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A shtick (Yiddish: שטיק‎) is a comic theme or gimmick. The word entered the English language from the Yiddish shtik (שטיק), in turn derived from German Stück and Polish sztuka (both ultimately from Proto-Germanic *stukkiją), all meaning "piece", "thing" or "theatre play"; note that "Theaterstück" is the German word for play (theatre) (and is a synonym of "Schauspiel", literally "viewing play" in contrast to the "Singspiel").

The English word "piece" is sometimes used in a similar context (e.g., a musical piece). In stand-up comedy context a near equivalent term is a "bit". Another variant is "bits of business" or just "bits". Shtick may 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 (although they often played characters with different names and occupations) would qualify as their shtick. A comedian might maintain several different shticks of this sort, particularly if appearing in a variety show encouraging development of 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 an ability to eat dozens of hot dogs quickly might say that it was his shtick. Among Orthodox Jews, "shtick" can also refer to wedding shtick, in which wedding guests entertain the bride and groom through dancing, costumes, juggling, and silliness.

Because of its roots in show business, shtick has taken on connotation of a contrived and often used act. For this reason, journalists and commentators often apply the word disparagingly to stock replies from politicians.[1]

Notable examples[edit]

  • 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 a competent 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, had well-honed shticks by the time they started making movies.
    • Groucho, with his stooped walk, greasepaint moustache, 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 was a straight man in their movies — though some have argued that 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 the 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 shtick. 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).
  • Comedian George Carlin created a famously banned shtick, "Filthy Words", a/k/a "Seven dirty words."[2]
  • 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.
  • Stephen Colbert has referred to his character from his show The Colbert Report 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, at the height of his career, involved comparisons between the United States and the Soviet Union, punctuated by the catchphrase "What a country!".
  • 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.
  • Sam Kinison's shtick was his increasingly emotional, high-stress vocal delivery, often leading to actual shouting or screaming, to the point where his voice became hoarse.
  • 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.[3]
  • All original members of The Wiggles were known for having shticks. Jeff Fatt's was falling asleep at odd times, leading the other Wiggles and the audience to call out the catchphrase "Wake Up Jeff!", Anthony Field's was eating too much food, Greg Page's was doing magic tricks, and Murray Cook's was an obsession with playing the guitar.
  • Penn and Teller's shtick focuses mainly on which part of the duo does the talking; Penn provides the only on-stage narration and is the only public voice of the act, whereas Teller never speaks on stage or on camera. In on-camera interviews, Teller remains in shadow, and in rare circumstances when Teller speaks on-stage, his face is obscured.
  • Gilbert Gottfried's stage persona, with his perpetually high-pitched squeaky voice and pinched face, is a shtick that has been maintained through almost all of his public appearances and television and film roles.
  • Larry the Cable Guy's stage persona, developed during his days as a member of a morning radio zoo crew, is considered a shtick. Despite his public appearances as a hillbilly with a deep Southern accent, propensity for wearing sleeveless flannel shirts and his signature "Git-R-Done!" catchphrase, the comedian, whose real name is Daniel Whitney, is a native of Nebraska.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ayers, Michael D. The White Stripes and Their One-Note Shtick, New York Magazine, July 18, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
  2. ^ "George Carlin, Filthy Words". Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. Retrieved December 18, 2016. The following is a verbatim transcript of "Filthy Words" (the George Carlin monologue at issue in the Supreme Court case of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) prepared by the Federal Communications Commission...
  3. ^ Zinoman, Jason (May 26, 2014). "No Real Hurry to Tell the Joke: Bob Newhart, Master of the One-Sided Conversation". New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014. Mr. Newhart became famous through stand-up routines that were one-sided telephone conversations in which his comic partner was neither seen nor heard.