What is Dry Humor?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 March 2020
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Often referred to as deadpan humor, dry humor is a comedy technique that is characterized by a calm and straightforward delivery by the performer. This is in contrast to such comedy art forms as slapstick or sketch comedy, which often relies upon broad gestures, exaggerated facial expressions, or an emphasized tone or tenor in order to heighten the comic appeal of the joke or remark. Often, dry humor is associated with what some people refer to as highbrow comedy, as the style requires a degree of restraint in order to be effective. However, good dry humor usually employs words that are easily accessible to persons of just about any educational level and often makes use of everyday terms as part of the content.

With dry humor, the focus is on the actual words that are used, rather than the use of various devices that call attention or emphasis to parts of the delivery process. The construction of the joke or script may in and of itself be slightly mocking or sarcastic in nature, although the vocal delivery will tend to limit the use of inflection or tone to convey those qualities. Instead, the delivery of the humor tends to be in normal casual tones, sometimes accompanied with a slight smile or look that is allowed just a hint of irony. This helps pull the attention of the audience to the words themselves, rather than distracting them with movements or expressions.


The double-entendre is a very common verbal device used in the delivery of dry humor. An excellent example of this device is found in British comedy. Considered by many persons to be masters in the art of dry humor, many British comedy presentations over the years have employed the use of a common term that in fact could have more than one meaning, often one that was considered to be slightly racy. When delivered in a perfectly serious and deadpan mode, this dry humor device can produce riotous responses from an audience, and seems to stay fresh over an extended period of time.

Many successful comedic performers, both British and American, have built careers based on the successful employment of dry humor. Along with stage, television, and movie performers, many writers make use of dry humor in novels, magazine articles, and newspaper columns.


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Post 65

I guess I must have the taste of peasants, because I personally find slapstick comedy absolutely hilarious. For example, I was just watching someone's parodies of some popular songs on youtube, and they nearly killed me.

I guess I am able to enjoy dry humor (if I can understand the joke. Sometimes I can't). I realize, consciously, that it's clever, and I appreciate the thought process that went into creating it. However, it just doesn't elicit "riotous response" from me nearly as much as the crude, dumb, over-the-top stuff.

Post 64

I can't believe there are people on here who are so bored, so sad, and so self-absorbed in their lives that they have to try and turn this topic into an Anti-American situation. Tend to your own yard.

Post 63

The best part of British, Scots and south Asians is that they can laugh at the smallest and pettiest remarks and control the laugh whenever they like.

Post 61

Is Larry David considered dry humor? I think the guy is the funny and very entertaining. A few people have said the words dry humor when referring to him. Someone please clue me in!

Post 60

My friend claims to have dry humor, but she is more ignorant then anything.

Post 58

If you enjoy dry humor, I greatly recommend "Parks and Recreation", specifically, Aubrey Plaza. Her monotone delivery and telling smirk are priceless.

Post 57

I've been told that I have a lovely dry sense of humor. This mostly by the same person that complains about my uncalled for sarcastic quips.

Post 55

Good article. The anon poster on post 52 who said that Monty Python is "dry humor" probably doesn't understand fully what the term means.

All of Monty Python's stuff is over-the-top slapstick-style. Granted, there is a little bit present in his films, but for the most part it is purely slapstick, black comedy, irony and parody. For the record, I love "The Life Of Brian."

Post 54

To the guys in Post 50 and 51: he did call British a race, but he was American, so he is excused.

Post 53

I agree that dry humor is the best kind of humor, in that it isn't so much "dry" as it is "fresh." Nothing beats a witty remark or sarcastic statement, particularly from the likes of Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill. Also, I would agree that humor in America is insufficiently evocative, as it is overdone and far too deliberate. British humo(u)r trumps all.

Post 52

I've doing dry humor since fourth grade. I do believe it's mostly used by the shy or socially awkward, as well as more intelligent people. I was shy growing up and when I would actually say something, it would be funny, straight forward, and delivered expressionlessly.

A kid once said to me he thought it was hilarious that everything I said was said with a straight face. My current boyfriend and I like to watch comedies, but his idea of funny is slapstick, Will Ferrell-type routines which never get so much as a smirk from me. Stuff like Monty Python, or Woody Allen's drier humor.

Post 51

To the guy from post 50, I don't think he actually called the British a race.

Post 50

I think that most people here are suggesting that certain nationalities, especially Americans, cannot do dry humor (or humour for you Brits) because random stereotypes that you have that are actually not really based on anything but probably the observations from the Jersey Shore or something similar. And in fact, if you are getting your opinions of all Americans from watching bad TV, then you are probably no better than the Americans who watch said show.

Also, if you think Americans are dumb, I would like to point out that "British" is not a race, it is a nationality. "White", however, is.

Post 49

I think, Mrs. Slocum's often used two words in "Are you being served?" is a very good example of British dry humor - "My pussy".

Post 48

I think the dry humor of the Brits is hilarious. American humor however, can't really fit a proper word to describe it; it's somewhat overdone and simple. And that's coming from an American.

Post 46

Some people are always trying to seem smarter than the rest of the human race. I agree potty humor is absurd, but there's nothing wrong with a few Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell's exaggerated moments (although sometimes they go a little towards the gutter). Doesn't make Brits a superior race because they laugh at dry delivery of jokes more than anyone else. That seems to be all foreigner's "argument".

Post 44

I feel you have to actually be educated to a degree to enjoy dry humor. Also, it is really straightforward and does not need absurd gestures to supplement the joke. That is why I truly enjoy dry humor, and it is done much better in Britain. Americans are just much too dumbed down by the media to even understand this form of comedy.

Post 41

I think the Americans in these comments are a prime example of why Americans in general don't get dry humor. Unless there is some "canned laughter" and they don't have to think, they don't find it funny.

Post 40

at least the brits don't need a laughter track to tell them when to laugh.

Post 39

I think it should be acknowledged that the term "dry humor" is not very well defined. There does not seem to be a consensus as to what precisely 'dry humor' is.

Many of the examples cited here (e.g. Monty Python, Steven Wright, Leslie Nielsen in some of his comedic roles) seem to me to be better described as absurdist humor. When I think of 'dry humor' - vague a concept as it is - I usually think of the sort of sarcastic quips Sean Connery or Roger Moore's James Bond character occasionally made, or the sort of 'witty' remarks the early Beatles were famous for in their interactions with the media. It's not really something you usually see as part of

a comedic act; it;s more understated than that.

I can see where it might occasionally overlap with absurdist humor or 'deadpan' (the latter being more of a verb - a means of delivery - than a style of humor), but in the end it is just not well defined enough to debate its merits.

Post 38

I think Jack Dee is a good example of dry humour. check him out online!

Post 36

I didn't really read everyone's comments but a big mention for Steven Wright, surely? I know we British do it better than anyone but his is the epitome of the dry one-liner.

Post 35

Dry humor, (or "humour", for you damned foreigners), is mainly about what isn't said.

This is why Latins are not known for their dry humor, since no Latin can ever leave anything unsaid.

(Several times over, in fact.)

And then there are Germans and their ilk. It is to be sincerely wished by many, both far and wide, that they would aspire to become the "Jedi masters" of the art.

Post 32

@29: Leslie Nielsen: Canadian.

Bill Murray: definitely not Canadian. Grew up in a suburb of Chicago, went to college in Colorado, then worked at Second City Chicago before moving to NYC.

Post 31

This cyber-conversation just flat-lined. You have all ruined humor for me. Why aren't any of these comments funny? Why? Dry humor has never been, nor will it ever be, a political stance!

Post 30

Oh I do love a good Brits-hating session.

Post 29

To whomever said Leslie Nielsen and Bill Murray were good American comedians: you sir (or ma'am) have an excellent sense of dry humor. For those who don't know, both men are Canadian. Canadians tend to have a rather British appreciation for humor.

Post 28

OK so if dry humor is: With dry humor, the focus is on the actual words that are used, rather than the use of various devices that call attention or emphasis to parts of the delivery process, then how can you say Monty Python utilizes dry humor? Their skits are so over-the-top and slapstick, their is nothing subtle about it.

The Search for the Holy Grail and other Python skits are delivered serious and deadpan as to hide the joke in the words? come on, really? are you people blind?

Post 27

The Brits do dry humor better than anyone else. Monty Python has never been equaled in that vein. Further, the post-Python work by the individual members such as John Cleese and Michael Palin makes for a long, funny list.

A contemporary Brit paradigm is Hugh Laurie (the eponymous doctor of "House, M.D." TV series), who does an American accent so well many people don't realize he's a Brit and was a long-established comedic performer, e.g. Fry and Laurie team, before he became an "overnight" TV star in the US.

A few negative opinions expressed above contain a distinct element of hostility. Possible reasons: 1) They resent having to think a little bit more than they're accustomed to in order to

get the joke; 2) They can't think fast enough to keep up with a rapid delivery pace; 3) Frustration over their inability to get it, period, for lack of prerequisite knowledge.

I would bet those people are great fans of, say, Dane Cook. Not much knowledge or thinking required with his type.

Post 26

slapstick is just plain dumb. i mean, i see what the joke is supposed to be, but it doesn't elicit a laugh response from me because it's just so inane and stupid. i feel we are dumbed down by it, and the toilet humor is just, no, not my thing at all. dry humor is often paralleled with situational humor -- laughs from stuff that can actually happen in real life (maybe not everything from the movie something about mary, but some of it! - for example).

Post 25

To enjoy dry humor it helps to be able to think while one listens. This is often hard for us westerners across the pond who love our toilet humor! I must admit, however, I prefer dry humor over poo jokes any day.

Post 22

I've always been a huge fan of dry humor, but I never could tell the difference between all the kinds of comedy out there. I would just sit there laughing away and every one else would just sit there with strange looks on their faces.

I finally decided to look up the definition so that maybe I could tell the difference, and you helped me out a lot. Thank you! Jamie

Post 21

Wow, why are so many people hating on dry humor? lol. I am always told I have dry humor and people love it and I never really knew what it was. I just talk and say what's on my mind with out trying to be really funny and people just laugh. Usually it's about the stuff everyone's thinking but no one is comfortable enough to say themselves.

At least one of you said dry humor and sarcasm is learned over time with age. That's such crap. I'm 21 and have been told I have good dry humor for almost half my life :) And I agree, British comedy is hilarious! :) I was exposed to it on my first British Airways flight a few years ago. I love Brits. :)

Post 20

People don't get dry humor and mistake it with nonsense and dribble. Most annoying part is that they aren't even ready to understand what it is all about.

Post 19

i think its all pretty funny. It's the first time i actually saw a debate over whats funny and whats not.

i mean, funny is funny. If it ain't, don't laugh and get over it.

Post 18

What do people mean by they didn't know that the English laughed at anything. Now, I'm an Australian, making me completely third party and impartial, and if you want my opinion, English comedy is way better than American. I mean, The Peep Show? Hilarious!

Post 16

I think the article clearly states that dry humor is an acquired sense as you get older, Most young people don't have the life experience to understand it. Same goes for Sarcasm. I hate little b*tches who don't understand sarcasm.

Post 15

My own humor is dry, or perhaps slightly damp. I love great deadpan comics like Jack Benny, Tim Conway and Bob Newhart. Monty Python combines the dry style with absurd material - brilliant.

Post 14

Dry humor stinks. Not funny.

Post 13

I stand corrected, as I was just reminded of several American dry humorists who don't give the audience a hint. Bill Murray, for one. Leslie Nielsen made his career out of delivering humorous lines without seeming to notice that anything he said was funny at all.

Post 12

The reason why the British are so well known for their dry humor, is possibly the same reason a few people here didn't even know the British were funny. These people probably thought it was all Benny Hill and (the less funny) Monty Python sketches. American dry humor is nearly always with an obvious smirk. The British dry humor doesn't seem to give as many hints that a joke was even told. You have to be listening for it.

Post 11

wait, you mean the british have comedy, and its not all sunshine and rainbows over there? my mind just blew up.

Post 9

Actually, it is a known fact that the English had a well-developed sense of slap-stick comedy before the Norman Invasion. Unfortunately, this came to an end shortly before the end of the Battle of Hastings when Harold was heard to quip, "Come on lads, its all fun and games until someone pokes their eye out."

Post 7

The first comment, or rather the last one before mine, is a dry humor joke. I hope you see it. It's hilarious.

Post 5

I didn't realize the British ever did anything considered comedy.

Post 4

Would Jimmy Carr be a good example of dry humor? He tells his jokes with a very straight face, and uses the double-entendre a lot...

Post 3

Because it rains so much over there.

Post 2

As a fan of British sitcoms, I think they have a well-deserved reputation for dry humor because they their comedy often has such a sense of irony to it. They tend to be able to make fun of their cultural institutions while appearing to be totally serious. Plus, many of their situation comedies employed effective use of the double-entendre, delivered once again with a straight face.

Post 1

Why are the British so well known for dry humor?

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