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Arts & Entertainment

Crafting Comedic Storylines

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 20:39 min

Judd believes that when you write, you should look at your comedies as dramas. In this lesson he shares the tools he uses to infuse heart and humor into everything he does.

Judd Apatow
Teaches Comedy
Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.
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I always think that people should look at comedies as dramas when they're writing. It really doesn't help to think of these stories as comedy stories. They should be stories that would work just as well without any jokes. If you have a great story and great characters, it's easy to find a way to make it funny. The problem with a lot of comedies is they're serving a comedic premise primarily, and they don't really have a reason to exist. You could say that the "40-Year-Old Virgin" could have fallen prey to that. It is a high concept, the "40-Year-Old Virgin," but other than the title, it doesn't mean anything. So we don't approach it as a funny idea. We approach it as a real idea about a guy who let something get past him. And now he's so embarrassed and so scared that he can't do it. And scared that if anyone agrees have sex him, it's going to be so bad that he'll be revealed as the freak that he worries that he is. And in some way, he's decided he doesn't want that to happen anymore. And that's a dramatic story about shame and about someone who is stuck as a pubescent person. And if you take it seriously, then suddenly his predicament can become funny because he's in a corner. There was a playwright, John Guare-- did I pronounce that correctly? I don't know. The guy who wrote "The House of Blue Leaves." And he said all plays are putting someone in a corner and seeing how they get out of it. And a lot of my movies take that advice. I generally just think difficult circumstances lend themselves to comedy. In, for instance, "Knocked Up" is about an unplanned pregnancy. That doesn't reek of hilarity. But then it's about the characters. How they manage the situation, how the relationships work, and a certain tone you create around it that allows it to be funny. But usually if you care and you believe it, it allows it to be both dramatic and funny. If you don't believe it, I think both collapse. You might get a couple of jokes in, but when you think, yeah, this is happening right now. Then you're fully invested, and you have a rooting interest. Then when things go wrong, you're like, ah. But you also might laugh because you care so much. Gary would say "The Larry Sanders Show" is about people who love each other but show business gets in the way. And the truth is you can say that about most stories. Most stories are about people who love each other and what is the obstacle to that love. I think John Cassavetes talked a lot about that. That all movies are just about love. I had never heard anyone talk like this before. So when "The Larry Sanders Show" ended, Paul Feig gave me the pilot for "Freaks and Geeks." And that was very personal to Paul in the way "The Larry Sanders "Show was personal to Gary. It wasn't all true, but it was inspired by Paul's feelings, Paul's life in Michigan. He didn't have a sister, but he had many female friends. And his dad owned a store like Joe Flaherty has in the show. And he liked the idea of a fa...

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, Thanks for sharing us your loser side. For the honesty and breakness and revealing.

Importance of work ethic, being versatile, creating your own content but also knowing the right people and being personable.

Judd is very articulate and answers the issues that are in my mind.

Wonderful. Judd was very upfront and forthcoming.



Solid and insightful. This lesson will add a new dimension when I watch my next stand-up comedian.

Janet P.

Really liking this class. It may be my favorite. When he was told it will take seven years for him to really get his comedic chops down...I thought...I'll be 75 that's a joke right there.

Patricia G.

We all do stupid things (flawed) and we all have lessons to learn. Our real life experiences can become a comedy or a tragedy!


I saw the film and the transitions. it was probably a bit more like real life.

Jaime H.

These last 3 or 4 lessons are gold. I will definitely watch them again and will try to apply to my stories and characters as I move forward with the drafts.

George C.

When I first saw Knocked Up, it seemed to me to be the most true depiction of adolescent boys I had seen in media. At first I expected to see ridiculous gross-out clowns throughout but was so surprised and satisfied that we saw characters who grew and had depth and loved each other in the end. Its what I love about Judd's movies, that as he said, there is a story with heart beneath all the laughs and the bad behavior. His characters are trying to be better in spite of themselves. I like the idea that a comedic story should stand up by itself even without the jokes.

Tara R.

That's one of the things I love about Judd's movies, you can have tears in your eyes from laughing so much or tears in your eyes from the 'grace notes'.


Good scene selections, good points! About trying to be moral but not really being moral but trying to be better.

Zack A.

Stakes in movies: "I don't wanna end up alone" - The 40 Year Old Virgin "I think I'm gonna die, what do I do now?" - 50/50 "I didn't die, but I'm still miserable." - Funny People

Sean B.

The emotional grace note he describes from Taxi is directly the ending of Chaplin's City Lights...So much for originality ;-)