AskDefine | Define deadpan

Dictionary Definition

deadpan adj : deliberately impassive in manner; "deadpan humor"; "his face remained expressionless as the verdict was read" [syn: expressionless, impassive, poker-faced, unexpressive] adv : without betraying any feeling; "she told the joke deadpan"

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative forms


A compound word formed from the English adjective dead and United States slang word pan (synonymous to “face”).


  • /ˈdɛdpæn/


  1. Deliberately impassive or expressionless (as a face or look).
  2. Having such a face or look (as a person).
  3. Impassive (as behaviour or speech).


deliberately impassive or expressionless (as a face or look)
having such a face or look (as a person)
impassive (as behaviour or speech)
  • Hungarian: érzéketlen, szenvtelen


deadpan (also deadpan comedy or deadpan humour)
  1. A style of comedic delivery in which something humourous is said or done while not exhibiting a change in emotion or facial expression.


  1. To express (oneself) in an impassive or expressionless manner.

Extensive Definition

Deadpan is a form of non-comedic delivery in which humour is presented without a change in emotion or facial expression, usually speaking in a monotone manner. Deadpan is a type of dry humor.


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). It was first recorded as a noun in Vanity Fair in 1927; a dead pan was thus 'a face or facial expression displaying no emotion, animation, or humour'. The verb deadpan 'to speak, act, or utter in a deadpan manner; to maintain a dead pan' arose by the early 1940s, apparently as a journalistic coinage rather than a theatrical one. It must be noted that today its use is especially common in humour from the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It is also very appreciated in France, by the influence of the "esprit" (dry-humour mostly). Many popular American sitcoms also used deadpan expressions, most notably Friends and Seinfeld. Dry humour is often confused with highbrow or egghead humour. Although these forms of humour are often dry, the term dry humour actually only refers to the method of delivery, not necessarily the content.

Deadpan violence

A subtype of deadpan is deadpan violence.
Deadpan violence is used to describe a sentence, group of sentences, phrase or action that involves someone threatening violence in an unemotional, detached way. This may be done to create a comic effect, by being out of place and in an unrealistic context.
A classic example of deadpan violence as humour occurs in one of the variations on Monty Python's skit "Cheese Shop". After a long and civil discussion, Mousebender tells the cheese merchant "I'm going to ask you that question ['Do you have any cheese?'] once more, and if you say 'no' I'm going to shoot you through the head. Now, do you have any cheese at all?" The merchant responds with a "no" and Mousebender shoots him through the head.
Another example is in the 1993 film Falling Down, in which D-Fens (played by Michael Douglas) is insulted by a man who has been waiting to use his phone booth. Without much show of anger D-Fens responds, "People have been waiting to use the phone? Well, you know what", to which he removes a submachine gun and fires upon the phone booth, destroying it, then saying, "I think it's out of order."

Usage examples

Notable deadpan comedians

Stand-up comedians



Fictional characters


deadpan in German: Trockener Humor
deadpan in French: Pince-sans-rire

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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