Arts & Entertainment

Case Studies: Improvisation

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 10:58 min

Using some of his favorite scenes as teaching tools, Judd reveals how he uses improvisation to capture hilarious and authentic human interactions between his actors.

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

Topics include: Bridesmaids: Create a Mega Document for Alternate Jokes • This Is 40: Rehearse, But Let Actors Surprise Each Other • This Is 40: Experiment With Guided Improvisation


When I first watched movies, I didn't think I was going to go into movies, or maybe I thought I would be a star. I didn't think I would make movies, so I didn't pay that much attention to them. The movies that touched me when I was a kid were movies like Diner. Barry Levinson's Diner was one of the most important movies to me when I was young. I'm not sure why. I just related to young people trying to figure out what kind of job they were going to get, what kind of relationship they wanted, how they would handle their friendships. I also liked the improvisational feel to the dialogue. I had heard that Paul Reiser went with a friend who was reading for the movie Diner. And he was just dicking around, waiting for his friend, and somebody said, why don't you come in and read? And he got the part. And there wasn't really much of a part in the script, but they would just have him in scenes and let him improvise with the other actors. And that fascinated me-- what, the script isn't locked? People just make it up? And it planted some seed in my head. And then I slowly learned that certain movies were made that way, whether there would be a script, sometimes a great script, sometimes a not really finished script, and the actors and actresses would be a part of the process of fleshing out the scenes and the characters. I always thought about Paul Reiser saying, you going to eat that sandwich? I mean, if you're not going to eat it, I'd eat it. But are you going to eat it? Like that might be ground zero for everything I've ever done, was Paul Reiser saying, are you going to eat that sandwich? How we use additional alternative jokes on a set is usually very simple. We will create a document of every additional joke we've ever had on a scene. So if it's the toasting scene from Bridesmaids, if in all the drafts, there were a lot of other jokes that got cut for all sorts of reasons, we'll just take everything we ever cut out and put it in one doc. And then maybe from rehearsals and improvs, we have another 10 jokes that didn't make it in the script, but we thought were kind of funny. Let's not forget those ideas. Then before we get to set, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo might sit down and write some extra alts just so we have some. And then we'll rehearse. And after the director, Paul Feig, rehearses everyone, there's a moment where whoever's around, mainly Kristen and Annie, will sit. We'll sit with someone like Paula Pell and go, all right, let's write some more. And now you've got this mega document. And then usually, the director, Paul Feig in this case, will take a highlighter and go, out of these 60 toasts, I like these 12. And then we start shooting. So the first few takes might be exactly the script. And then once we like the scripted version, we will say, OK, let's do some looser versions. And we may not feed them a lot of these ideas, although maybe, they've looked and remembered some of them. And then we'll just let the...

About the Instructor

No joke: at age 15, Judd Apatow took a dishwashing job at a comedy club to watch the acts. Today, he’s the comedic genius behind hits including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks. In his first-ever online comedy class, the Emmy Award winner teaches you how to create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct movies that leave audiences laughing.

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Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.

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