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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.

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

Get serious about comedy

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.


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

Judd really inspired me to research, and - more importantly - get off my butt and write funny stuff.

I learned so much in this course. Judd has an impressive work ethic. I thought I was working hard, but he put me to shame.

This was a really GREAT class. Very inspiring!

I've started a good handful, and Apatow is by FAR the most generous so far. Would love more like this. Workbook and materials were AMAZING


Jim C.

Also, "Diner" is one of my favorite movies and "are you going to eat that" has been used by us many times.

Jim C.

If you can, watch the HowLer Monkey Productions comedy series "Quick Draw." It's a "western" that had a direction of the way they wanted to go, but the dialog was all improvisation from my understanding.

Meg N.

A very enjoyable chapter! Judd Apatow here is discussing improv in filming or drama, not stand-up comedy, and what he describes is something I enjoyed when taking people on city tours - have a map (script, plot), have a general outline and must-do content, plus a file of various alternatives and additions, and keep an openness while you intentionally involve the tour members (actors) in the solution, so that you get something very structured, but also with the tiny spark of "new" ... I don't run tours these days, but I have a friend who is taking them to an amazing level, and I think I'll ask him if he uses this method as well. ... I'm also aware that this improv situation should also keep to that thoughtful schedule in the previous chapter on production.

Tara R.

I started improv about 5 years ago, it was the scariest thing I have ever done, especially as an actor that had always worked with a script. Although it was the scariest thing I have ever done, it was also the most rewarding. There is nothing that like feeling after an improv performance, it's exhilarating. It's also a great way to come up with new ideas, stories and sketches. So, I guess you could say I loved this lesson.

Amy J.

This past Friday night, in Kansas City, I for the first time, in front of one hundred plus people, performed on stage. As a class Improv 101, in a huddle of nerves, took that show by the balls and made it our bitch. Put your goggles and lab coats on, the stage chemistry was on fire. Our warm ups were hilarious. Our enthusiam for one another was off the chart. And when they called us to the stage, I ran to announce my name and off we went. It felt so natural. The lights were hot and I could feel my sweat stash forming around my lip, my right armpit was already offensive, I didn't muffle or whisper my words, my chest peaked like a dude and I belted some witty type shit. It was amazing. But the best part of my night was when I heard the laughs. Oh shit, you hear a crowd of people laughing at your reaction, it's the ultimate high. Like nothing I have ever felt before. I tend to have this ghetto flare about me in just about everything I do. I'm a white girl from the hood and I ran the streets like a hood rat. I picked up my piece of paper, read the line, looked at the stage, positioned myself for a set up and out came my big ass, my Double D's in full swing, Had a clear shot of the crowd and with all my Wyandotte County, I twerked my booty and belted out " Baby Got Back" the crowd went nuts. I almost felt weak in the knees, sweating profusely my classmate picked up the rest of the scene and grinded up on it from behind. It was magical. I have never wanted to be on stage, I want to write comedy, not perform it. After Friday night, I want to do both. I don't think I can live without that high. I'm not a drug user but I sleep around and by far this was the best one night stand

Joseph O.

I think this kind of improvisation could be useful in writing for live theatre. Could do workshopped scenes as scripted and then try improvisations to see what pops up. Take video to refer to later. Does anyone know of this being done?