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Observational comedy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Observational comedy is a form of humor based on the commonplace aspects of everyday life. It is one of the main types of humor in stand-up comedy.[1] In an observational comedy act, the comedian makes an observation about something which is common enough to be familiar to their audience, but not commonly discussed.[2] Such observations are typically presented with the phrase "Have you ever noticed...?"[3] or "Did you ever notice...?"[4] which has become a comedy cliché.[3]

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British comedians Richard Herring and Jo Caulfield wrote in an article that observational comedy relies upon the fact that the observation is "universally familiar" but that it "won't necessarily have been consciously noted by your audience", arguing that the statements can be neither too obvious nor too obscure.[4] Similarly, Eddie Izzard noted that a comedian's observations need to be relatable in order to be successful.[3] Douglas Coupland claims that "it takes a good observational comedian to tell you what, exactly, is the 'deal'" with the phenomenon they are observing, and describes ideal topics for observational comedy as "those banalities and fragments of minutiae lurking just below the threshold of perception".[5]

Observational comedy has been compared to sociology.[6]


Although observational comedy became popular in the United States in the 1950s,[3] one author suggests that even much older jokes commented on human nature in comparable ways.[7] Shelley Berman was one of the pioneers in the field.[3] Other influential observational comics include David Brenner,[8][9] George Carlin,[10] and Jerry Seinfeld.[4][11][12] A 1989 Los Angeles Times article wrote that Seinfeld is "clearly the standard of excellence in observational comedy",[13] while Judd Apatow called Seinfeld "the greatest observational comedian who ever lived".[14]

The British observational comedy tradition began with the Irish comedian Dave Allen's performances in the early 1970s.[15] More recently, James Acaster has developed a form of "uber-trivial" observational comedy, which has been described as a spoof of the traditional observational form.[16]


  1. ^ Sankey, Jay (1998). Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 9781136555633. One of the most popular styles of contemporary stand-up is that of "observational humor."
  2. ^ Double, Oliver (2014). "Observational comedy". Getting the Joke: The Inner Workings of Stand-Up Comedy (2nd ed.). London: Methuen Drama. p. 208. ISBN 978-1408174609.
  3. ^ a b c d e Double, Oliver (2014). "Observational comedy". Getting the Joke: The Inner Workings of Stand-Up Comedy (2nd ed.). London: Methuen Drama. p. 208. ISBN 978-1408174609.
  4. ^ a b c Herring, Richard; Caulfield, Jo (21 September 2008). "The comedian's toolbox". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Grassian, Daniel (2003). Hybrid Fictions: American Literature and Generation X. London: McFarland. p. 182. ISBN 978-0786416325.
  6. ^ Galea, Patrick (30 January 2012). ""So what's the deal with that?" – Observational Comedy and Sociology". Electronic Journal of Sociology.
  7. ^ Byrne, John (2012). Writing Comedy (4th ed.). London: Methuen Drama. p. 10. ISBN 978-1408146453.
  8. ^ Elber, Lynn (16 March 2014). "Comedian David Brenner, 'Tonight' favorite, dies". Associated Press. ...whose brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser...
  9. ^ Platt, Larry (15 June 2011). "David Brenner will perform at the Sellersville Theater". Brenner gave birth to a generation of "observational" comics - funny men who examined small moments closely and poked fun at life's minutiae. To borrow the now-infamous "Seinfeld" phrase, Brenner's act was the first to be about nothing.
  10. ^ Zoglin, Richard (23 June 2008). "How George Carlin Changed Comedy". TIME. His influence can be seen everywhere from the political rants of Lewis Black to the observational comedy of Jerry Seinfeld.
  11. ^ "Here are Jerry Seinfeld's 10 funniest jokes". New York Post. 17 April 2014.
  12. ^ Zinoman, Jason (14 October 2012). "On Stage, a Comic's Still at Home". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Gould, Steven (18 February 1989). "Seinfeld Fans Scratch Heads". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ Weiner, Jonah (20 December 2012). "Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up". The New York Times. Judd Apatow, who as a kid in the late '70s became obsessed with Seinfeld's stand-up, told me, "From the get-go he was the greatest observational comedian who ever lived—nobody was, or is, as funny as him."
  15. ^ Double, Oliver (1997). "Dave Allen". Stand-Up! on being a comedian. London: Methuen Publishing. p. 140. ISBN 978-0413703200. This was quite an innovation, because up to this point there had been no tradition of observational comedy in British stand-up.
  16. ^ "James Acaster: the Leonardo DiCaprio of standup". the Guardian. 2016-08-06. Retrieved 2022-05-18.
This page was last edited on 20 July 2023, at 16:46
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