Observational Humor — Case Study #8

This past weekend I attended Patricia Fripp’s Speaking and Presentation Skills School for the third time.  A fun and fabulous event.  I can’t get enough.

On the second day of the workshop I presented an Observational Humor Monologue in the morning and another one in the afternoon. 

Observational humor is structured around what is happening and being said in the present moment.  It’s fresh and the audience can readily identify with it.  It will kick up the audience response to your humor a notch or two. 

Observational humor is amazingly powerful.  It’s also the type of humor where “you had to be there” to fully appreciate it.  It’s presented here as an exercise in creating something that works and is not intended to having you falling out of your chair as you read it on the computer screen.

Here’s what Patricia Fripp said about the impact of the Observational Humor at her event:

As you could tell by the laughter and delight of the audience, your observational humor was a great asset to my conference. Consider yourself booked for all my future events in Las Vegas. I was amazed at your observations, insights, and speed in preparation. Thank you for your valuable contribution; it was the perfect pick-me-up after hours of content!
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, Past President National Speakers Association

Here is a look at the construction of those two monologues.

THE SET-UP (What happened at the event before I delivered the monologue)

1.  Fripp suggested an opening line for one of the student presentations on a technical subject:  “Sit back…and be amazed!”

2.  One of Fripp’s pet peeves is that she hates the use of the word “stuff”.

3.  Opening a talk with a statistic was discussed as a possible option.  One student opened his talk with “Eighty-one percent….”

4.  Although it wasn’t mentioned at the event, the TV show So You Think You Can Dance aired twice that week.

5.  Fripp posed the question to the class, “What are the five questions people most frequently ask about what you do?”

6.  A student shared a story from his past when he had fallen off a boat and lost his leg.  He subsequently set a World Record in mountain climbing.  And still holds that record.

7.  Fripp suggested that one option to open a speech was “It was an ordinary day…”

8.  One of the students was named Winton Churchill.

9.  During a discussion on getting participation from audience members who do not want to participate, one student said that she had a group of doctors who were afraid to answer questions, fearing that the other doctors would think they were stupid if they didn’t know the answer.  Specifically she had a slide of a moose and was afraid that they might not know exactly what a moose was, and hesitated to ask them to name the animal.

10.  A student (Sam) arrived three hours late the first day of the class.  He said that he had been out all night partying and had not been to bed.  Then we found out that he lives in Las Vegas (which is where the event was being held).

11.  We discussed the problem of telling old jokes, in a speech, that everyone has already heard.  Two specific old jokes were mentioned:  (briefly, here are the punchlines)
     “What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?”
     “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
And a second old joke.
     “You must be nervous.” (said by a woman to a man)
     “No, I’m not nervous.” 
     “Then why are you in the ladies room?”
12.  Fripp told us that a woman had hired her to give her husband some presentation skills coaching.  Her comment to Fripp was, “I want to hire you for my husband for his birthday.”

13.  We discussed the proper placement of a punch word at the end of the punchline.  Patricia gave the example of the classic punchline smothered with one word added to it.  “Take my wife…please…today.”

14.  Fripp said that one of the secrets to being a better speaker was:  “To be a teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny bit better.”  The small things make the big difference.

15.  Fripp talked about breathing from the diaphragm.  In showing people how to breathe, she would normally ask someone:  “Would you be more comfortable placing your hand on my stomach, or with me placing my hand on your stomach.”

16.  We learned the value of using metaphors to describe our talks. 

17.  The class learned that I am a humor speaker who used to work with nuclear weapons.

18.  A student (Dan) presented a humorous speech where he said that flight attendants were “pretty” while his facial expression said that it wasn’t always true.

19.  A student (Stephanie) gave part of a speech for an upcoming convention where she was to be a featured speaker.  In her talk she used the acronym C.R.A.P and used the phrase “cutting through the crap.”  The talk was well-constructed, well-presented and well-received by the class.  She received a lot of laughs.

20.  The same student (Stephanie) was described by Fripp as a tall and attractive speaker (maybe six inches taller than Fripp).  Stephanie replied that being a member of the Short Women’s Club wouldn’t be all that bad.

21.  A student said a customer once brought a photo of Cindy Crawford to a hair stylist and said she wanted to look like the photo.


Note that the events described above did not happen in the sequence listed.  They happened in random order, but I’ve listed the set-ups in the order that matches the lines in the monologue.  As the two-day class happened, I jotted notes on observations that I thought had the potential for developing a humor lines.  Many of the observations I wrote down, I didn’t use.  After collecting a number of observations, on a separate sheet of paper I began to write the humor lines for the monologue.  The final step was to put the lines in the best sequence for opening and closing.  I’ll make comments, line by line, as the monologue unfolds below.


Sit back…and be amazed.
(This turned out to be a perfect opening line.  It’s funny because it implies that I think the lines will be amazing when, in fact, they are untested, and the audience doesn’t even know who I am.  In fact, based on my quiet personality, many of them are thinking: “I’m going to be amazed?  Yeah, right!)

I have some stuff to share with you.
(Simple line.  But simple lines can get good laughs.)

81% think they’re in the top half of all speakers.
Mathematically 38% of them have to be wrong.

(Just a fun statement of the obvious.)

That’s why Fripp is producing a new Reality TV show:
So You Think You Can Speak.

(Reference to current events and cultural happenings are fresh candidates to drop into an Observational Humor monologue.)

Just what we need…another game show with a British host.
(This was not in my pre-planned monologue.  It came to me as I was delivering the lines and I decided to throw it in.  Fripp is originally from the UK.  It got a really big laugh.)

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I became a humorist.
(Set-up for the joke)

It was an ordinary day…30 years ago…when I fell off a boat and lost my sense of humor.

Subsequently I became one of the funniest persons from North Dakota.
(Topper.  A second joke on riding on the wave of the original joke theme.)

And I still am.
(Topper.  This sequence closely followed the exact wording structure of the student’s brief description of his life.)

I’ll have to tell my friends that I attended a conference with Winton Churchill. 

I’m sure they’ll say “Winston Churchill?”

I’ll have to tell them that it’s WINTON.  His parents had a sense of humor. 

They said, “Let’s take WINSTON and delete one letter.”
(As part of the set-up for what follows, I chose to make it crystal-clear that ONE LETTER had been deleted from his first name.  I didn’t want to assume they would immediately figure that out.)

If his last name was Lincoln…he’d be ABAHAM Lincoln.
If his last name was Roosevelt…he’d be FANKLIN Roosevelt.

Last month I was speaking to a group of doctors.  I showed them a slide of my dog.  One of the doctors said:  “Oh look…a moose!”
(A very big laugh.  Comic license.  I don’t have a dog.)

All the other doctors laughed and pointed at him.

Sam:  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
(Joke.  Good laugh.)

But when you live here…that’s not good.
(Topper.  Stating his name (Sam) first was necessary to set-up the context of the joke series.)

What’s the difference between arrogance and apathy?  Ask me in the ladies room.
(Occasionally a good technique for creating a funny line is to use a set-up and punchline from two different jokes.  They’re expecting a stale punchline…and they get one…from another old joke.)


I gave a speech last week.  A guy came up after it was over.
“I want to buy you for my wife for her birthday.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take my wife…please…today.”
“Why did you pick me.”
“Because you’re a teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny bit better.”
“Well tell me this…
Would your wife rather put her hand on my stomach or have me put my hand on her stomach?”
(This is an interesting example of four separate and totally unrelated observations being pulled together for a joke theme, resulting in a joke with three toppers.)

I’ve come up with a new title for my Keynote Speech:
Everything I know about humor I learned by working with nuclear weapons.
Or the sub-title: 
Everything I know about humor I learned by bombing.

(Joke using metaphor followed by a topper.)

And this morning I realized that being a flight attendant is like knowing that you’re considered pretty…by your mother…and Dan.
(Humor created by using the expected pattern and adding on the unexpected twist at the end.  They think the joke is over when they hear “by your mother.”)

It was not announced, but I am also presenting at the upcoming convention following Stephanie’s program.  The title of my program is:  The Four Road Blocks to Humor

(The fact that another speaker used C.R.A.P. and got good laughs gave me permission and made it feel safe to use S.H.I.T.  And it got a very big laugh.  I had guessed that I would have to spell the word to get the laugh and I was correct.  There was no response until I spelled it out.  I chose not to actually SAY the word.  Just spelling it was perfect.)

And like Stephanie, I too have a dream of one day being in the Short Women’s Club. 

In fact, the last time I went for a haircut I showed my barber a photo of Cindy Crawford.
(End of monologue.  All lines in both monologues received excellent response.)