Music & Entertainment

Story Techniques

Steve Martin

Lesson time 13:44 min

Steve doesn't let writer's block trip him up, and neither should you. He reveals the storytelling exercises he's employed to write classics like The Jerk and Bowfinger.

Steve Martin
Teaches Comedy
In 25 video lessons, Steve Martin teaches you everything from finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.
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I want to talk about, like, writing alone, and then the process that you can use to develop your material. And I'll use a screenplay as an example, even though I think it would apply to comedy. When I wrote Bowfinger, the movie, I had the idea for the script for a long time, at least for 10 years, which was an actor is starring in a movie he doesn't know he's in, meaning he's being followed around surreptitiously by a film crew. So you have that idea. I thought that's funny. You could create situations to put somebody in. So you start working backwards. What does that mean? OK, it's not a major studio that's going to follow around an actor. It's got to be a dreamer. And I remembered somebody told me once, 100 years ago, they're making independent films. They financed the entire film on a credit card. I thought, I like that idea. That's real drive, of getting something together. And I like the subject matter of someone who's so driven that they want to do something. So you start working backwards. So you say, OK, there's a guy who's a failed filmmaker, has a little bit of credit to himself, and he's got loyal followers who are even slightly below him economically and status-wise, who have faith in him. He's a guru. And I remember Lorne Michaels said to me one time, he said, there's nothing funnier than small-time show business. And I thought, that's this area. This is small-time show business. So I'm at the meeting with Jerry Renfro, and it's going very well. But I'm looking at him, and I'm thinking, you know, I don't need him. What I need is someone like a Kit Ramsey. Kit Ramsey makes this a go picture. So I went to see Kit at his home. Oh, my god. And what did he say? What did who say? What did Kit Ramsey say? Oh, what did Kit Ramsey say? OK, so I'm meeting with Kit at his home. And by the way, he knew who I was-- big fan. And I gave him the script. And he looked at the script. And I said, so what do you think? Are you interested in doing this movie? And Kit looked at me. And he said, Kit just said yes. Kit Ramsey said yes? Kit Ramsey is doing this movie. [DOG BARKING] When I was working on the joke-- Jerk-- the joke-- The Jerk, it was my very first screenplay. I had only written sketches. I did-- and I wrote it with two other really good writers-- Carl Gottlieb who wrote Jaws and Michael Elias who was a great comedy writer. But I did think, I know what this is about. The movie summarized it-- they called it a rags to riches to rags story. So I liked the idea of him starting poor. I liked the idea of him getting rich off something innocuous, something accidental. And that came from a friend of mine. He always used to tell-- he would pretend like he was rich. And they'd say, how'd you get rich? And he said, oh, my grandfather invented th...

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.

Gaining insight from a legend. Can't beat that.

It was a great class and i'm very happy I took it.

Steve has a great way of showing us that his craft is all about perspective and that we often have to look at it from many different angles to see what will work best. I like that he shows us that comedy is really a collaborative effort between the writer, producer, actors and the audience. He has a comfortable instructive style that shows that he relates to what we are all trying to accomplish.

An excellent course. He provided volumes of important advice. The comedy was great, but the banjo was the best part!


Matthew B.

Loved your netflix with martin short when your band comes out very cool the recognize bit from the class. Awesome show

Tori O.

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Margaret M.

I like the painting by the green lamp! This is my first masterclass. Will the others live up to it??

Rich C.

Love SM's attitude about writer's block. Could not agree more. Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary, as the Hopi elders said. (ascribed) Let your subconscious do its work. It's chugging away, under the surface, 24/7, collecting, "archiving," solving your problems, making little wisdoms, putting things together you could only dream of, with the side benefit of constituting your intuition.

A fellow student

I used to work at a Creative Agency that was 9-5 and strict meetings, etc.... it failed! Most of my ideas come from bed, toilet, shower, couch.. shopping, etc. lol You can't sit creatives at desks and meeting tables and demand 'creative'.

Paul H.

I didn't start this course to become a pro comedian, instead I'm looking to be funnier in my everyday life and my writing/speaking. I think this lesson is a great for anyone working on writing a story or performance. Steve demonstrates how to "begin with the end in mind" as well as how to fill in the blanks between the beginning and the end.

Albert B.

The advice about subconscious always at work is brilliant. Ernest Hemingway knew this well and built his daily pattern around it. He would rise early and perch at his desk writing until he felt stale or could no longer tell the story. Then he would go fishing and later to the bar to drink and hang with his friends. The next morning his subconscious had worked out the plot and he knew exactly where to begin again and where to take the story. Until he got stale or lost, at which point he let his subconscious take over and do the heavy lifting while he enjoyed his life.


"My end isn't working!" "My opening isn't working!" Sage words from the Master.

Robert A.

I agree, don’t worry about writers block. That’s right it will come to you. You do need to give it time. That’s why some comedians don’t get anywhere sometimes. They don’t give themselves time to write a great ending or any part of there bits. You just gotta give it time. Amazing lesson!!!.

Louanne F.

I took Aaron Sorkin's class in screenwriting, and he mentions the idea that screenwriting is like a quote about Michaelangelo in which he apparently said that he starts with a block of marble and takes away everything that isn't the statue of David. Aaron said that the first draft of your writing is the block of marble. Just get it all down and then take away everything that isn't the story.