The Audience

David Mamet

Lesson time 9:29 min

Learn how David reveres his audiences, what they are looking for when they come to the theatre, and how to learn from them.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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There's not a lot that we can learn as humans, right? Because we're stupid. We really are. And myself more than anyone else. Billy Wilder was a great great-- there wasn't a better director and there wasn't a better screenwriter. And he said, the audience, individually-- they're idiots. Collectively, they're a genius. And that's been my experience. Individually, they, like me, are idiots, right? But collectively, you cannot fool them. And I've done my stuff in every medium that I know of all around the world. I've never met a dumb audience. Never. Because the lights go out and the button gets pushed. OK, tell me a story, right? And if you interesting them, they'll follow along. And if it's funny, they'll laugh. And if it's not funny, they won't, right? And if it's stunning, they'll gasp. You can extort a standing ovation out of any audience in the world. You can extort it, right? But you can't extort a laugh out of them. And you can't extort a gasp out of them. They do that-- boy, you've done something. I learned something really important years and years ago. I think we're in the same studio where Sidney Lumet shot the movie, The Verdict, with Paul Newman. And Sidney asked me to write a couple other movies for him. And one of them was the autobiography of Malcolm X. That script never got made and eventually, Spike Lee made his version. But I really loved doing research. And one of the research that I did was reading from the Quran in English. I got a big kick out of it. And one thing that Quran says-- or the prophet Muhammad says-- he says, I'm leaving now. But I'm going to leave you two teachers. There's a speaking teacher and a silent teacher. The speaking teacher is this book, the Quran. And the silent teacher is death. I thought, well, OK, you know? And then I started thinking about drama. I thought, how do you teach people about drama. And there's only two things that can teach the people about drama. There's the silent teacher and the speaking teacher. And the speaking teacher is the audience. You cannot learn how to write drama without writing plays when you get on in front of an audience and getting humiliated. Because nothing makes any sense until you do that. Until you've used your consciousness and you said, this will kill them. This is the best thing anybody ever wrote. It's going to grab them by the throat and they won't be able to look up. And then you watch the audience go to sleep and you're humiliated. You found you were in error. You have to try again. And if you're easily shamed, you're not going to learn. So that's the speaking teacher, the audience. You cannot learn to write drama without an audience. And the silent teacher is the empty page. You've got to look at that empty page and say, man, somebody is trying t...

Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The main thing I learned is to just write it down. Make sure your character has a journey. Always be working on something every day, even if it's just one little thing for your craft. And in the end, only listen to the little voice in your head telling you to go through the door.

Thank you so much David for all of your helpful advice throughout this class. This has been one of the most informative classes I have taken through Masterclass. All of the knowledge you have given with these lessons has been extremely valuable and inspiring. I will definitely be using it as I pursue passion projects and future careers opportunities in the business. Thank you again!

This man is the finest writing instructor I have ever seen. A lifetime of wisdom graciously set forth by someone who could have easily kept it to himself. If I could recommend only one writing class in my lifetime, this would be the one.

Learned how to make an outline. I also learned that the plot is all their is.


Bahman M.

Sorry, but the guy who spoke prose all his life without knowing it was not Tartuffe. It was Monsieur Jourdain in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.


I love the revelation that writing is not creation but discovery. People laughed at P. J. Travers when she would tell them that she did not create Mary Poppins, she discovered her.

Saagar S.

Chapter 19 : The Audience By far the best lesson I have had the experience of watching, listening & understanding in the field of Arts & ENTERTAINMENT. Not only as a writer but also as a filmmaker.


This serves well for so much of writing and speaking. Essence or nitpicking exactitude. When you're sitting around the campfire, there's no competition. No better way to kill the rhythm and essence of a story than jolting backstory and mind numbing detail.


Truly inspiring and profound Mr Mamet. One must always to strive keeping the audience as a reliable ally.

Michael U.

I find David Mamet very insightful and inspiring especially when it comes to the audience. I too have been at that point where I thought I wrote the most brilliant and deep dialogue any writer since Shakespeare has ever written. Had actors at the local theater do a reading in front of an audience and it was HORRIBLE. The director made them stop after ten pages of the most boring, chaotic dialogue that only meant something to me. Yes, I was humiliated but as it was noted in this lesson, the audience is right. I forgot that they were there to be entertained not taught, preached too or help me relive something in my life.

David M.

All about what's at stake. And then the audience tells you if anything's at stake for them. And then being clever enough to make them laugh or sincere enough to make them cry. And the horribleness of being wrong. Drama. I like the idea of death being a teacher. Why turn it into an empty page?

Pato C.

A great comfort! If I honestly think the Story is interesting to me, knowing that yes, it is about my experiences and imagination; but NOT strictly about my life, then I distance myself from the writer and become another person around the fire, listening to the Story among everyone else... That's so comforting, it takes the pressure off and forces you to enjoy the process.Thanks David.


The only reason Mamet says that individuals are stupid is because individuals do not catch everything. Just as 7 people are bound to catch more than 3 people, 200 people are bound to catch more than one person. One must remember that each member of the audience is an individual, and if each individual was stupid, then the audience would be too.

Mia S.

"'Flattery is theft.' To flatter them is to try to steal a little bit of their capacity to make an independent judgment. They teach the Orthodox, 'Don't talk about people, don't flatter them.' Flattering the audience by appealing to their political biases is theft. One can do it, but it would be wrong. They're smarter than you are, they're smarter than one is, they're going to beat you to the punch line if you let them. What they did is they paid you the compliment of coming to see your play or movie so you can repay that compliment, saying, 'I'm gonna show you a good time. If it's a comedy, you're going to laugh. If it's a tragedy then you're going to cry. If I sell myself short and sell them short, where's the sport in that? 'There's only one difference between a fairy tale and a war story. A fairy tale starts, 'Once upon a time' and a war story starts, 'This is no shit.' It's the same thing. We dramatize - even if a quote actually happened, we don't remember it correctly, so we dramatize it for our own benefit, or we dramatize it for dramatic effect. They're listening to the story around the campfire, they are not going to judge. Gossip is just creating dialogue. When you're gossiping like that, that's as good dialogue as anybody else can write, cause you're doing it unconsciously, for the dramatic effect of narrating not what happened, but the essence of what happened for the benefit of the listener. Gossip is dramatizing for your audience; and the audience goes along, the person suspends disbelief. They say, 'OK, this is not a question of is it true or is it false.' It's true gossip, right? I get to watch somebody else's life. The audience's journey and the hero's journey and the writer's journey are all the same. They've elected, for one evening, to have me be their docent, as you will - leading them through the dark wood by telling them a story which they understand - correctly - as being about themselves. And how do I know it's about themselves? It's about me, right? 'What I am for you frightens me and what I am with you comforts me.' As for you, I am a preacher, but with you, I am a Christian. For the audience, for them, I am this writer, but with them, I'm just a human being who likes stories."