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Observational comedy

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Title: Observational comedy  
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Subject: Infobox comedian/testcases, Ed Byrne (comedian), Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Connolly, Amy Schumer
Collection: Comedy Genres, Observation
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Observational comedy

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 from the backwaters of life, an everyday phenomenon that is rarely noticed or discussed."[2] The humor is based on the premise of "Have you ever noticed?"[2] (or "Did you ever notice?"),[3] which has become a comedy cliché.[2] "Observational humour usually took the form of long monologues of personal narrative, and the punch-line was either hard to predict or never came."[4]


  • Overview 1
  • History 2
  • Notable observational comedians 3
  • Criticism of the term 4
  • References 5


British comedians Richard Herring and Jo Caulfield wrote in an article that observational comedy "essentially involves saying 'Did you ever notice?' and then recounting something that will hopefully be universally familiar, but that won't necessarily have been consciously noted by your audience. If it's too obvious an observation it won't be funny (Have you ever noticed how buses always come in threes? Yes.) and if it's too oblique then it won't hit home."[3] Eddie Izzard noted that a comedian's observations "need to be something that people can relate to, for the audience to pick up on it" in order to be considered a successful observational comedy act.[2] Douglas Coupland writes, "Anybody can describe a pre-moistened towelette to you, but it takes a good observational comedian to tell you what, exactly is the 'deal' with them." He adds that observational comedy first of all depends on a "lone noble comedian adrift in the modern world, observing the unobservable-those banalities and fragments of minutae lurking just below the threshold of perception: Cineplex candy; remote control units."[5]

Observational comedy has been compared to sociology.[6]


Observational comedy became popular in the United States in the 1950s.[2] Although one author suggests that it "has never been particularly new. Even the more 'old-fashioned' jokes it supposedly replaced were often themselves disguised commentaries based on observing human nature."[7]

  1. ^ Sankey, Jay (1998). Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy. Routledge. p. 53.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f Double, Oliver (2014). "Observational comedy". Getting the Joke: The Inner Workings of Stand-Up Comedy (2nd ed.). London: Methuen Drama. p. 208.  
  3. ^ a b c  
  4. ^ Friedman, Sam (2009). Legitimating A Discredited Art Form: The Changing Field Of British Comedy (PDF). Edinburgh: School of Social and Political Science,  
  5. ^ Grassian, Daniel (2003). Hybrid Fictions: American Literature and Generation X. London: McFarland. p. 182.  
  6. ^ Galea, Patrick (30 January 2012). So what’s the deal with that?" – Observational Comedy and Sociology""".  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Elber, Lynn (16 March 2014). "Comedian David Brenner, 'Tonight' favorite, dies".  
  9. ^ Platt, Larry (15 June 2011). "David Brenner will perform at the Sellersville Theater".  
  10. ^ "Here are Jerry Seinfeld's 10 funniest jokes".  
  11. ^ Zinoman, Jason (14 October 2012). "On Stage, a Comic’s Still at Home".  
  12. ^ Gould, Steven (18 February 1989). "Seinfeld Fans Scratch Heads".  
  13. ^ Weiner, Jonah (20 December 2012). "Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up".  
  14. ^  
  15. ^ Double, Oliver (1997). "Dave Allen". Stand-Up! on being a comedian. London: Methuen Publishing. p. 140.  
  16. ^  


Richard Zoglin considers the term "observational comedy" misleading because it is not "about politics or social issues or the comedian's own autobiography, but simply about everyday life."[16]

Criticism of the term

Notable observational comedians

The British observational comedy tradition began with the Irish comedian Dave Allen's performances in the early 1970s.[15]


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