
- Jeff Fatt's shtick on The Wiggles is falling asleep at odd times, leading the other Wiggles and the audience to call out the catchphrase "Wake Up Jeff!" where he wakes up with a blubbering noise and sometimes performs a series of entertaining antics once awake.
- Barrett, Wayne. Runnin' Scared: Rudy Adopts New Shtick, The Village Voice, July 10, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
- Reilly, Adam. Take My Wives...Please!: Mitt Romney's Clumsy Mormon Shtick, Slate.com, April 26, 2006. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
- Ayers, Michael D. The White Stripes and Their One-Note Shtick, New York Magazine, July 18, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2008.