Music & Entertainment

Gathering Material

Steve Martin

Lesson time 11:24 min

Inspiration is all around you if you know where to look. Steve teaches you how to keep your eyes open and reveals some of the most abundant sources of comedic material.

Steve Martin
Teaches Comedy
Steve Martin teaches you everything from finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.
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Become informed. Become intelligent. Learn about things. Every time you learn about something, it's a new subject. And you get a greater vocabulary by learning about things. When I was in high school, I was an OK student, you know, C. When I went to college, I upped it because I got suddenly interested. But I went to this high school guidance counselor and he was the first person who ever said to me, he said, you have interest in performing. And I went, oh, you mean you're actually taking that seriously? He said, you should learn about history. Because-- And I went, that makes sense. You know, to learn the facts about the past and I'd have more subject matter. And so the more you learn about things, the greater intellectual vocabulary and hence comedic vocabulary I think you're going to have in today's world. Because you never know what's going to inspire you. I had a friend, I learned so much from this. It's Charles Grodin and, you know, I've always been-- like you go to a cocktail party or on a movie set and two people get into a fight and I would always be the one, like, how do we stop this? How do we stop this? And Charles Grodin said, oh, when two people get in a fight I just sit back and watch. I thought, what a great idea, you know? Instead of trying to fix it, watch it. Because that's real human interaction. Why abort it? Don't abort your ideas when you're on to something or when there's trouble, let it happen. See what happens. You'd be surprised. If you witness an argument and now you know the shape of an argument in your head. Sometime it's going to come back out. When you're doing your two person bit on stage where you're playing two characters, you've seen the shape of that argument and the volatility of it or the subtlety of it. And you're just constantly gathering information whether you like it or not. You have to think, what's it good for? What circumstance is it good for? Is it good for stand up or is it good for saying at a party or at a dinner table? And it also works backwards. If you say something funny at a dinner table, as a working comedian you have to go, hum, usable? Nora Ephron had a saying that was told to her by her mother who was a journalist and Nora Ephron was more than a journalist, but also a journalist. And her mother said, everything is copy. Which means everything you see, hear, experience is usable. Remember, you are a thought machine. You have a thousand, a million thoughts a day. Just learn to observe them a little bit. And say, oh, is that an idea I could use? A million things happen to you every day. And every one of those things that is a possibility is extremely valuable. To lose something because you didn't make a note or didn't write it down, it's tragedy for a performer. I have a friend in Texas. My friend Tony. And he hir...

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.

I wrote a 5-minute comedy sketch that did very well with the help of this class and improved overall comedic improvisational abilities. :)

Thank you Steve Martin this was a wonderful class hope I get a chance to use these hope I get time thank you regards robert

This class helps me to provide insights to teas that I coach that have to give public presentations. I wasn't sure if the comedy focus would be helpful but I believe it was.

I loved this class. I learned from Steve's originality and honesty and insights. Thank you, Steve! I also learned to honor the lifelong comedian in me!


Bill Q.

Steve's ideas about being in search of material all the time made me think of my late uncle, who was a fairly successful comedy writer (won an Emmy working with Letterman at one point). My sister once observed that, while he could be very funny, sometimes it felt like he was always trying out new material on you. I loved my uncle, but that was not a quality of his that I want to emulate. This also makes me think of myself as a teenager/young adult, when I would sometimes do things just to see what would happen -- make a rude comment, pretend to hold a bizarre opinion, etc. -- just to see how people in the civilized world would respond. (Think of a college-age Donald Trump without the money.) I stopped doing that because I realized I was poisoning a lot of friendships that way, and because I felt I wasn't being genuine with people. I am wondering if there is a way to be gathering material all the time and still be real and not be a jerk.


I would love to use some of the stuff that happens with my mother (self-effacing non-confrontational Japanese woman trying to live in blow your own horn American suburb), but I don't think she'd give permission. I hope Steve talks about that kind of situation in another lesson.


What I mention so far is that the biggest breakthrough in any area hides upon concentration and diligent thinking on a subject

A fellow student

I think one of the most important things Steve said was about finding a vacuum you could fill. It's about being self-aware. And I think this is vital for budding comedians, but also for leaders of organizations. It is important to step back, assess the situation, and determine what an organization needs to hear.

A fellow student

And I was inspired by the concept of expanding your knowledge. I graduated with a degree in history. And my entire life has been spent digging into areas in order to remedy my ignorance. It never dawned on me that I could use that knowledge as material.

A fellow student

I loved Steve's narrative about telling the truth. While listening, it dawned on me that some of my funniest moments have been just that, relaying truth.

A fellow student

As an introvert born without a funny bone and who is in search of having a better understanding of humor, I enjoyed this lesson!

Your Pal, E.

"Don't abort an idea when you're onto something." Paging Dr. Martin: please report to the Delorian immediately to share your wisdom with my 1985 self. Thank you.

Elaine P.

If only the current set of comedians could follow his advice! There is a big market for comedy that is just politics free!

Ian C.

Saying the truth ... what's on people's minds ... topical issues are more interesting than old ideas. Magic. Thanks Steve. :)