Observational Humor — Case Study #6

Observational Humor Case Study #6

Here is a short segment of observational humor I used at the end of a Toastmasters meeting last week.

THE SETUP (things that happened during the meeting)

1.  Bill gave a speech in which he talked about the time he spent in the military.  He got a laugh when he said that the military gave him “a career and a wife.”

2.  In Bill’s speech he said that one of his life’s goals was to be “rich, famous, and a couch potato.”  He got a good laugh.

3.  Bill also talked about growing up and said that he is “still growing up.”  Another good laugh.

4.  Frank was introduced as a speaker.  When his introducer shook his hand and started to cross in front of him (a definite mistake in Toastmasters), Frank didn’t release his hand and practically dragged the introducer behind him.  Frank is a big guy.)

5.  I was one of the speech evaluators.  When my oral evaluation was complete, I forgot to stay at the front of the room to wait for the Master Evaluator to shake my hand.  Instead, I immediately headed down the side aisle.  The master evaluator chased after me to shake my hand.  The two of us are the most senior Toastmasters in the club (forty-plus and thirty-plus years in Toastmasters).

6.  During the Observational Humor segment of the meeting.  Frank noted that Steve was wearing shorts and had legs with no sun tan.  Frank said, “And I used to think that I had white legs.  Now I know that I’m not as brilliant as I thought I was.”  A good laugh.

7.  Pam delivered a manuscript speech on “how to give an evaluation.”  The manuscript was prepared by TM International and the text was provided in the speech manual.  Her challenge was to deliver a scripted-speech well.

8.  Our club membership has been growing.  We had several women attending this meeting.  Six months ago Vicki was normally the only woman present at our meetings.


I found it interesting that Bill’s time in the military gave him a career and a wife.  The military also gave me a career.  But I was home sick the day they issued wives.  (Uses the principle “what if…”   We expect that he found his wife the normal way, but what if the military had in fact given him the wife?)

I too had a goal of being rich, famous, and a couch potato.
Well…one out of three isn’t bad. 
(Uses the principle of “something funny.”  Bill got a laugh using the rule-of-three, with the punchline couch potato.  I piggybacked on his getting a laugh by using the principle of a call-back, recalling a previous funny line and adding a topper to it.  I’m also using the principle of self-deprecation, poking fun at myself.  And I’m using the unexpected twist, proud of the fact that I achieved the thing one would NOT want to achieve.  Lots of things make this simple line funny.)

And Bill talked about growing up and that in fact he “is still growing up.”  The same is true of my life.  Everyday, someone says to me, “Oh, will you grow up?”  (The principle is self-deprecation, implying that I frequently get caught acting childish.)

In Toastmasters we learn that when we introduce a speaker, after we shake hands we should not pass IN FRONT of the speaker.  Just trying passing in front of Frank after you introduce him and he’ll grab your hand and drag you behind him!  (The humor principle here is noting something funny that everyone saw, but which wasn’t especially funny until someone focused everyone’s attention on it.)

We also learn that when you’re done speaking, never leave the speaking area unattended until you are met by the person in charge of the next part of the meeting.  You may have noticed that after I presented my evaluation, I forgot to wait for the Master Evaluator to shake my hand.  And Bill ran after me.  Seventy-seven years of Toastmasters experience running down the aisle…for the purpose of giving you a dramatic visual reminder of the proper way to conduct a meeting.  (Again, pointing out something funny that was funnier after the group relived the experience.  Also, it implies that we did it on purpose for the sake of group learning, which of course was not our real intent.  This activates the relationship of real intent/pretend intent.)

I always thought that my web site was great.  Until I saw Steve’s web site.  Then I realized that mine was not so brilliant.  (This was the only line that didn’t get a good laugh.  Maybe I should have set it up better referring back to the previous “white legs” joke to set the scene for where I was going.  The set-up line, someone else’s observational humor comment, happened shortly before I did my observational humor, but if the audience didn’t connect my line with the first joke, then my spin on that joke would not be very funny.  Notice that in most of the previous lines I structured them with a small lead in/set up to “set the scene” and make my observation funny.  In most cases this is an important thing to do.  Then again the “brilliant” joke might have been funny to only me and may not have been funny to the audience no matter how I presented it.)

I loved Pam’s manuscript speech where she read a text prepared by Toastmasters International on how to give a good evaluation.  I’d like to focus my critical comments solely on the content and structure of her talk.  (This was actually an opening observational line I used in the formal oral evaluation of Pam’s talk, and not a line in my monologue.  It got a very good laugh.  It plays with the principle of absurdity, since my evaluation should, and did, focus on Pam’s delivery techniques for a manuscript speech and not on the content over which she had no control.)

Attendance at our meetings has been growing.  Our club used to be known as “Vicki and the guys.”  I arrived a little late this evening, and as I walked into the back of the room I noticed that we had several women in the group.  And I thought, “maybe they’re issuing wives tonight!”  (This uses the principles of the call-back and book-ending.  When possible I like to tie the opening and closing lines together, in this case using the “issue wives” lines.  If you can close a monologue or speech with a reference to something you said in the opening, it will normally be very effective.)

NOTE:  I had two lines that I did not use for the monologue.  I thought they had humor potential, but I couldn’t find a wording that I was happy with, so I left them out.  Whenever you’re doing observational humor, avoid the temptation to use everything you come up with.  Select your best material and go with those lines.  Your final product will be so much stronger.