Online Deadpan and the Comic Disposition

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The Author
Deadpan is a mode of humour characterised by the formal denial of its own comic nature. By means of flat delivery and the removal of the standard textual and performative cues by which a text is marked as comic, the deadpan mode brings the form and content of humour into conflict and, in extreme instances, can thereby call into question how an audience might recognise and interpret any given instance of humour as such. The potential confusion engendered by the deadpan mode of humour becomes even more pronounced when we consider how such comic forms circulate through online media where texts are frequently encountered detached from their original contexts and associated interpretive cues. When deadpan humour is distributed by means of social media and other online networks we are thus confronted with forms of humour marked by the absence of any textual or para-textual cues by which they might be clearly identified as comic. However, rather than seek to minimise this ambiguity, several forms of emergent online humour have embraced and play with this potential for confusion. For example, the abstruse humour of prominent and popular memes such as “Doge,” “Dolan” and “Dat Boi” revel in the comic potential of blank absurdity even as they skirt the edge of un-interpretability and reject the possibility of any straightforward interpretative confirmation. Such novel forms present a challenge for humour studies because they raise the question of how—in the absence of stable textual or contextual elements—humour can be identified. To address this challenge, I will suggest the concept of a “comic disposition”: a means of approaching texts, especially in online contexts, which is predisposed to read them as comic. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, I will argue that the comic disposition is not just required by online deadpan humour, but that—because it is not clear when such a disposition should be properly mobilised—the comic disposition potentially functions as an interpretive orientation for all manner of online content with the consequence that all online content might potentially be read as particularly subtle forms of deadpan humour.