In the fourth of our series Thinking Comedy, film comedian Jerry Seinfeld talks about the importance of ‘observation’.
People often say to me: what is the secret of your comedy Jerry? If you could put it in one word, what would it be? And I have to tell them, if I have to tell them in one word, that the word I would tell them with would be ‘Observation’.

That’s right. I do Observational Comedy. But what does that really mean?

Well, let me try and explain. You see what I do is I look at things around me, I ‘observe’ them if you will, and I try to notice things that are funny. Things that are comic.
Sounds easy, right? Not too hard? Unfortunately, there’s a catch.
You see there are lots of things which are funny that I can’t use. For instance the other day I was watching a Louis CK DVD. And I was cracking up and I could see loads of material. I opened my computer and began writing. I’d observed everything and so I was able to write it down almost word for word. Then my wife read it over my shoulder and said, ‘You can’t do that!’ And I realized, drat and darn it, I can’t. You see even though I’d observed it and even though it was funny, the funny things actually belonged to Louis, and, unless you’re Denis Leary, comedians don’t steal other comedians’ acts. It’s a law.
So there are limits.
Here’s another one. I was driving (and no I wasn’t in a car with another comedian getting coffee, ha ha, yeah, ’cause you thought… well  anyway…). Okay I was driving and a police officer pulled me over because one of my lights was faulty. And I noticed that the police man seemed really young. And I thought that’s funny. And started scribbling down ideas. But the problem here is that everyone notices after a certain age that the police seem young. It’s because we get old. So the thought is what we call a ‘cliche’ and unfortunately it’s useless as comedy.
However, we can now see how to make a decent piece of observational comedy. First, observe something. Then check it isn’t already a comedy film, or a stand up act, or a comedy song, or something comic. Then check it isn’t a cliche or a truism, or something everybody already knows. Then check it’s funny (perhaps the hardest part). Now you’re ready for your microphone, an adoring public and beach mansions in Malibu. Have you ever noticed how you’re never sure whether or not there’s milk in the house? Ha ha. Yeah? See? Okay, that’s all I’ve got.

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