Film & TV

Developing Life Into Story

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 13:20 min

Many of Judd's most hilarious and heartfelt stories are based on his own experiences—but real life is just one ingredient. Judd offers guidance on how to examine your life, identify humorous moments, and use them as jumping off points for comedic stories.

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 was young, I didn't think much about using personal stories in my work. I didn't even know that that existed. I didn't think about any of that. I think the first time I became consciously aware of people doing that was when I worked for Garry Shandling at "The Larry Sanders Show" because so many of the stories came from his life. So for instance, once Dana Carvey did an impression of him on "Saturday Night Live." And it was kind of rough. It was a hilarious impression, but a little mean. And Gary talked to him on the phone. I guess he was apologizing for it. I think he blamed it on the writer, Robert Speigel-- as most things should be blamed on him. And Gary said, don't worry about it. We'll just do an episode about it. And then they wrote an episode where Dana Carvey was guest hosting. And when he guest hosted, he did a mean impression of Larry Sanders. And Larry was trying to act like he was OK with it, but he was really not OK with it. And he turned it into a story. DANA CARVEY: --my god, look at my hair! Does my ass look OK in these pants or what? I mean, look at my ass! I'm touching my ass-- - Um, I'm gonna go get your, um, food. - OK. - Hey. - So I guess you're going to do it, huh? - Well, yeah. - Good, good, good. - Well-- well, now that you've kind of seen it. Does it-- does it bother you, honestly? - Same disguise I think Michael Jackson wears when he goes to Disneyland, isn't it? - Uh, it's a little over the top, yes. But that's how I do these things. I mean, you know, my hope is that it's so abstract, so cartoony, that it wouldn't be offensive to you, you know. I mean, like, well, George Bush is just like (GEORGE BUSH IMPRESSION) not gonna do it, one bit. You know, I mean, and if you'd seen me do Jay Leno, it'd become (JAY LENO IMPRESSION) yeah, that's why I can't even. And-- and you are just-- (LARRY SANDERS IMPRESSION) . So that's my hope. I mean, so you're all right? Is it all right? It bothers you. - So that had a big impression on me. That Gary, who had hosted "The Tonight Show," created this character that was dealing with the stresses of basically hosting a show like "The Tonight Show." And he was excavating all of his neuroses through this character. Gary always said that he felt like he wasn't that similar to the character because he said Larry Sanders would not know how to make "The Larry Sanders Show." That he would not be self-aware enough to make fun of himself, and satirize himself, and write stories about himself. But Gary certainly understood that he was a man with the neuroses, that had ego, that was someone who was pursuing success. And that that ego was preventing him from making certain human connections. I guess, on some level, when we started kicking around stories for "Freaks and Geeks" I was aware that we all would have to share what happened to us in our childhoods, and that would become the stories for the show. So Paul had a zilli...

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.

This was such a helpful class. More than anything, Judd Apatow made it seem possible to succeed in an industry where success is often elusive. He made it clear that if you have talent, you're willing to work hard, and you continue to hone your skills and gain experience, there is a place for you in your desired comedy career. I felt extremely encouraged to start writing by the end of this class.

I breezed through this Masterclass. Judd is humane, passionate and insightful as well as being very funny. Even if i weren't interested in a comedy career this would still have been a fascinating experience.

I learned so much about what is required through a story to find the best opportunity for a joke. I also learned that being funny can be a skill that someone can learn, it just takes time with concentrated effort.

Loved the classes on pitching. Honest advice. Not what most will tell you. I'll try to be less of an asshole when I interview. And will definitely act less creepy. :)


Todd C.

Judd, I'll teach you how to juggle! That was my big thing in high school and college and was the first way I got paid to perform.

Amadeus M.

Cinematic moments are all around! When you're able to apply a lucid memory to your work, it's beyond magical.


One of my frustrations with some of these courses, (all of which I have enjoyed), is the lack of clips to demonstration what is being discussed. Thanks for the clips. It is easier to grasp what you are talking about.

James M.

Great class and yeah I reckon there's enough drama in all of our lives to make a pretty decent film.

J.C. S.

This happened to my wife last month. I guy walks into a sperm bank she was working at wearing a sky mask intent on robbing the place. Since he had mistakingly left his satchel in the getaway car he picks up an empty Dunkin Donuts box off my wife's desk and walks up to the receptionist saying - "This is a hold-up. Give me ten males and two females and no funny business. I'm carrying a gun." The receptionist asks, "You want caucasian, Asian, African American or Latino?" He hands her the donut box and says - "Surprise me!"

Amy J.

Majority of my life, making fun of my own weight developed early. I have a sister that is roughly 5'8, long legs, thin physique. . I've always been compared to her and her body. I stand a barely five foot two and look like a potato stud. Stubby and round. I entered middle school {public} with a very strong sense of self. I was curvy with a set of DOUBLE D's. I was well liked, I talked to everyone. In public schools, I could handle rough inner city black girls wanting to fight, I fought back. Didn't give a fuck, you pull my hair, I'm gonna whip your ass. Survival in The Dotte was necessary. She called me a white bitch, yanked my burette from my Madonna ponytail from the top to the bottom. I swear she did that shit in slow mo. My Adams apple got all lumpy and manly. My tear ducts wanted to burst. And in one second, I turned into a straight hood rat. I turned around, I hit that bitch in the face, her cheeks jiggled, her eyes went numb. I stood there talking to myself like.... whaaa thaaa "Amy, did you just hit this bitch ?" The following school year, my dad sent me to a Catholic school. My eighth grade year was absolutely ridiculous. I was pissed as fuck at my dad. The minute I stepped inside that stupid institution, I was the FAT girl. I never knew I was fat until I went to school with a bunch of fucking white girls. Black girls didn't fight me because I had Double D titties, they did too, they fought me for my homework. And how dumb considering I'm not academically there. My nun was an acholic mess, She wore jeans to the bowling alley, always had a cigarette and a full beer. Her jeans were so tight her camel toe said hello to everyone. My priest was fucking the married choir chic and I all of sudden was a fatty. I hated it. The ring leader started so much shit with me I had to make fun of myself or the whole class would. I had to make Buddha belly jokes so I got the laugh. It became a goal. How can I save myself? The following year, I told my dad I was fuckin done with that private school bullshit and because it was the first time in my life I screamed the word FUCK, he knew not to fuck with me. Four years later, the night of my senior prom, I told him I was no longer getting up for church on Sunday's not because I want to lose my virginity prom night but because I'm sick of this GOD shit. And because it was the first time I screamed FUCK CHURCH, he knew not to fuck with me.

J.C. S.

I am only eight years old and yet, I feel like I have two feature-length films worth of material I could cull from my life already. Like the time...

David L.

You make it sound so simple. To come up with that kind of thinking takes some sort of gift. You're way more talented then you think.

Mia S.

"Sometimes,when you're writing, you're basically coming up with original ideas out of thin air. You're remembering things that you've heard, things that you've observed, you're taking things that happened to you, and using all that in some soup of what you're creating. When our child was born, we had this night where we had all of these nightmares happen that night, and I remember thinking, 'This is crazy,' and it felt like a movie. A series of events happened, and I just made a note in my mind, 'Oh, this is the end of some kind of a movie.' That becomes one of the elements, and then you fabricate, and it's not exactly what happened in the final version, but there are moments in life where, you know this is just a scene. 'Well that's a funny scene in a movie.' Most of the time, you're using those real life moments as ingredients that you can change and turn into something completely different, or you know, inspired by things that have happened in your life."

Mia S.

"When I was young, I didn't think much about using personal stories in my work... Garry, who had hosted The Tonight Show, created this character that was dealing with the stresses of basically hosting a show like The Tonight Show, and he was excavating all of his neuroses through this character. Garry always said he felt like he wasn't that similar to the character - but he certainly understood that he was a man with neuroses, that had ego, that was someone who was pursuing success, and that ego was preventing him from making certain human connections. Freaks and Geeks, I was aware that we all would have to share what happened to us in our childhoods, and that would become the stories for our show. We created a questionnaire for all the writers: 'What drugs did you do in high school? What the worst you ever got in trouble by your parents? Who was the first girl you kissed? What is your worst humiliation that happened with a girl?' Like 100 questions. And that started conversations in the writer's room about which of those answers could be stories. The stories that I related to were often about divorce... a lot of people came from broken homes, and it was always very uncomfortable when our parents would start dating new people, and we thought if we honestly showed how uncomfortable that it for the child to suddenly have some dude in your house who clearly just had sex with your mom, that that would be funny but also it's real and we all can relate to how strange it is when your family falls apart and then starts reconstituting itself with new step-relatives. One of the episodes that I directed, it's a little sad, he's by himself, he's a latchkey kid. Garry Shandling comes on, and slowly, as the music builds, he starts laughing - until he's hysterically laughing at Garry Shandling. After we put that scene together, [a producer on the show] said to me, 'That's the most personal thing you ever did, and the best thing you've ever done.' And that made me realize that that was the path forward, that in the way that Garry was working, that's how I should be working - from a more personal place."