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I think every comedian has "the fixed patterns of actions or lines" or "the routine way of getting a laugh", which are repeated many times. What is the normal way to call them?

Basically I want to say "Doing something is someone's famous _____." or "This line is known as a _____ to English-speaking people.", and I need a phrase that fits here.

My research yielded several candidates: "shtick", "formula", "gag routine", "signature gag", etc., but I have no idea about the nuances.

In particular, the word "shtick" seems good according to this Wikipedia article, but this term is new to me. Googling shtick basically lists the definitions in many online dictionaries and glossaries, rather than the actual occasions of this word in news headlines, etc., which gave me the impression that this word is used rather infrequently.

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  • yes, I'd use it as his/her signature style.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 4:23
  • You might use "stock gags/jokes/phrases" but please also note the wording in that exposition is far too tenuous to mean anything clear. If basically you want to say "Doing something is someone's famous _____" or "This line is known to English-speaking people as a _____" can you not provide some useful examples? Could you describe the same scene in your own language, then have that translated directly? Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 16:16
  • A different way to put that might be that at least in English, the concept doesn't really exist… nor ever could. It matters not that you prolly meant the best way to describe "fixed, routine gags, (as) used by comedians" which is not the same at all. You seem to Asking for a way to classify jokes into this, that or another ritual form but without the specifics that might make anything funny? How could that work? Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 17:04
  • Consider the prison visitor who, on concert night, hears Convict A say simply: "No 53…" and the mess-hall laughs its head off. Mr Visitor is baffled; more so when Convict B gets a similar reaction from "No 27…" He asks the Governor what's what? "Everyone's been here long enough to know all the jokes by heart…" "Can I try?" "Sure. Step up to the mic…" so he calls out three or four numbers and gets no response. He looks to the Governor for explanation. "No 12? 24? 36? All great jokes. It must just be the way you tell 'em!" Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 17:13
  • Another approach asks you to watch "The Dead Poets' Society" and compare two diametrically opposed styles of criticising poetry. Have you tried that, specifically? Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 17:14

3 Answers 3

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A schtick refers to a comedian's style and choice of topics in general, and could include facial expressions or actions as well as words or style of delivery. It doesn't refer to a specific gag that is repeated often (although a repeated gag might be part of a comedian's schtick). It also often distinguishes a comedian's on-stage role from their actual personality:

Gracie Allen typically played a dingbat character, but that was just her schtick. In real life she was an exceptionally intelligent person.

A running gag is a joke that is repeated in a given work (book, film, tv show, etc.) or series of works. It's not necessarily spoken by the same actor at each occurrence.

"gag routine"(*) is not a commonly used idiom in English.

A signature gag would be immediately understood to have the meaning you suggest, but it isn't an idiomatic phrase, it's just two words used together that mean what you want. However, the phrase is "signature line" is probably more common than "signature gag". For example,

"Take my wife, ... please" is Henny Youngman's signature gag [or signature line].

A catchphrase is another related term, meaning a particular phrase used by a performer (not necessarily a comedian) throughout their career. This could include Henny Youngman's "Take my wife," or John Wayne's calling people "pilgrim". (Thanks @JoeSteele)

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  • So "Take my wife is one of the shticks of HY" is weird because shtick refers to a "style" rather than a specific line. And "Take my wife is one of the running gags of HY" is also weird because it's not limited to one book or TV series. Am I on the right track?
    – naruto
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 5:07
  • You could say that the "take my wife" line was a running gag in Youngman's performances, or that it was his signature line. But you cannot say that one particular gag or line is a comedian's schtick.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 5:31
  • @naruto Typically shtick is typically used as an uncountable noun. We'd say ...is part of HY's shtick. It also refers not really to "style" but entire routine or collection of jokes. If a gag is part of one's shtick, then one reliably makes that joke as part of one's comedy routine or set. It's not weird (though perhaps a bit unusual) to use running gag in that fashion. A running gag is made repeatedly over time in a specific context; one could say that context is HY's comedy. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 6:03
  • Wikipedia says a comedian can have "two shticks" if he regularly plays two completely different characters, but I understand that's exceptional. Thank you!
    – naruto
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 6:12
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    In the UK at least, a repeated phrase in comedian's routine is usually called a catchphrase. This could encompass HY's line, but often also refers to non-gag phrases, e.g. Frank Carson's "It's the way I tell 'em" which he would often say after the delivery of the punchline.
    – Joe Steele
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 9:14
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A 'bit' would be another synonym I haven't seen mentioned yet (in the US at least).

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  • I would say that a "bit" is usually a complete routine or at least a lengthy joke, and not a one-liner. But it is a useful and closely related term.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 16:16
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I think the word you're looking for is "bit."

"John Pinnette was most famous for his Chinese buffet bit."

"Jim Gaffigan's Hot Pockets bit always cracks me up."

I was hoping that comedian would give us an interview, but instead of serious answers, he kept doing his bits.

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