Arts & Entertainment

Music in Comedy

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 10:55 min

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

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Topics include: Use Music to Establish Tone and Reinforce Character • Involve Your Composer Early • Score Sparingly for Comedy • Avoid the Generic


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, ...

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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