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.
In common usage, the word shtick has also come to mean any talent, style, habit, or other eccentricity 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.
Among Orthodox Jews, "shtick" can also refer to wedding shtick, in which wedding guests entertain the bride and groom through dancing, costumes, juggling, and silliness.
As an appellation
Because of its roots in comedy and show business, 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".
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 several actual blues albums. 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!).
Henny Youngman's standard line "Take my wife — please" was part of his schtick. It consisted of several one-liners delivered in rapid-fire sequence.
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 (parodying Howard Cosell's delivery).
Andy Kaufman was a particularly rigorous practitioner of shtick. Kaufman almost never appeared in public, other than as one of his shtick characters, such as "Foreign Man" or Tony Clifton. When he did appear as himself, he still acted out some shtick routine, with one notable example being a long-running professional wrestlingfeud with Jerry Lawler.
The Rubberbandits are Irish "comedians" who wear plastic bags over their faces as Shtick.
Penn and Teller's shtick focuses mainly on which part of the duo does the talking; Penn provides the only on-stage narration and is the only public voice of the act, whereas Teller never speaks on stage or on camera. In on-camera interviews, Teller remains in shadow, and in rare circumstances when Teller speaks on-stage, his face is obscured.
Gilbert Gottfried's stage persona, with his perpetually high-pitched squeaky voice and pinched face, is a shtick that has been maintained through almost all of his public appearances and television and film roles over the past few decades. There are very few examples, on camera or on audio tape, of him speaking in his natural voice (including a few instances during his brief tenure on the 1980 season of Saturday Night Live).
Larry the Cable Guy's stage persona, developed during his days as a member of a morning radio zoo crew, is considered a shtick. Despite his public appearances as a hillbilly with a deep Southern accent, propensity for wearing sleeveless flannel shirts and his signature "Git-R-Done!" catchphrase, the comedian, whose real name is Daniel Whitney, is a native of Nebraska; early stand-up footage of his from the early 1990s reveals an act still in its' infancy, with the Southern persona, accent and catchphrase notably absent.