From Steve Martin's MasterClass

Opening and Closing Your Act

A strong opening and closing are the keys to a memorable act. Steve talks about the importance of these moments and shows you how to use them to your advantage.

Topics include: Use Your Opening to Set the Tone • Student Session: Workshopping Will’s Opening • End With Purpose • Student Session: Button Up Your Act


A strong opening and closing are the keys to a memorable act. Steve talks about the importance of these moments and shows you how to use them to your advantage.

Topics include: Use Your Opening to Set the Tone • Student Session: Workshopping Will’s Opening • End With Purpose • Student Session: Button Up Your Act

Steve Martin

Teaches Comedy

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I was always interested in comedian's opening lines. And I saw Richard Pryor when I-- it felt like an important moment, the opening. And I saw Richard Pryor one time. And it was the early '70s. And I was still struggling as a comedian. And he was supposed to do two shows at the Troubadour, one at 8:00 and one at 10:30. And now it's 9:30 and he hasn't even shown up. And finally he walks in, and I'm thinking in my conservative comedy sense, oh, he's made the audience really mad. He's an hour and a half late. He's made them really mad. And he goes on, and his opening line is hope I'm funny. And everyone loved him. And he killed. He was so unpredictable. He was what everyone wanted. He's kind of a, I'd say, Bill Murray quality. You just can't pin him down. He feels like an outsider. It's a great quality. I saw a comedian the other night on this special. I think it was a Netflix special. Reggie Watts, he was very, very good, but his opening was crawling through the audience. And they were seated on the floor, so he just crawled over their heads on his way up to the stage. And it gets your attention. Then I saw Sam Kinison once. He was a great stand up comedian in a small club. I saw him at the Comedy Store in Beverly Hills. And he came on-- it was comedian after comedian after comedian. And he came on and he said, you've seen a lot of comedians here tonight. Some really good, some, you know, nice, OK. But there's a difference between them and me. Them, you might want to see again sometime. And it just set off his show in such the right way-- iconoclast. He also was telling the audience, at the same time, I'm going to say some things here that you might not like. [MUSIC PLAYING] I had several openings. When I got started playing arenas, I opened with the magic dime trick. So I'd be in this vast stadium and I'd hold up, see the date on the dime. And then people would laugh. It's a way to acknowledge the circumstance and how strange it is. I had one where I'd come out-- like I said, I'd stand way off mic and start talking, like I thought I was in front of the mic. And people would laugh. Or another thing I did was I'd say good evening. It's great to be here. And then I'd move a few feet. And it's like, no, no, it's great to be here. No, no, no it's great to be here. It's great to be here. And I'd move around. And these sounds stupid when you just say them, but in the spirit of the moment, they were funny. They were funny to me. It was exactly what I wanted to do. [CHEERING] Oh, go away, go away. [CHEERING] Oh, they have these things here, good. I have a little bit of a pet peeve for comedians who come out and say, how we doing tonight? Everybody feeling good? First of all, you've blown one of the most important moments of your show, which...

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.

So far? Almost as good as Mr. Martin's dentist song in Little Shop Of Horrors. 'Nuff said.

I loved this class from start to finish. It was informative and entertaining. Steve Martin is a majestic human.

Very casual and authentic. As though he was speaking directly to me with lots of valid suggestions on where to begin.

Already fantastic stuff. Can't wait for more!!



I’m not into drugs or the drug scene... However, it’s acceptable socially. I liked your notes about the sketch. Also, emphasis on opening and closing seems like a great way to keep the audience; Memorability. Good class.

Michael O.

Thought this might provide some amusement and inspiration for opening of Will Ferrell accepting Mark Twain Award 2011.


This is completely off the wall and random, but Remember a quote vaguely talking about life being like walking into a movie late and leaving early. What if you do this with your act? It would be like catching you mid soliloquy. You're not asking for audience participation nor are you looking them in the eyes, so what is the difference, you're dreaming in front of them anyways; and further, that kind of the attitude anyways, right?

Clinton B.

In my beginning I will ask the audience how they are tonight and a plant will say "a little stiff in my shoulders" and I have the audient member come up for a seated shoulder massage. I will end by summarizing an episode of friends claiming it was my act and saying,"so we all learned a little something tonight then pull out one of those "the more you know" shooting stars from my jacket.

A fellow student

Quick idea from watching the short bits others have posted. Very simple beginning for a slightly nervous individual. Once they have the microphone to look around the stage, bar, theater and appear slightly nervous. Start off with "Well this is nights already ruined." Look at the mic for a second or two. "Three things I don't like, bright lights, standing alone, and microphones."


Oh my gosh--the flash cube camera in Steve's bit! I had forgotten about those. Wonder how many of those burned out cubes are in landfills? A hundred years from now, someone will uncover a cache of them and have no clue what they are. I hope they have access to this video. That will really confuse them. Actually, this could happen today. Damn I feel old.

Rich G.

Close your show by having your phone ring (someone planted in the audience calls). You answer, listen, then tell the audience it's your mom and she says it's past your bedtime. Then you say goodnight and leave.


I love when Steve says, “Stars!....Henry Winkler! Want to come over to my place? Let’s play tennis tomorrow morning!” Hahaha. Thanks for this.

Todd G.

Two guys walk into a bar in a Shetland pony costume then hold up a sign that says, vodka tonic then he pulls out another sign that says, seven and seven. Another guy says to the guy next to him,"why is he holding up signs for his drinks?" The drunk next to him laughs at him and replies," Can't you see he's a little horse?" Well, I am gonna be a pervert and I am going to get off! Night folks!

Mia S.

"Theoretically, when I get to the end, I've done some material - good or bad - then I brought out a whole new thing. You can just feel the audience lean it a little bit - something completely new is starting. Either a big subject change is going to get their attention or a feeling of conclusion that summarizes maybe what you've done, or some things you talked about. The end doesn't have to be who the killer was, especially in standup. It's just giving the show a shape, so they feel like they've seen something - you didn't just drop the needle down and let it play for 15 minutes and then pick the needle up. The ideal would be to have an act and then in the last five minutes, wrap it up and have it- in the last five minutes - be given a meaning. If you're looking for an ending, look in the beginning or the middle. Something established there is your key to pulling it all together. The ending is really what they remember, and think of yourself as telling a story. I don't mean it has an ending revelation or anything, though that's good - if you can tie up your material in the end and kind of - do callbacks. Lay in something early on that you can refer to ,it makes the show have a shape to it, an invisible weave in your show. I see a lot of comics who do a show and then they just stop, and walk off. And then they've done their best bit, and then they walk off. You can say goodnight, you can say, 'God, we've had a great time.' I used to do that, but I used to do that ironically. I don't know what that would translate to today, but you could say, 'I've really enjoyed you - I haven't enjoyed you, but I've enjoyed this -I'm going to go home to night and lie and bed and think of this show and the odors and...' wrap it up, make 'em give you a nice applause: 'Goodnight, everybody!'"