The “Trick” of Deadpan

I used to like a writing technique in which I would ruthlessly scrub out any sign of what my intention was.  Specifically I would remove any clues (of voice or mannerism or framing) that made it clear if what I was writing was intended to be serious or funny.  I thought it made the writing more beautiful if there was no hint of what its purpose was (like a smooth piece of wood found on the beach), and I thought it was more enjoyable for the reader as well, because it did that person the courtesy of allowing him or her to run the risk of laughing or not without an elbow to the ribs from me.  So if the reader laughed at something funny, when there was no clue that it was funny, it was a greater achievement, a bit like loving someone who does not ask to be loved.

As I wrote for shows aimed at a wider audience though I felt (and it was pointed out to me) that this dead-pan maneuver was potentially self-defeating.  “The Big Bang Theory” is filmed in front of a live studio audience.  If members of the audience don’t know when and if they are supposed to laugh, they by and large don’t.  So the deliberately enigmatic doesn’t play that well, at least in our multi-cam world.

I’ve decided that for art (or entertainment — is there a difference that’s not status- and snobbery-related?)  I don’t want to rely on the “trick” of deadpan.  I’ve decided that deadpan is not a sign of nobility; rather, it is just one technique among others.

That said, I wonder if there might not be a way of having it both ways.  Perhaps there is a way I can write something that lets most members of the audience in on the joke, but also has a couple of secret jokes for those who are able to get deadpan.  It would be a bit like a perfectly servicable comfortable hotel room that also has a secret door to a slide with an underground chamber in which there is a dark grotto within which lurks a Friendly Walrus.

I think I will start doing that, although if I do decide to though I will, perforce,  not let anybody know.


7 thoughts on “The “Trick” of Deadpan

  1. Mikey says:

    Is this a trick that only works for funny things? I can imagine how you’d do it if it was for funny things, but if you’d written something serious and then went back and deleted any hint about how serious it was, you probably wouldn’t have to delete much. And if you did, and as a result I read it and found it funny, then … have I got a secret secret joke that even you didn’t get?

    A friend of mine told me that he often practises a type of joke where he intends that no one who is there will get it, and never tells anyone that he’s made it. And doesn’t smile. So it’s for only his benefit, except that he told me he did it, so I benefitted too.

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