Life wouldn’t be the same without humor, and yet, some types of it may seem unkind at first. That is the case with dry humor or deadpan comedy, too — if it’s not done properly, it can be misunderstood and seen as arrogant and riddled with an air of superiority.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, of course, as those sentiments may only be necessary to deliver the joke. Still, it’s best to explain it in more detail by defining dry humor precisely and, more importantly, checking how it’s different from pure sarcasm.
What Is Dry Humor?
Making people laugh is always a positive trait, but not many can do it — yes, not even some stand-up comedians. To make it all the more confusing, not every type of humor is going to make everyone laugh. Some, like dry humor, can easily fall flat if the jokes aren’t delivered properly.
So what is dry humor anyway? Some would say that it is more or less British humor, though the British do use lots of strong sarcasm and can make the jokes pretty dark or insulting. Dry humor doesn’t have to be offensive — its main goal is to be funny.
But the way a comedian delivers a dry humor joke is what makes it so interesting. You’ve probably seen lots of sketches and stand-up acts by now. One thing most comedians have in common is facial and body expression — and lots of it.
Jim Carrey is a good example of this; he has even made a whole career out of making weird faces while telling his jokes.
Delivering Dry Humor Isn’t Easy at All, Though
Dry humor comedians, however, don’t rely on their expressive faces or bodies. They don’t wave hands about to make the joke — and themselves — even funnier.
To do dry humor properly, you have to be able to keep your face expressionless. The synonym, deadpan, quite literally consists of the words “dead” (signifying a lack of emotion or expression) and “pan” (slang for face).
The joke is delivered by a person who essentially keeps a straight face throughout it (as straight as possible, at least), not even reacting to the audience’s roaring laughter.
The point of this lack of emotion and facial expression is to call attention to the absurdity of the jokes. These may very well be mere statements that, when said without any humor at all, are not even so funny.
So really, the gist of dry humor comes down to the delivery; the joke has to be done in an outrageously witty way but not followed by a reaction from the deliverer!
How to Tell If You Have Dry Humor
One of the best examples of dry humor is Chandler Bing from the TV show Friends. Often laced with superb sarcasm, his jokes get the most laughs, but they wouldn’t be so funny if his expressions and movements were over the top.
It is his ability to keep a straight face and tell them as a statement (a matter of fact even) that makes them truly hilarious. And yes, that kind of humor isn’t for everyone — because you have to listen carefully to find the funny part (the absurdity!).
Chandler is one of the most beloved characters too, and one that a lot of people relate to because of his humor. However, there are some clear characteristics of a person with dry humor that show you’re a Chandler at heart:
• You don’t rely on your facial expressions when delivering a joke. In fact, you stay perfectly calm without raising eyebrows, smiling, or making grimaces.
• Your body language is calm. And you don’t boost your joke’s success by waving your hands, walking fast, dancing, and similar. Likewise, you don’t require props to be funny.
• You don’t flinch at the end of the joke. You don’t react to it at all, nor do you show satisfaction at how well it has been accepted.
• Your manner of speaking is blatantly honest. So any absurd statements that come out of your mouth almost always leave people in stitches.
• Cynicism, irony, and sarcasm are your best friends. Or rather, they often accompany your humor.
• People may often find you a bit rude. But that’s usually because they didn’t get the joke.
The Difference Between Dry Humor and Sarcasm
Now, sarcasm is sometimes a necessity for delivering a good dry humor joke. If you were to check out any of the Friends episodes, you could easily spot how Chandler uses it on a daily basis.
However, the main difference between sarcasm and dry humor is that sarcasm doesn’t always have to be funny. Sometimes, its point isn’t to be funny at all but to instead offend the other person, making them appear ridiculous and, yes — even dumb.
A good example of this would be if someone were commenting on the weather. It could be the middle of winter, and they’d say, “It’s snowing outside.”
That’s something to be expected in the winter, and there is no harm behind the statement. It is just a fact. But a sarcastic person could use it to mock the individual by saying, “Hello, Captain Obvious/Sherlock,” “You don’t say!” or “Really? Are you sure?”.
Even there, you can notice that the last comment could be delivered more sensibly without that sarcastic tone. So, just like in the case of dry humor, sarcasm does depend on the delivery and the context.
Sarcasm Tells the Opposite of What You Think
Sarcasm thrives on opposing thoughts, which aren’t necessary with dry humor. An example of this would be if something bad happened to you on a particular day. A good “comeback” would be, “That’s just what I needed today!”.
On the other hand, you can use this opposing way of expression to, once again, insult someone. If someone, for instance, puts on a lot of perfume, you can say, “Nice perfume! How long did you marinate in it?”.
However, the thing about sarcasm is that it is a bit easier to recognize than dry humor. For dry humor to work, having an (almost) expressionless face is key. When you’re sarcastic, you can be loud, annoying AND annoyed, mad, and more.
Do remember, though, that sarcasm’s power lies in intention, whereas dry humor focuses more on presentation. And the more intentional it is, the more likely it will actually offend someone at some point — and not be so funny anymore.
Dry Humor Jokes
Examples of Dry Humor in TV, Movies, and the Comedy Industry
The easiest way to recognize dry humor would be to check out the works of the many comedians who have included it in their repertoires. Some of the best skits you can watch for yourself include those by Steven Wright, Tig Notaro, Leslie Nielsen, and Rita Rudner.
Various actors and actresses also dabble in deadpan humor. Rebel Wilson, for instance, had a particularly funny speech at the BAFTAs just a few years ago.
There are also lots of TV shows and movies that thrive on deadpan delivery — and yes, some of them are very British. Shows like Blackadder are rather heavy on the sarcasm, but most of the lines are delivered with a straight face.
You can also find some dry humor in Monty Python sketches, which have even influenced some of the greatest deadpan comedians of all time, like Rowan Atkinson and Sacha Baron Cohen.
By far, the best examples are the Naked Gun movies and Airplane!, helmed by Leslie Nielsen. Bill Murray also shows off his deadpan talents in Ghostbusters, sprinkling lots of dry wit throughout the movie.
Dry Humor Jokes: Movies and TV Shows
“Quinn: Oh my gosh! If I hadn’t gotten up at just that second, that would’ve hit my head.
Daria: Or, something vital.” – Daria Morgendorffer (voice), Daria
[as the plane prepares to take off]
Hanging Lady: Nervous?
Ted Striker: Yes.
Hanging Lady: First time?
Ted Striker: No, I’ve been nervous lots of times. – Airplane!
Capt. Ed Hocken: Alright, Sally, you’re under arrest.
[turns to two police officers]
Capt. Ed Hocken: Sergeant, take her away and book her.
Det. Frank Drebin: [Frank comes up and shakes the policemen by the hand] Sergeant Takeheraway, Sergeant Booker. – Police Squad!
“Helen: You gloss over everything with a cynical joke, and no one knows what you really believe in.
Daria: A-ha. So my evil plan is working.” – Daria Morgendorffer (voice), Daria
Mrs. Twice: Oh, PLEASE go away. Please go away! I don’t want to answer any more of your questions.
Det. Frank Drebin: We’re sorry to bother you at a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then. – Police Squad!
“I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.” – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation.
Classic Jokes to Deliver With a Straight Face
Oh, I’m sorry. Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?
An old teacher asked her student, “If I say, ‘I am beautiful,’ which tense is that?” The student replied, “It is obviously past tense.”
A teacher wanted to teach her students about self-esteem, so she asked anyone who thought they were stupid to stand up. One kid stood up, and the teacher was surprised. She didn’t think anyone would stand up, so she asked him, “Why did you stand up?” He answered, “I didn’t want to leave you standing up by yourself.”
I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me, acquire some taste.
Dry Humor Comedians and Their Wisdom
We’ve begun to long for the pitter-patter of little feet — so we bought a dog. Well, it’s cheaper, and you get more feet. – Rita Rudner
I went into a shop and walked up to the counter, and the man behind the cash register said, “How can I help you, sir?” And I said, “Just the gum, ma’am.” And we were just in this lockdown moment of utter confusion, just like, “Yeah, I don’t know what I’m looking at either.”
I don’t know how he felt about that exchange, but I know for myself I did leprechaun kicks the entire way home. – Tig Notaro
I’ve never been married, but I tell people I’m divorced, so they won’t think something is wrong with me. – Elayne Boosler
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
I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life. – Rita Rudner
For my birthday I got a humidifier and a dehumidifier… I put them in the same room and let them fight it out. – Steven Wright
I have a paper cut from writing my suicide note. It’s a start… – Steven Wright.
As you can see, dry humor is a bit more complex than you thought, and mastering it starts with first learning how to control your facial expressions and body language — and then how to use the right tone and level of irony, sarcasm, or cynicism.
Usually, it comes naturally to most comedians, but you can cultivate it by observing people, reading, playing with words, and above all, learning how to laugh at life.
But even if you don’t master it, there’s no harm done — you can always continue laughing at the dry humor of the likes of Rita Rudner and Steven Wright. At the very least, that will bring you some joy. Plus, you may pick up on some of their deadpan humor and start using it naturally in your everyday life.