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.