Judd Apatow Gets Serious About Comedy in His Online MasterClass

June 10, 2018

Writer, producer, director, stand-up comic, and actor Judd Apatow is offering a new online MasterClass teaching the complexities of comedy. Students can learn from the Primetime Emmy Award-winning comedian through 32 on-demand video lessons. Topics include Creating Characters, First Drafts, Writing Stand-Up, Actors & Improv, Pitching, and Directing Comedy.

Apatow focuses on the creative process from soup to nuts–how to write, perform, produce, and direct comedy–for both film and television. He certainly has a wealth of experience from which to draw; students can benefit from all the lessons he’s learned while creating hit films like Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, as well as his television series Freaks and Geeks and Girls.

Judd’s career path started to take shape during his childhood. One summer, his mom worked at a comedy club, and that was when he became obsessed with comedy. As a teenager, Judd sought to crack the mysterious code of humor by surrounding himself with comics. Indeed, he got a job washing dishes at a comedy club to observe the stand-up acts. And during high school, he created a radio program called Comedy Club for the school’s WKWZ radio station on which he cold-called many comedians so he could interview them. Apatow now says, “I tricked people into talking to me. I was able to meet people like Harold Ramis, John Candy, and Jerry Seinfeld.” Judd considers himself “a fan at heart,” but he thought he’d take a stab at stand-up, daring to tell jokes to audiences at the age of 17.

Apatow developed close friendships with Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Jim Carrey after college. And when Carrey became a cast member on In Living Color, he hired Judd to help with writing his hilarious sketches for the popular show. Soon enough, Judd found himself co-creating and writing sketches for The Ben Stiller Show which would serve to propel Judd’s behind-the-scenes career forward. He noted at that pivotal time in his life, “The universe is steering me away from [stand-up]. The universe keeps giving me jobs that don’t allow me to go on the road and do stand-up.”

In his MasterClass, Apatow shares tips on to write hilarious stand-up routines including how to work a crowd, overcome stage fright, and how to move forward through the inevitable ups and downs of a comic’s life.

When it comes to writing scripts, Apatow thinks of comedy primarily as drama that can stand up to scrutiny even without the addition of any jokes. He develops characters that are “messed up” in some way and then inserts them into situations that force them to grow up or evolve in some way. Once the storyline is in place, Judd asks himself many questions, as he finds that’s where the heart of the humor lies. He insists the more personal a comedian gets, the funnier the material will ultimately be. After all, he defines comedy as “speaking your truth and revealing your darkest, deepest stuff that, for most people, they would keep hidden.”

When it comes to work ethic, Judd is big on establishing a reasonable pace for writing to make the task less intimidating. And he’s a big believer in rewrites as well. His class also covers budgeting, scheduling, and managing a crew.

Apatow shares practical advice for actors in his MasterClass as well: “Learn how to knock ‘em dead in your next audition,” he says and explains the “essential dos and don’ts for actors who are trying out for roles.” He’s known to yell things out to the performers as they’re improvising during shoots. Indeed, he’s always looking to squeeze as much humor out as possible whether it be from improv on set or creative approaches in the editing room.

Apatow hopes to instill a healthy respect for the serious challenge of creating comedy.  He told Entertainment Weekly, “Comedy often seems very effortless, but the people who do well spend a lot of time writing and crafting what they do, and I always think it’s important to remind people that you have no chance of succeeding unless you work harder than almost anybody else. You do have to be like Michael Phelps in the pool.”