Observe It Like Brian (Or Ellen, or Jerry, or Jim and His Mother-in-law)

27.09.2020 |

Episode #2 of the course Humor boosters: Lighten and tighten your writing by Gay Merrill


Okay, now you know the key elements of humor that cause people to laugh: surprise, incongruity, superiority, and recognition. You can find your funny bone the pain free way by observing what makes you laugh, and that’s important so you can share your sense of humor.

Today you’ll draw on observational humor to create a short piece of writing you can use for future lessons to apply the humor-boosting techniques.

Observational humor is based on the premise “It’s funny because it’s true”. This type of humor draws on the everyday aspects of life. What makes observational humor so funny is its relatability.

Standup comedian Brian Regan is known for finding the funny in ordinary events, like a visit to the optometrist, a plane ride, or a trip to the emergency room. And he’s a master at observational humor. Comedians Ellen Degeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Gaffigan also use observational humor.

To find his material, Brian just goes through his normal life and uses his senses to take note of the things he sees, hears, and experiences.

If you’ve ever been to the eye doctor, then you’ll relate to Brian’s set aptly named Eye Doctor. Take five or so minutes, watch it, and make note of his humor.


How to Develop Your Observational Skills

You can develop your observational skills to find the funny in everyday life too. The best way to do this is to jot down situations as they occur. Carry a small pocket-sized notebook with you to keep a record of events with humor potential. Some people refer to this notebook as a humor journal.

If you’re more tech-minded, you might prefer to use an app on your phone to take notes. If you don’t have a notebook or cell phone app, just use whatever you have nearby. Heck, a paper napkin will do. The key is to record the situations soon after they occur because otherwise, they wind up lost in memory along with all your other brilliant ideas.

“Humor is where you find it. Look everywhere.” —Jan McInnis, corporate comedian, and professional speaker



Here’s an example using observations from my own life. I drove a 2006 SUV for 13 years, so I found opportunities to laugh through my vehicle and trips to my mechanic shop. Here are some events I found amusing:

• Me imitating my car engine noise when a CAA technician came to check my car. (He asked me to repeat my impersonation.)

• When I call to make an appointment with my garage, they never ask for my name, they refer to me by the make and model of my car.

• The customer service at my garage reminds me of the good news/bad news a doctor gives. And they have such great car-side manners when they deliver the prognosis on my car’s health… as well as when they deliver my bill.

• My car developed a rattling noise. My mechanic told me the wheel had loose lug nuts.

Funny can be found in the mundane stuff that happens daily. You need to develop your observational skills to look out for it.



1. Think of an ordinary event like going to the doctor’s office, taking public transit, getting a haircut, or going grocery shopping. Start a humor journal and make note of the experience.

2. Pick one bit of an event you chose above, and write up a short paragraph of up to five sentences describing your experience. In your description, think about your five senses. Write down all the details like how you got there, questions people ask, procedures, preferential treatment, people’s behaviors and reactions, your responses, how long you have to wait, how you’re feeling, sounds, etc.

Next lesson we’ll look at how to paint a funnier picture (no art skills required).


Recommended book

Finding the Funny Fast by Jan McInnis


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