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Arts & Entertainment

Music in Comedy

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 10:56 min

A bad score can ruin a movie. Learn some of the common pitfalls of music in comedy and how to avoid them.

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 a kid, my grandfather, Bobby Shad, had a record label and was an independent record producer. And he was famous for producing the first Janis Joplin album. He produced Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington and people like that and was a legendary music industry figure. So music's always been so important to me and a part of the filmmaking process that I like almost as much as any other part. So early on, I try to think about what the sound of the movie is. I start trying to think about what songs would fit where. A lot of times they change, but I'm thinking about it. And songs, you know-- they set the tone. I remember I was trying to figure out what with the opening song be in The 40-Year-Old Virgin? And for a while I thought it would be "Lonely People" by America. Which you've probably heard. You probably are listening to it right now. And then one day my wife, Leslie Mann, said I heard the greatest song. And it was Joe Walsh, "Land of Illusion." And she's like, you have to use that song. And it works so well, and I had never heard it in a movie before. And somehow it sets the tone of the movie. That song. Also, little details are important. We thought that Steve Carell's character, Andy Stitzer, would love the band Asia. Just an odd detail that he had a big poster of Asia, and Seth makes fun of the fact that he has a framed poster of Asia. And then for the big sequence at the end where he's running away on his bike, we play an Asia song. And that was, you know-- a lot of the fun of that movie was thinking about him as a guy who was stuck. And because he was stuck, his musical tastes didn't go past the '80s. So at the moment when he should have had sex, he didn't. And he also didn't listen to any new music past that point. And that's how we thought about it. Like, this is a guy who stopped listening to new music when he should have grown up. And so we used a lot of older songs. We used that song, "Just Got Lucky," which is great old '80s song that a lot of people don't remember. But that they love. They don't know that they love it till they hear it and they go, I love that song. I never hear that song. Those are the fun ones-- the ones that people forget they love and that aren't overused. But I have to say, the only thing I ever regret or wonder if I made a mistake about is music cues. I will wake up in the middle of night and I'm not thinking, oh why did I use that joke? Why did I do that scene? I'm going, why do I think the Bon Iver song out and use the Robert Plant song? Should I have used a John Lennon song or should I use Zero Mostel? And those-- those things haunt me. While you're editing, you don't have a score yet, so you will take score from other movies and lay it in to get a feel for the movie. But one of the problems with that is sometimes you fall in love with a piece of score. So you might have a sequence and you need to put music under it to edit to, just find the rhythm, ...

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.

Great advice! Judd was full of helpful stories, techniques and tips. Thanks.

Judd is different than me, but I learned so much from him. I was very impressed with how much he works his ideas.

Absolutely excellent! Useful, practical--I'll be digesting the learning for a long time, and applying what I've learn.

Loved the depth and detailed Judd Apatow takes you through to explain the material. He's great at explaining ins, outs, hows and whats about the world of comedy (stand up and directing).


Heather H.

I love all of this so much. Especially his advice to bring your composer in on Day One of Principal Photography, so (s)he can begin to give you bits and pieces - suites of music - for the Editor to cut the dailies to, so your rough cut/temp love can evolve integrating his/her vision and musical talent and the final score won't be jarringly different.


The use of music to set the tone in drama and comedy began with silent film.


Hey Judd, this is an important section that I've always wondered about. When I write scenes for a comedy, sometimes the tone of the Scene is entirely guided by a particular song, but then I think to myself, "should I rewrite this scene, so that this PARTICULAR song doesn't have to be used? After all, I don't even know if I'll be able to clear it or use it in the movie." In general, is okay to include song titles in certain parts of your script, or is that frowned upon?

Jack M.

I'm working on my first comedy feature and Judd's lessons have been crucial in guiding me through this new form. His relaxed conversational teaching style is easy to comprehend. So grateful for his generosity in sharing his methods and secrets. Kudos!


He cracks me up. The real message is how hard it is to be original in a world in which everything has been done and overused a billion times already.

Amy J.

I know that sweet sound of breastfeeding. I am one of twenty grandkids, and thirty five great-grandchildren, Catholic . The rate at which my family reproduces annually should be regulated. Every gathering there will be a newly wed, recently engaged, pregnant or a breast feeder. Typically two women at a time. . Every room has a nipple sucker.

Cynthia V.

SO creative. I have noticed that in some productions, the music is often a distraction or substitute for good writing. The obvious harp plucking or tuba wah-wha background that signals that the audience should be laughing (or at least smiling) makes me cringe. Judd's lessons from his own experience are ones that film school probably doesn't teach.

Kathy M.

Sometimes when a series I love comes to an end, I'm left with wanting more. The brilliant last scene of Girls was PERFECTION. After all the neurotic self centeredness of Hannah over the years, when that baby finally latched on, Girls was over — now Hannah was a Woman. It wasn't all about her anymore. The soft suckling and humming was inspired.