Chapter 17 of 25 from Steve Martin

Story Techniques

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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.

Topics include: Work Backwards from an Idea • Create a Basic Structure and Fill in the Blanks • Ask Yourself: What Should Happen Next? • Write Freely, Then Connect the Dots • Let Your Characters Write Dialogue • Clarity is Key • Give Your Subconscious Time to Work

Steve Martin

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. [CHEERS] [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 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 to the next level.

Watch, listen, and learn as Steve Martin shares wisdom from his five decades in comedy.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Steve will also critique select student work.

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Steve Martin

Steve Martin Teaches Comedy