A shtick (Yiddish: שטיק) (or schtick) is a comic theme or gimmick. "Shtick" is derived from the Yiddish word shtik (שטיק), meaning "piece"; the closely-related German word Stück has the same meaning. The English word "piece" itself is also sometimes used in a similar context. Another variant is "bits of business" or just "bits"; comic mannerisms such as Laurel and Hardy's fiddling with their ties, or one of them looking into the camera shaking his head while the other one would ramble on. A shtick can also refer to an adopted persona, usually for comedy performances, that is maintained consistently (though not necessarily exclusively) across the performer's career. In this usage, the recurring personalities adopted by Laurel and Hardy through all of their many comedy films (despite the fact that they often played characters with different names and professions) would qualify as their shtick. A comedian might maintain several different shticks of this sort, particularly if they appear in a variety show that encourages them to develop multiple characters, such as Saturday Night Live.
When someone approves of a shtick that has been executed by another person, the appropriate response to display such approval is simply responding, "Good Shtick."
In common usage, the word shtick has also come to mean any talent, style, habit, or other eccentriticy for which a person is particularly well-known, even if not intended for comedic purposes. For example, a person who is known locally for his or her ability to eat dozens of hot dogs quickly might say that it was their shtick.
Shtick as a criticism
Because of its roots in comedy and showbusiness, the word shtick
has a connotation of a contrived and often-used act—something done deliberately, but perhaps not sincerely. For this reason, journalists and commentators often apply the word disparagingly to politicians and their positions, such as the Village Voice
's reference to a perceived change in Rudy Giuliani
's position ("Rudy Adopts New Shtick) or Slate.com
's subtitle for a criticism of presidential candidate Mitt Romney
's presentation of his Mormonism ("Mitt Romney's Clumsy Mormon Shtick). Reviews or critiques of artistic or journalistic works have also used the word in this manner, usually to imply a shallow repetitiveness in the work of the reviewed, such as New York Magazine
calling the White Stripes
' 2007 Canadian tour a "one-note shtick".
Famous comedy shticks
- Jack Benny's character on his radio program was notoriously both stingy and a bad violin player, as well as being perpetually 39 years old. In real life, Benny was known as an expert violinist and lavish tipper, and kept celebrating his 39th birthday each year publicly because "there's nothing funny about 40".
- Three of The Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo, all had well-honed shticks by the time they started making movies.
- Groucho, with his stooped walk, greasepaint mustache, lascivious eyebrow raising, and his cigar;
- Chico, with his fake Italian accent, his "shooting the keys" style of piano playing, and borderline moronic behavior; and
- Harpo, with his pantomime routines, the seemingly bottomless pockets of his trench coat, and his ability to play the harp.
- The fourth performing brother, Zeppo, never developed a shtick and thus was a straight man in their movies (though some have argued that his blandness and "normality" was indeed his shtick).
- W.C. Fields nurtured a character that was not far from himself in real life, being misanthropic, misogynistic, and a hard drinker, as well as lovingly massaging the English language through the utterly unique bellow of his voice and his famous bulbous nose.
- Many of the performers over the course of Saturday Night Live's long broadcast history have developed shticks that were popular enough to be developed into feature films. The earliest of these was the Blues Brothers, the dark-suited alter egos of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, which spawned two movies and an actual blues record. Of the movies that followed in later years, some met with similar success (such as Mike Myers' Wayne's World), while others are regarded as critical and commercial disasters (Julia Sweeney's It's Pat!).
- Johnny Carson's many shticks include his role as "Carnac the Magnificent", an Indian fortune teller who could divine questions to answers (backwards from normal seer routines) sealed in envelopes and kept in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on the front porch of Funk & Wagnalls "since noon today". His signature imaginary golf swing at the end of his monologue would also qualify.
- Chris Berman's shtick in his ESPN commentary was his tendency to give additional nicknames to players based on their last names (often intended as puns or pop culture references). Berman was also known to often say a football player "could – go – all – the – way" on long touchdown plays.
- Andrew Dice Clay's shtick in his comedy routines is his crude, misogynist themed humor, and sometimes vulgar reinterpretations of nursery rhymes.
- Rodney Dangerfield's shtick was centered around his famous catchphrase, "I get no respect," accompanied by his characteristic facial gesture and yanking or straightening his scarlet necktie.
- Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G, Borat and Bruno alter-egos can be considered shticks.
- Yakov Smirnoff's shtick is the Russian Reversal, a joke which is better known than the actual comedian.
- Lewis Black's shtick is his amazingly uncontrollable fits of rage; another is his comments on his blood pressure due to the aforementioned fits.
- Bob Newhart's shtick is his long one-sided phone calls with himself. He lets the audience assume what the other person is saying and reacts to it deadpan.