From Steve Martin's MasterClass

Editing

Steve believes that editing is one of a comedian's most powerful tools. In these lessons, he breaks down his own editing processes and illustrates how it can turn something good into something great.

Topics include: Speed Through the First Draft • Read to Your Dog • Ditch the Fancy Words • Step Away for Objectivity • Spare the Audience Predictable Scenes • Don’t Cut Out the Heart • Leave in Refrigerator Laughs • Source Feedback One Person at a Time • Find an Experienced Editor

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Steve believes that editing is one of a comedian's most powerful tools. In these lessons, he breaks down his own editing processes and illustrates how it can turn something good into something great.

Topics include: Speed Through the First Draft • Read to Your Dog • Ditch the Fancy Words • Step Away for Objectivity • Spare the Audience Predictable Scenes • Don’t Cut Out the Heart • Leave in Refrigerator Laughs • Source Feedback One Person at a Time • Find an Experienced Editor

Steve Martin

Teaches Comedy

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Editing is one of your most powerful tools to success. Changing, subtlety reorganizing, taking out, its thrilling! I don't think you want to start editing right away, although sometimes internal editing helps you-- like if you're writing a paragraph-- helps you get to the next breath and you go, oh my god, this whole half of this paragraph really needs to be up here, and you're helping establish the flow of it, so sometimes I do edit. But if you're writing an opus, you just want to keep writing and don't let your critical mind come in too soon. I always speed through a first draft. And the reason I speed through it is I just want to get the whole thing. The whole picture. Because I know that this is going to undergo 50 edits, 50 drafts. And I just like to have the overall thing because I can start changing things internally. Like I say, I can't think of all the little notations and tweaks that I'm going to understand about it later. For me, I'm creating something to help me understand what it's about. And then you start to look and say, OK, I see the shape this is taking, so that means that this scene is extraneous, and this scene actually is more important than I thought. [MUSIC PLAYING] I find a great thing that helps me in writing prose, especially fictional prose, is reading it aloud. To yourself. I always-- I'll just admit it-- I actually would read it to my dog. And you can hear things that you don't pick up by reading. You can hear the flow of that sentence, you can feel if something's stopping the reader. And when I'm listening to myself as a comedian or watching a movie that I'm in, I always listen to where it slows down. I always think, it's slow-- you can smell it where it's slowing down, and you can smell it as a reader reading your own work, especially if you're reading it aloud. You go, am I interested in this? [MUSIC PLAYING] When someone writes effortlessly, it's the greatest thing in the world. And I have so many friends who-- I have a lot of friends in the art world-- and we kind of make fun of art prose that is gobbledygook. That uses words that you're trying to understand what the meaning is, it just sounds so smarty pants and no information is transmitted. No emotion is transmitted. It's all intellectual information, and the real good art writers I know, like Peter Schjeldahl, Deborah Solomon, Adam Gopnik, they're very clear. They make it fun to read. It's emotional. There's no fancy words unless they're necessary, and I just prefer that style of writing. And I believe that style of writing can be simultaneously very smart and very accessible. And I would say that's what you shoot for. That's what you shoot for in comedy, a kind of clarity, but with a twist. [MUSIC PLAYING] I feel that time helps you understand what's relevant and what's irrelevant or what can be better. You write it, you read it, yo...

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.

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

Steve is truly a comedic genius, and he's a pleasure to listen to and learn from.

It was a great class. I find that the first 8-10 videos were extremely educational and insightful. Then it was give and take for a bit, and then the last bunch had some good inspiration.

What a funny guy you are Steve@gmail.com! LOL Loved the class! I'm writing suspense and am incorporating humor in certain spots to lighten it. Fantastic advice!

There's no better insight than hearing firsthand the experience and advice of someone in the field, and this class was no different. I feel I've learned more about how to adapt to different people and venues.

Comments

A fellow student

This has been my favorite MasterClass; superbly done! Tons of high quality content and well articulated by a mater...what a gift! I’m writing a book and really enjoyed the insights, especially this section on editing which was chock full of informational nuggets!

Susan

The kind of editing Steve's talking about here is developmental editing, not to be confused with copyediting (which is not to be confused with copywriting). If you're writing a manuscript, you need both--and a proofreader. Readers--or beta readers--can be helpful if they're your intended audience and they have clear instructions on the kind of feedback you're looking for (too many think they're copyeditors) or they're professionals. I like his suggestion to send your manuscript out to only one person at a time, but you have to trust yourself, too. Value feedback, but weigh it carefully and don't assume you have to implement every change a reader suggests. They're just giving you their opinion, and they are often wrong.

Dina H.

How do you know exactly what to take it? Maybe what you do take out is important for the story?

Robert A.

Yeah editing is powerful!!!. You totally also need to be careful how you do it. I couldn’t agree more. Phenomenal lesson!!!.

Louanne F.

What I am loving most is seeing all these famous professionals relate stories about going through the same experiences with their work that we all do - that's so encouraging to anyone trying to break into something new.

Todd G.

1983 I was in Vegas watching a comedy show with 12 comedians and through the whole thing all I could remember was the corny stupid jokes! Michael Jackson showed up in New York at a Michael Jackson look alike contest and got third place! I watched Red Foxx and laughed so hard and couldn't even tell you anything afterwards, except the pain from laughing hurt so bad! Refrigerator Laugh ? I wish!

Sara D.

I'm glad I came back to finish this course. Great advice, which I'll use for writing. Thanks!

Mia S.

"'What's a refrigerator laugh?' 'Well, you're in the theater, you're watching it, and it doesn't get a laugh. But then you go home and you're opening the refrigerator and you go, 'Oh, ho ho ho!' and you get it, 12 hours later. I've instinctively done that, but you'd be surprised... when you leave in those little weird bits, you can't do it a lot - when you leave them in, 20 years later, that'll be the joke that somebody will come up and say, 'Oh I love that joke...' because it was off. It just didn't have the regular rhythm, it had this slight offness. And you'd be surprised how much that grows, that thing that's slightly out of time and place and quality; the mind remembers it. If you've written something, and you finish, don't send it to five friends, yet. Because when you send out your manuscript, you can only ask them to read it once. I send it out to one person, listen, get the feedback, weigh it, work on it, and then choose your next friend. Now you have five times to go out to your friends, rather than one time all at once. It's hard to resist, because when you've finished something, you think, 'I've finished something and it's so good!' And then you realize there's always work to be done, there's almost no such thing. Sometimes when I read a show biz memoir, they'll say, 'I was in high school and then I got a job on -' Wait a minute! That's a huge leap from high school to getting a huge leap. That's the story I tried to tell. 'What do you think?' They said, 'Nice!' Nice? That's not what I'm looking for. I'm really grateful to the eyeball of an editor, because they're just standing back."

Mia S.

"Time helps you understand what's relevant, what's irrelevant, or what can be better. You write it you read it, you're in love with it. Put it down for a month. Because when you come back to it, you'll have forgotten all your wonderful pain you ha d when writing it, and your insights, and your - you're not trying to preserve that moment in yourself, you will see it more objectively on the page. There's a cliche, 'You have to kill your darlings.' It's kind of true. You'll find that the things you love most, people don't - they can't interpret your emotion, and it's got to be on the page.You might have a line, that's let's say, a terse line. You know it's filled with thought, and it was my father and this and that... but they can't interpret that from that. You have this special investment in this line, and the audience doesn't. I like to take time.'It's just feeling really good,' put it down a month and go, 'What was I thinking?' Don't you appreciate it in a movie when there's some scene building, and they just cut away from it? And you say, 'Oh thank god, I don't have to watch this scene that I already knew was coming.' Even just imagining this scene going on, breaking up, hearing the dialogue- I'm bored. 'Why don't I just abbreviate this scene, and make it funny?' You don't make the audience endure this kind of predictable scene. The nature of that scene is known - the breakup. I'm going to contradict myself again. There was a set of books issued - the classic books, edited. A book that is this thick has now come down to this. 'It reads well, it's what a really good New York editor would have done to your book as it comes in' to make it faster-funnier, as we say. 'But these works of art, in the Moby Dick scene, do we really need five page knot tying passage? No. But these quirks may help bring it to life and put it in a different category than just a fast-paced exciting adventure book. Some of these rough edges actually make a thing more interesting in a subtle way illogically. It just can't go from joke to joke to joke; the boring parts are what is setting up this thing that's giving it meaning. So you can edit too deep -you could just cut the heart out of something."

Mia S.

"Editing is one of your most powerful tools to success. Changing - subtly reorganizing, taking out - it's thrilling! I don't think you want to start editing right away, although sometimes internal editing helps you help to the next paragraph; you're helping establish the flow of it, so sometimes I do edit. But if you're writing an opus, you just want to keep writing, and don't let your critical mind come in too soon. I always speed through a first draft; the reason I speed through it, I just want to get the whole thing,the whole picture. I know that this is going to undergo 50 edits, drafts... I just like to have the overall thing because I can start changing things internally. I can't think of all the little notations and tweaks that I'm going to understand about it later -I'm creating something to help me understand what it's about. And then you start to look and say, 'OK, I see the shape this is taking. That means that this scene is extraneous, and this scene actually is more important than I thought. I find a great thing that helps me in writing prose, especially fictional prose, is reading it aloud. You can hear things that you don't pick up by reading it, you can feel the flow of that sentence, you can feel if something's stopping the reader. When I'm listening to myself as a comedian, I always listen to where it slows down. I always think - you can smell it as where it's slowing down, and you can smell it as a reader reading your own work. 'Am I interested in this?' When someone writes effortlessly, it's the greatest thing in the world. I have so many friends, we kind of make fun of art prose that is gobbledygook, that uses words that you're trying to understand what the meaning is. It just sounds so smarty-pants, and no information is transmitted. No emotion is transmitted, it's all intellectual information. Real good art writers, they're very clear. They make it fun to read, it's emotional, there's no fancy words unless they're necessary, and I just prefer that style of writing. I believe that style of writing can be simultaneously very smart and very accessible, and I say that's what you shoot for - that's what you shoot for in comedy, a kind of clarity, but with a twist."