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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Characters

Steve Martin

Lesson time 10:39 min

Steve shares the processes he's used to create some of his most memorable characters and bring them to life on screen, based on his experience acting in over 50 films from Father of the Bride to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Steve Martin
Teaches Comedy
Steve Martin teaches you everything from finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.


I remember when I first started to do movies, and I thought, well I've been on a stage a million times, this is going to be no problem. Then I get on the set, and I think, oh, I'm supposed to sit in a chair and I have a glass. How do you put down a glass? Do you go like this, and then sit down, or do you sit and go like-- I was really lost. I thought, I don't know how to put down a glass. And I started listening, watching other actors work, and I talked with an important director in my life, Herbert Ross, and he gave me some really good pointers. And then, eventually, I just absorbed it, and when they said action, there was no change of nerves. I said, oh just be a person, and then, you can be that character too, but now, I have no problem putting down a glass in a scene, or sitting down. How do you sit down? I was really that lost. [MUSIC PLAYING] That's another thing I learned about acting, and it also is informative about comedy. I talked to Dustin Hoffman, like 20 years ago, he told me a story, we were talking about wives and things. He said, oh, I made a big mistake with my wife and she got so mad. I said, what was it? Well, we were in a restaurant, like a bar, and we were breaking up, and she was there, and she was crying. She was crying, and crying, crying and talking, and upset, and then the waiter came over, and she'd cry and she says, oh I'll have a coffee, or a latte, and some French fries. And he looked and he said-- like an actor would, he said, oh, what a great moment. She got so mad, why you son of a bitch, which you understand. But I learned something about acting in that moment, that you can carry contradictory emotions around with you. You can do that in comedy, when you're doing a comedy film, or probably stand-up too. It's not all one thing. It's not all one direction. You can change it up, radicalize it, be normal, and carry simultaneous emotions going along. [MUSIC PLAYING] I remember one moment where I learned a lot. It was not really a pleasant moment, but for us, whom I liked a lot, but he could also be very difficult, and usually on a movie-- I did several movies with him, he would pick on someone, for reasons I don't understand. I was doing a scene with Joan Cusack, and he was being a little insulting to her. And the scene was, she's an angry-- he's angry, and she's doing the scene, and she's yelling, and she's angry. And so the lunch break comes. I say, Herb, what are you so tough on her for? She's doing great. She's supposed to be angry, and she's angry, and she's yelling and she's angry. And he said, well, anger has 1,000 faces. Oh, that's true, because how often in life do we yell? For me, I almost never. Do I get angry? Sure, but it comes out some other way. It can come out in silence, it can come out with laughter, there are literally 1,000 ways to be angry. And at tha...

A comedian walks into a classroom...

One of Steve’s first gigs was at the drive-in movies. When the audience liked a joke, they honked. In this comedy class, Steve shares insights from performing for cars and humans over a 50-year career spanning sold-out arenas and blockbuster films. Learn how to find your voice, gather material, develop an act, and take your comedy writing to the next level.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Very content rich. And of course, funny. A creative genius, a kind man, and deep thinker.

Made me feel more comfortable in my own skin!!

Like dissembling an appliance and putting it back together again. Steve Martin helped me understand what makes comedy possible. Tremendous!

What a treat, to learn about the art of comedy from one of the greats!


Faye L.

Loved the fact that Ruprecht from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" was used as an example - as much as I probably shouldn't admit this - Ruprecht is one of my favorite movie characters even though he didn't have much screen time - he was both memorable and hilarious


Creating any character takes work. You don’t know how to deal with a drinking glass. I don’t know how to deal with an eating scene. It’s so awkward. Great lesson

Liesl K.

I loved all the characters I have seen Steve Martin play:) From way back on 'The Jerk' to 'It's Complicated', he has never disappointed. Great lesson!


"Channel your own weirdness" Lets channel each others weirdness! Holly shit, it a Grateful Dead concert!

Rich C.

I immediately thought of Lily Tomlin, and then you mentioned her. Fascinating lesson. What fun work to do!


Oh wow! I can't believe I overlooked this one, will be watching it now! The Jodie Foster class has given me the idea of exploration the creation of songs (I'm working on being a singer/song-writer) from the perspective of characters I create so this is a great addition to that! I mainly just write and sing from the heart but I think not exploring this aspect of my minds capabilities is holding myself back a bit, I'd like to get complementary perspectives going in my process. Thank you to the both of you! Anyhow I spontaneously came up with this today, I hope it inspires others to explore their relationship with memory more, all the best: "Memory is a playground That holds all of existence In a pale blue dot Of a single pupil dilation Nothing to ponder without a memory All existence left without a trace All beauty evaporated into the air So setup traps for those maps of meaning And you will hold at least a fragment of the universe In your mind Where you can redesign The sublime"

A fellow student

I am sitting in my chair with a pulsing toothache somehow watching this lesson I mind drifted to something more pleasant or was it just the paracetamol?

Robert A.

Great process of creating characters in your own style!!!. Phenomenal lesson!!!.

Bree A.

Last night I was watching an interview with Australian comedian Magda Szubanski. She was explaining that one of her most iconic characters sprang from a wig. I love that ideas can unfurl from simple and unexpected prompts. If you let them.

Luculent L.

I loved the story about the woman ordering dinner like the conversation had been about the weather, and back to 'I am so miserable with you..' without blinking an eye. Cork on a fork!