Film & TV

Succeeding in Show Business

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 15:58 min

Show business is a competition. In this lesson Judd explains the things that you can do to stand out and excel in this demanding industry.

Judd Apatow
Teaches Comedy
Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.
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A lot of comedy for me was about the fact that I wasn't playing sports. And my friends would go play sports after school. And I would go home and watch The Mike Douglas Show and The Dinah Shore Show and Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show and then later Letterman. And I was very into stand up comedians and variety shows and Steve Martin, Harold Ramis, Stripes, Ghostbusters. That was the era. There was also SETV and Monty Python. So there was a lot of great things happening in comedy. For me, a lot of it was about no one else was interested in comedy. So this could be my thing. And it was interesting. Because there was no competition. There wasn't even another kid to talk about comedy with. But I really had a sense that this is a job, too, and maybe a job I can get, because no one else wants this job. Now it might be different. Because everybody wants to do it. And a lot of people know a lot about it. But when I was a kid, if I wanted to know about Lenny Bruce, I had to go to the public library and look up the microfiche to read his obituary. That's the kind of stuff I would do. And I was an animal about it. I just was completely obsessed. So I think maybe my first point here, if you look at this part of my childhood as a lesson, is it is very important to find what you're interested in and pursue it energetically. Because it is a competition. And I always say to people, you know, the hardest working person usually wins. The lazy people don't get in the door at all. If you're not obsessed, you don't have any shot at all. Then, you know, hopefully you have talents and hopefully you have some luck. But if you're not working harder than anybody else, just stop right now. How should you get in the door? Well, there's a couple of ways to look at it. One is you have whatever job that you can tolerate. And you're making sure you have enough time for your creative work. So you might say, oh, I work in a store all day and that pays my bills. And then at night, I have time to go to Second City or UCB or do stand up or write. And you're protecting your creative time. Then there are jobs in the industry that you can do, where you can learn about how movies are made or how things are developed. There are assistant jobs. You know, I have assistants. And in addition to, you know, getting gold collars for my dogs, they also sit in on all the meetings and take notes and read every draft of all the scripts that we're working on. And sometimes, you know, that leads to deep involvement and low level producing on some of our projects and then higher level producing as they evolve. And there are jobs like that for all sorts of producers and writers, where you're starting as an assistant, and if somehow you can show that you get the joke and you're smart and creative, you know, people will give you more and more responsibility. There's certainly a ladder of people who aren't writers, they're executives. And, you know, one thing ther...

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 gives so much terrific advice in here for the aspiring comedian. Whether you're a stand-up, screenwriter, or director there's something for all in this Masterclass. I really feel like this is going to help improve my screenplays. Thank you Mr. Apatow and thank you Masterclass.

There's ample evidence in this course why Mr. Apatow made it up the ladder. Adding to my experience what I got from this course, it feels like I've amplified my personal range exponentially. Good stuff.

I've taken close to 30 Masterclasses and this is definitely one of my favorites--maybe my favorite! Great content and love Apatow's demeanor and attitude.

Apatow is an absolute legend and presents “everything he knows” in an accessible and actionable (and bonus points: funny) way.


Heather H.

I love the point that network execs won't necessarily remember that they were the one who gave you bad notes (that maybe you prudently ignored) and/or will be the ones accountable for a series failure (i.e.: if you honored their bad notes that you shouldn't've). At the end of the day, it's on you - so write (and develop) what rings true to you but never forget that development is as much about the creative collaborative working relationship as it is about the specific notes themselves.

A fellow student

Judd Apatow hooked me from the start. I enjoy these master's classes for the insight into the mental capacity and personality of someone who has mastered their craft and applied it into their respective markets. That said, it is refreshing to see someone like Judd who speaks candidly about how to approach making a movie, working with the cast and studio. He seems like a cool motherfucker and it makes senses why people would want to work with him. That's not something you can fake.


Thank you for being there in my mind at some of the toughest darkest moments!

Andrew G.

On taking notes you don't like from producers (the people with the bucks but not necessarily the brains), Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant advise that you always nod and say that you will, "certainly give that a try." I think by doing this, whether or not you fully implement their note becomes secondary. You've already demonstrated that you respect their position and you've positively entertained their idea, which makes them feel appreciated and smart (even if they clearly aren't on this particular point). If you can come back later and say, "this bit didn't really work as well as we'd hoped, BUT, how about this..." chances are, you will be able to get away with not taking the note much more easily, partially because you have at least shown that you have given the point further thought along their direction, but possibly more so because the importance that particular note held for them when they initially conceived it has reduced considerably. Also, just the act of spending more time on it might lead you an even better bit/joke/scene than you had to begin with!

Amy J.

Judd mentions applying for jobs in the field of writing. I excepted a job at a small Café in the Crossroads, Kansas City's area for hosting First Friday's. I love to write, I also love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. The owner of the Cafe has given me permission to create my own menu items along with a brief write up on the food itself and weekly events happening in the KC METRO. Writing about food is easy when you love to cook, love to eat and learn and learn the art of eating , it's a craft. I'm afraid to be juicy and curvy, as told I will over produce anything if a large piece of sauage is invovled.

Mia S.

"A lot of times you have to do notes you don't agree with, until you become successful - it's very difficult to reject a note from the people who are paying for your project. That becomes a delicate dance that is very much about finding collaborators and studios, and networks where you like the person who is giving you notes, and you feel like, 'I found someone who understands what I'm trying to do,' so you can have a healthy collaboration. When you're just trying to pay your rent and get any job, you wind up getting notes from people that you don't respect. You have to decide how much you want to fight. Because if you take someone's notes and they're bad, and your thing comes out bad, you're not going to get picked up, or your movie's not going to be a hit. There is a very complicated interaction happening there, because you will fail if you make something badly. But sometimes if you reject a note it will make that person hate you and then they'll make a point of giving you 30 more. Figuring out how you want to deal with that in your creative life is a big decision. 'Don't take any note you don't agree with, because if your pilot comes out terrible, when they don't pick it up, they won't apologize for giving you bad notes. You have to go down with your ship. You at least have to get it right, and then you'll succeed or fail.' I didn't realize there was a human relationship there, and I didn't understand that when you reject people's notes, they basically think you're calling them an idiot, and when people think they're being called an idiot, they tend to hate you. When they hate you, they try to destroy you. You do have to find a way to know how to say, 'I'm not going to do that note', in a political way, or - 'I'm on the fence about that one, I guess I'll take that one so I don't have to take these two, which are terrible.' That's something that we all have to deal with, and the executives are dealing with in their own way, in the inverse: 'Which notes am I gonna push really hard?'Which notes are not that important to me?' As a producer, I'm on both sides of that. Only some mutual respect allows that process to not be toxic. But it is complicated, and it's not something that you can avoid. You will have bad moments, where you realize, 'I am not working with the right person, and this is a nightmare, and there's no way out of it.' Good luck."

Mia S.

"Everybody has a different part of the business that they're interested in. I wasn't sure what the pace of what I did would be. I would read about people and how they would spend years writing one script, and then they'd make that script. They might spend four years on one script, and then make that movie. I attempted that. I spent years on it, and then nobody wanted to make it. I thought, 'I've just wasted years of my life, assuming someone would want to make this.' At that moment, I thought,I need to have more pots boiling in order to get something done. If I'm not working on a few things simultaneously, there's a good chance I will go through long periods where nothing will get made. At all times, I'm trying to write something.I'm trying to produce something. There are a few things going. But it is smart to spread your bets across the table. You can write a movie, and a pilot, and write some stand up jokes, and do a podcast. That is, in a lot of ways, the modern comedy career for a lot of people. There's a lot of people who have found a way to wear many hats, because they are all related in some way. I'm probably most proud of the fact that in quiet and not so quiet ways, I implored everybody to learn additional skills to survive in show business, because if you don't have a job, it's very helpful if you can write, direct, or produce yourself a job, and a lot of the cast has found ways to do that. 'You don't want to just audition and pray a director recognizes your talents.' That is part of the business, and part of the business you can't avoid if you want to act. But at the same time, if you have the interest in creating your own projects, as a writer, director, or producer - you should really do it. It makes life much easier if, when you have nothing to do, you can say, 'Well I guess I'll write out my script today because I haven't gotten an acting job in 11 months.' And maybe it comes out great, and you get to act in that. The more things you can be good at, the more chance you're not unemployed."

Mia S.

"I think there are probably people that lose a lot of work because they're just not good with people. If you're up for a TV job, a lot of the job is sitting in a room with 10 or 12 people kicking around jokes. If you're interviewing for a job like that, even if you have great materials, if you seem like a drag in that meeting, people don't hire you. I would say it could be half of it, is whether or not you're fun in that interview. In a way, you're creating a friend group -do I want that person in my friend group? A lot of time at a TV show, there'll be 10 people around a table punching up a script. There's usually one person that everybody hates - they'll call that person the 'room killer.' They might hate that person because all they do is say they don't like things, but never pitch fixes. They just talk all the time, but not really about what we're doing. They're complaining about their personal life all day long, they have weird eating habits, or they're just actually creepy. When you're looking to hire people for staff, all you're thinking is, I don't want to hire a room killer. It is important to think about how you come across. It's very important that people think you're easy to be around and that you overproduce. 'I want to pitch a zillion jokes and cause no trouble,and be pleasant to be around.' If we're pitching jokes to make a script better, I'm pitching as much I can, and I'm in tune to whether or not the room is enjoying hearing me talk or not. If they're not, I might give it a break for a little while, and I'm careful to not pitch bullshit jokes. I'm engaged, I'm paying attention, I'm trying to be very very helpful. There are people in rooms, they're eating, they're taking a nap, they're looking at the Internet, and they're worthless. The most important thing when you're first starting out is, you want to figure out a way to be the person they can't get rid of because they're so helpful that they make everything about the show work better. The first job I ever got, I was hired to write jokes for the Grammy's. I got a call from him, 'I need jokes.' I stayed up all night, wrote 100 jokes. He loved all the setups; I don't think he liked that many of the jokes, but he was able to think of the punchline off my setups, on a lot of them. I realize, 'Oh, this is helpful to him. He doesn't know that much about all of this music, but I'm letting him know where the joke area is, and he's a better joke writer than me, and it takes him five seconds to think of a better joke.' I had overproduced and given him 100 jokes instead of 20 jokes. I think immediately he knew how much I cared, and that's what you want people to think. 'This person cares, and they're not an asshole.'"

Mia S.

"A lot of comedy, for me, was about the fact that I wasn't playing sports; for me, a lot of it was about - no one else was interested in comedy. This could be my thing. It was interesting, there was no competition - there wasn't even another kid to talk about comedy with. I really had a sense that, this is a job, too - and maybe a job I can get because no one else wants this job. It is very important to find what you're interested in and pursue it energetically because it is a competition. I always say to people, The hardest working person usually wins. The lazy people don't get in the door at all. If you're not obsessed, you don't have any shot at all. Then hopefully you have talent, you have some luck, but if you're not working at this harder than anybody else, just stop right now. How should you get in the door? There's a couple ways to look at it. One is, you have whatever job that you can tolerate. You're making sure you have enough time for your creative work. 'That pays my bills, then at night...' You're protecting your creative time. Then there are jobs in the industry you can do where you can learn about how movies are made or how things are developed. There are assistant jobs. I have assistants - they sit in on all the meetings and take notes and read every draft of all the scripts we're working on, and sometimes that leads to involvement and low-level producing on some of our projects, then higher level producing as they evolve. And there are jobs like that for all sorts of producers and writes where, you're starting as an assistant, and if you can show you get the joke, and you're smart and creative, people give you more and more responsibility. There's certainly a ladder of people who aren't writers - they're executives. One thing there are not enough of in show business are really smart, funny talented comedy development executives - reading scripts, looking for scripts for people to buy, reading scripts and giving notes to writers to help them make their scripts better. You dream of the person that can read your script and tell you what's wrong with it and have suggestions that are usable. There are writer's assistant jobs, at TV shows, where you sit in a room with all the writers, and you're the person who takes notes and put the changes into the script, it's a very work intensive job. You get to hear the debate about which jokes to use, which stories to tell - you watch them break stories. You get a real education on how to make television. If the show you're working for sucks, you will get a great education about how to make shit. All you do, in your mind, is you go - I don't like this show I'm working on, so maybe I'll do the opposite of everything that's happening here. Then maybe it's almost as good an education."

Stephen B.

I like to arrange the windows on my desktop in such a way that make Judd look like he's giving sage advice from the comfort of a bubbling jacuzzi.