What is Dry Humor?


What is dry humor

You might just think that humor is just humor. Simply there to get a laugh, right?

But did you know there are actually different types of humor? And not everybody finds the same things funny?

Take slapstick for example. Somebody walks into a room, confident as ever. Then, they slip on a banana peel.

Cue audience laughter. But is everybody really dying of laughter? To some, slapstick might not be their cup of tea.

Maybe they’re looking for something more subtle. Maybe the very thing that gets them going is something called dry humor.

Contrary to popular belief, dry humor is not the opposite of wet humor. Instead, it’s a type of humor that relies more on lack of emotion and facial expressions.

Dry humor is also known as deadpan. And no, I don’t actually mean a dead pan.

Gosh, do you have to be so literal?! (This is not an example of dry humor.)

(But here’s one). Stand-up comedian Steven Wright is considered the king of dry humor and wright-ly so. (Sorry not sorry).

His tone on stage sounds rather monotonous and he uses hardly any body language or facial expression to convey his intent. Instead, he lets the joke do the talking:

“It was my birthday and I got a humidifier and a dehumidifier. [I] put them in the same room, let them fight it out.”

And the audience loses it. A simple, matter-of-fact observation. But people love to witness Steven and his dry humor mop the stage.

What makes a dry sense of humor so funny is the stark contrast between its delivery and its intention. Deadpan delivery is straightforward and seemingly unfunny to begin.

But the jokes that come out are still just as funny as ever. Most people mistake deadpan humor with sarcasm.

But let’s just set the record straight. Dry humor and sarcasm are definitely cut from the same cloth.

But there’s still a pretty significant difference between the two. Interested in learning more? Then read on.

See Related: What are Dad Jokes?

Dry humor vs. sarcasm

Dry humor often gets mistaken for sarcasm

We all have a sarcastic person or two in our life. Heck, maybe you are the sarcastic person in a lot of other peoples’ lives!

But the main difference between sarcasm and dry humor is that sarcasm isn’t always funny. This isn’t a personal affront to anyone who uses sarcasm.

It’s just that sarcasm isn’t always used for the purpose of comedy. Mainly, sarcasm is saying the opposite of what you actually mean.

And that’s where we get that recognizable tone of “duh” or “obviously.” Think of your friend turning to you during a hailstorm.

They say, “But it wasn’t supposed to rain today.” Then, right on cue, you turn to them in an incredulous voice, “Oh really?!”

A classic example of sarcasm. But a dry sense of humor is all about the presentation.

Dry humor jokes are undeniably funny. But the facial expression used to deliver said jokes are far more serious and, well, deadpan.

Here’s another Steven Wright example. Maybe this will get you in the right headspace for dry humor.

“Last night I played a blank tape at full blast. The mime next door went nuts.”

It seems wrong that dry humor can be so humorous. But the clever play-on-words delivered in such an obvious manner make dry humor an art form just waiting to be mastered.

The difference between dry humor and sarcasm might seem subtle at first. But just ask yourself if the intent behind what is said is truly for the sake of comedy.

If it’s not, it’s probably sarcasm. But if it is, it’s likely dry humor. Pretty easy rule of thumb, right?

Elements of dry humor

To understand dry humor, it’s important to break down its elements. This isn’t to say that dry humor is a complicated thing to figure out.

But maybe you’re looking to up your dry humor game. If so, read on and take these tips to your next office party.

#1. Wit

Dry humor relies on deadpan expression and clever jokes

The textbook definition of wit is “mental sharpness” and “keen intelligence.” So the next time someone says something like “comedians aren’t smart,” just throw a dictionary at their head!

But in all seriousness, a dry sense of humor is all about intelligence. Not only do these types of jokes get the point quickly.

Their delivery is meant to manipulate just how funny the joke turns out to be. Here’s one of the best examples I can give you:

“I’ve never been married, but I tell people I’m divorced so they won’t think something is wrong with me.”

A classic by comedian Elayne Boosler. The joke comes from the fact that divorce is so common, it’s almost looked down upon if you haven’t been divorced.

So here she comes with her dry sense of humor to make sure she fits in with the rest of the divorced folk. Though the joke itself is funny, it is the delivery that makes it so humorous.

Imagine if someone were to deliver this line like a pun. You know, that self-aware language that people use to show off how clever their joke is?

For most jokes, the comedians telling it are in on the joke. And this makes for an experience where everyone laughs together.

But dry humor is a different type of humor that flies under the radar. Elayne Boosler delivers this line with a deadpan expression, seemingly not expecting to get a laugh.

Her delivery is not sarcastic and obvious. It is serious and without emotion. And this is the perfect balance that makes up what is lovingly called deadpan.

#2. Cynicism

Having a dry sense of humor doesn’t always win you fans. In fact, some people think that deadpan humor is straight-up cynical.

But anybody who tells you that life is all roses and daisies is simply pulling your leg. Or, at least, getting you to miss out on the other half of humor.

Humor is not just funny. It’s real.

And sometimes, real things can be fairly bleak. Take the last joke by Elayne Boosler for instance.

Divorce is so common that even the top corporate comedians are joking about it. But divorce really isn’t a joking matter.

So how do people deal with difficult things that are seemingly hard to avoid? They make it a point to laugh about it.

Obviously, this makes deadpan the type of humor that can divide a room quickly. But deadpan tells it like it is and doesn’t shy away from the darker side of comedy.

The nature of comedy is far more cynical than we like to believe. Dry humor just reminds us that we need to laugh at the bleakness of the world because otherwise, we’ll cry.

And once you start crying, your humor is no longer dry. Or without expressions for that matter.

#3. Context

A dry sense of humor will use contrast to make something funny

Remember how we said that the key to dry humor was contrast? Well, context can help with that immensely.

Think of a horrible situation. Okay, don’t let yourself go down a spiral of negativity altogether.

But take, for instance, a public breakup. Your friend has just been chewed out by their (now) ex in public.

And that (now) ex has stomped away. The world has stopped spinning and nobody knows what to say.

But for someone with a dry sense of humor, this awkward silence is a goldmine. Dry humor means coming up with quick quips about the situation at hand.

And this also means you’re riding a 50/50 chance of ticking someone off in a bad situation. But that’s the risk of comedy.

So why not take it and keep it dry? Take some of these examples by Oscar Wilde:

“A true friend stabs you in the front,” or “I can resist anything except temptation.”

Maybe these aren’t the greatest things to say to someone who’s just endured a public breakup. But if they have a dry sense of humor like you, odds are you’ll end up making them laugh.

That being said, we’ll include this disclaimer: Do not try this at home.

Or in public. Or around other people. You be the judge.

Bonus: How to Increase Work Productivity

#4. Subtlety

I know I’ve said that a lot of things are the core of dry humor. But do you know what the real core of dry humor is?

Subtlety. Subtlety is what makes deadpan deadpan.

It’s not obvious you’re about to tell a joke. It’s almost like the joke just fell out of your mouth by accident.

This can often take people a second or two to register what you just said. But once they realize the absurdity of your statement, they’ll find you all the more funny.

As odd as it sounds, dry humor is about laughing at ourselves too. And it’s funny to laugh at our initial lack of understanding.

Has a person ever started to tell you something silly and obviously prefaced that it was going to be funny? You already get yourself prepared to laugh.

You’re expecting a hilarious example of comedy genius. Then, maybe you get let down by the words they didn’t string together just right.

Or maybe that person just thought it was funnier in their head. Either way, a bit of a letdown, right?

Well, dry humor disregards the idea of a joke falling flat altogether. And how does it do this?

It tells the joke already flat. Deadpan humor isn’t actively looking for people to fall out of their chairs, hyperventilating from laughter.

Dry comedy is all about letting those comedic examples fly over someone’s head. Then letting them catch the words as they come back around.

Some people may view a dry sense of humor as something snobbish or stuck up. But if a person doesn’t get the joke, maybe they’re just not smart enough to get it.

No offense. Just a thought. Moving on.

#5. Non-reaction

Dry humor uses a lack of facial expressions

Most of the time, people use humor as a way of eliciting a reaction. But for comedians who have mastered the art of a dry sense of humor, they often remain reactionless even after delivering their quip.

So why do people find that so funny? Well, think of it this way.

Most of us have had Zoom meetings as opposed to in-person meetings within the last year, right? And this has often led to hilarious moments of pets interrupting said meetings.

When that happens, the person whose pet intrudes will typically laugh along with the others. But other times, a person might not react at all.

Their pet could be jumping up and down in the background, waiting for a treat or a belly rub. And while that person is fully aware of the situation happening behind them, they simply don’t react.

In COVID times, this might indicate Zoom fatigue. But if that person in the office is known for their dry humor, this could be yet another schtick they’re pulling.

This is exactly what makes dry humor work. The lack of expression doesn’t give any more than is necessary to the hilarious undertaking, whether in joke form or otherwise.

Think of dry humor as the poker face of comedy. If you’re a person who suffers from the affliction of dry humor, you might even have been accused of acting somewhat robotic.

But it’s only because your humor is so straight forward it doesn’t require an expression to back it up. Your comedic statement alone speaks for itself.

So don’t let other people tell you that there are better examples of comedy out there. Your dry humor is all you need.

A special type of humor

Dry humour is special, there’s no doubt about that. If it was stacked up against the other types of humor out there, it would definitely be the one standing in the corner, talking to itself.

But that’s what makes it so unique. It doesn’t seek out attention or look for the spotlight.

It just observes its surroundings and makes witty comments about what it sees. Dry humor is certainly not for everybody.

But there are plenty of folks out there who enjoy no other comedy but dry humor. We’ll leave you with one more from Steven Wright, just to make your day a little drier.

“So, what’s the speed of dark?”

Keep Reading: Why is Employee Motivation Important?

Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular corporate entertainer, magician, and virtual speaker.