In the world of humor writing, few styles are as universally relatable and impactful as observational humor. It is the art of finding the hilarity in everyday life, the peculiarities of human behavior and the often unnoticed details that surround us.
Observational humor, made famous by comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C K, taps into our shared experiences and makes us laugh at ourselves. But this style of humor is not exclusive to stand up comics; it is a skill that writers can master to add to their work wit, charm and relatability.
In this article we will be exploring the tricky but potentially wonderful craft of observational humor writing, taking a deep dive into the techniques and strategies that can transform ordinary observations into laugh out loud moments on the page.
Whether you are an experienced writer looking to add comedic flair to your writing or an aspiring writer hoping to debut soon, this guide will equip you with the tools and insights to sharpen your observational skills and leave your readers laughing out loud at the humorous aspects of everyday life.
This guide on writing observational humor contains:
- What is observational humor?
- Notable examples of observational humor in literature
- How to write observational humor
What is observational humor?
Observational humor is a comedic style that mines humor from the ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life. It involves keenly observing and highlighting the quirks, idiosyncrasies and absurdities of human behavior, social conventions and the world around us.
Comedians and humorists who specialize in observational humor, like Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C K, excel at transforming relatable, everyday situations into hilarious anecdotes and punchlines.
This form of humor often thrives on universal experiences, making it widely accessible and relatable to diverse audiences. Observational humor invites us to see the humor in things we might typically overlook, encouraging us to laugh at ourselves and the world we navigate daily.
It is a celebration of the idiosyncratic nature of human existence, demonstrating that even the most routine occurrences can be a source of laughter and connection.
Notable examples of observational humor in literature
“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris: Sedaris is renowned for his sharp wit and keen observations of everyday life. This collection of essays is filled with humorous takes on topics ranging from language barriers to family interactions.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams: Adams’ science fiction series is replete with observational humor, often satirizing bureaucracy, technology, and the absurdity of the universe.
“Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: This novel blends fantasy and humor, offering keen observations about the human condition and divine inefficiency.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger: Holden Caulfield’s cynical and sardonic observations about society, phoniness, and growing up are classic examples of literary observational humor.
“Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding: Bridget’s diary entries humorously capture the trials and tribulations of modern single life, making it a beloved example of observational humor in chick lit.
“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson: Although a comic strip, Calvin’s musings on life, school, and the world around him are rich in observational humor that resonates with readers of all ages.
“The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis: In this satirical work, Lewis uses the letters of a senior demon to a junior tempter to offer astute observations on human foibles and weaknesses.
“A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole: The character of Ignatius J. Reilly is a master of sarcastic and satirical observations about the absurdity of life in New Orleans.
How to write observational humor
Keen observational skills
Keen observation skills are the foundation of writing effective observational humor. Writers must train themselves to view the world with a keen eye, paying attention to the nuances and quirks of everyday life.
This involves noticing the subtleties in human behavior, social interactions and the environment. Whether it is the peculiar way people react in certain situations or the absurdity of common rituals, keen observation allows writers to unearth the comedic potential in the ordinary.
It is about finding humor in the details that often go unnoticed, and the ability to keenly observe and translate these observations into relatable and funny narratives is essential for writing successful observational humor.
Relatability is a crucial element in writing observational humor. The observations and situations a writer presents should resonate with a broad audience, tapping into shared experiences and common truths.
To achieve relatability, writers should focus on universal themes and scenarios that people from various backgrounds can understand and find amusing.
Whether it is the trials of daily life, the quirks of human behavior or the absurdity of societal norms, the more readers can identify with the humor, the more effective it becomes.
Relatability ensures that the humor transcends individual perspectives, creating a connection between the writer’s observations and the reader’s own life, making it all the more enjoyable and memorable.
Exaggeration and hyperbole
Exaggeration and hyperbole are powerful tools when writing observational humor. They involve taking the ordinary and stretching it to extraordinary comedic effect.
Writers can playfully magnify the quirks, absurdities and inconsistencies they observe in real life to create humor that resonates. Exaggeration heightens the impact of observations, emphasizing their comedic potential.
Hyperbole, on the other hand, adds an element of surprise and absurdity to the narrative, enhancing the humor. By skillfully employing these techniques, writers can take everyday situations and make them very funny, drawing readers into a world where the ordinary becomes hilariously larger than life.
This art of exaggeration and hyperbole is a hallmark of effective observational humor.
Timing and delivery
Timing and delivery are key in writing observational humor. Humorous observations must be strategically placed within the narrative for maximum comedic impact.
Writers should understand the importance of pacing, knowing when to build tension and when to release it with a well timed observation. The delivery of the observation, whether through a character’s dialogue, narrative description or comedic timing in a story, should be finely tuned to elicit laughter.
Properly executed timing and delivery can transform an ordinary observation into a comedic gem, making the humor more effective and enjoyable for the audience. It is essentially the art of knowing when to deliver the punchline for the best comedic effect.
Refining one’s work is an essential and often overlooked step when perfecting observational humor.
After crafting humorous observations, writers should revisit their work to ensure it is in fact sharp, concise and aligned with the intended tone. This involves fine tuning the wording, pacing and delivery of the humor.
Eliminating any redundancy or excessive detail helps maintain the humor’s impact. Additionally, writers should consider the overall context of the work and how the observational humor fits within it.
Multiple rounds of editing and revising are often necessary to refine and enhance the humor, ensuring that it resonates with readers and adds wit and charm to the narrative without feeling too forced.