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.

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Topics include: Think of Your Comedies as Dramas • Create Obstacles to Connection and Love • The Drama in Knocked Up • Establish Relatable Stakes • Flawed Characters Drive Stories • Be Original by Being Specific • Give Your Stories a Grace Note


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...

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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