Stone face

The history and prehistory of deadpan
by
May 2022, no. 442

Stone face

The history and prehistory of deadpan
by
May 2022, no. 442
Buster Keaton, 1925 (WolfTracerArchive /Alamy)

A deadpan comedian maintains a straight face or an even tone while delivering ridiculous content. As a performance of humourlessness that makes people laugh, deadpan registers tensions in contemporary culture. Comedy is among the most popular modes of entertainment and social commentary: the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, for example, is Australia’s largest ticketed cultural event, with attendances of up to 770,000. But over the past few years, criticism of comedy’s traditional reliance on stereotypes and its misogynistic and homophobic industry conditions has intensified as high-profile comedians (Bill Cosby, Louis C.K.) were denounced or tried for sexual misconduct and as a new generation of ‘woke’ comedians have engaged with a resurgent cultural earnestness, often disparaged as ‘PC humourlessness’.

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