The Trick to Stand Up Comedy
Steve Martin is known around the world for his stand-up comedy and his many funny movies. He is one of America’s most widely revered comedians and is also the first person to sell out a 44,000-seat stadium in just under 24 hours. His experience in the industry makes him a very good teacher with a lot to share.
As you would expect, Steve Martin MasterClass is both funny and informative. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Steve Martin MasterClass is right for you. In our Steve Martin MasterClass Review today, we will be talking about this course and whether it’s worth your money and time.
You’ll Learn How To:
- Techniques to create original and creative jokes that Steve Martin has used throughout his acting career.
- Gather useful material and inspiration for jokes.
- Develop a compelling comedic persona.
- Master delivery through timing and tempo.
- Perform comedy in front of a live audience and on screen.
- Establish your place in the ever-changing comedy world.
- Unique opportunity to learn from an industry legend – Steve Martin.
- Highly informative with a lot of useful resources.
- Practical tips to increase your potential.
- An engaging workshop that lets you “sit in” on a class.
- Martin’s style may not work for everyone.
- Teaches mainly standup from the 60s and 70s and may feel less relevant to today’s audience.
- Some advice is contradictory or hard to follow.
Duration of course: 4.6 hours (25 video lessons)
Suitable for: Anyone who has a deep appreciation for old comedy and has an interest in developing a classic comedy act. This might not be best for those who are interested in political or vulgar comedy.
Overall: Steve Martin’s MasterClass offers a rare opportunity to take lessons and advice from one of the world’s most-loved comedians. His insights on the ever-evolving industry and carefully structured course is set to help you build your own comedic persona. The course places a strong focus on physical comedy and live performances.
About Steve Martin
Steve Martin’s career includes working as a stand-up comedian, writer, and actor over the past 50 years in the industry.
Some of his most notable work includes frequent appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live as well as starring in films such as The Pink Panther, Father of the Bride, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
His work has even earned him some awards:
- His writing in The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour earned him the 1969 Emmy Award
- Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy in 2000
- Academy Honorary Award in 2013
- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Roxanne)
Here are a few additional fun facts about Steve Martin
- His first job was at Disneyland selling guidebooks before working in a Magic Shop where he acquired his taste for performance.
- He popularized “Air Quotes” with his use on SNL.
- He is an avid art collector.
MasterClass is an online learning platform founded in 2015 by Yanka Industries Inc. The establishment has a simple premise, which is to allow everyone the opportunity to learn from the best. All their courses are carefully curated from a pool of instructors across different disciplines.
In addition to its celebrity branding, MasterClass is known for its impressive high production values which contributed to its recent popularity. What the Steve Martin MasterClass promises is to:
- Share his process for performing comedy.
- How to write and edit comedy scripts.
- How to deal with stage fright and nerves.
MasterClass Courses allows you to learn from some of the biggest names across different industries from the comfort of your own home. The courses involve a series of video lessons and an accompanying workbook to help you develop and practice the skills you learned in the video.
Taking a Closer Look at Steve Martin’s Stand Up Comedy Masterclass
Steve Martin’s MasterClass is about 4.6 hours long and is split into 25 lessons. Along with the video content, you also get:
- A 74-page WorkBook
- Meteor Shower’s script (excerpt)
- Roxanne’s full script
2. Getting Started in Comedy
3. Gathering Material
4. Finding your Comedic Voice
5. Developing a Comedic Persona
6. Jokes and Bits
8. Crafting Your Act
9. Student Session: Workshopping Nalini’s First Stand-Up Act
10. Student Session: Workshopping Tims Act
11. Opening and Closing Your Act
12. Profanity and Morality
13. Growing as a Performer
14. Nerves, Hecklers, and Bombing
15. A Life in the Arts
16. Creating Characters
17. Story Techniques
18. Screenwriting Case Study: Roxanne
19. Editing: Part 1
20. Editing: Part 2
21. Writing Case Study: Meteor Shower
22. Steve’s Comedic Inspirations
23. Steve’s Journey
24. Final Thoughts
25. Bonus Case Study: Speeches
Steve Martin’s MasterClass can be split into 5 main sections:
1. Meet Your Instructor
2. Writing Jokes
3. Performing Comedy
4. Writing Comedy for the Stage vs on Screen
5. Finding Your Place in Comedy
Section 1: Meet Your Instructor
Just like every MasterClass course, each course will begin with a short introduction of the instructor. Here, Steve Martin shares some of the ways you can jumpstart your comedic journey even if you have no natural talent for it. He also sets your expectations for the course. His overall goal here is to help you find your comedic voice and teach you:
- Practical knowledge about comedy.
- How to find inspiration around you.
- Methods to develop your talent.
Section 2: Writing Jokes
Gathering Writing Material
Steve Martin believes that you can draw inspiration and quality jokes from all around you – provided you know where to look. In this lesson, Steve Martin teaches how to keep your eyes open, and the world will reveal abundant sources of comedic material that you can use. Here, he teaches you:
- The value of self-education.
- How to become informed and intelligent.
- How to gather and assess potential material.
- Use comedy to reflect a wider context.
Steve Martin encourages you to put on a fresh set of eyes and observe the world differently to gather knowledge and materials for your act. He believes that much of comedy is about noticing and observing what’s happening around you. Martin also offers plenty of anecdotes and additional resources to show you how comedians use knowledge and information to develop a comedic style that’s both relevant and meaningful.
It’s not just the script or material that’s important, but your ability to create a live presence on stage and manage a crowd will play a very big role in your performance. Here, Steve Martin shares how his own stage persona emerged and teaches you how you can cultivate one to take your material to the next level.
Jokes and Bits
Steve Martin believes that there are a million ways to get someone to laugh and he simply refutes the myth that you need a punchline in order to be funny. To demonstrate his point, he analyzes a number of joke structures that you can use in your act. Additionally, he offers tips on how to:
- Establish and subvert expectations.
- Understand what and how to use irony.
- Add layers to your performance.
This chapter is mainly focused on developing bits and routines for live shows and how you can keep content fresh to increase its comedic value. One of the main takeaways from this section is his explanation of the different kinds of laughter and how you can surprise them through a radical performance.
Bonus Chapter: Speeches
This video lesson shows exclusive footage of Martin’s comedy speech – a tribute to Tom Hanks at The Museum of Modern Art. Martin uses this clip as a case study as he dissects some of his favorite speaking engagements to demonstrate how you can use speeches to deliver comedy gold.
The case study format was also a helpful way to learn and gain insight into how Martin’s mind works when creating material.
Section 3: Performing Comedy
Finding Your Comedic Voice
In this lesson, Steve Martin shares how and why he got into comedy. He said he experienced an ‘existential crisis’ while in college. He comes from a background of philosophy, and he grappled with comedy as a concept that he later used to develop his own voice. Here, he also describes the different ways you can adopt to find and develop your own voice. He teaches you how to:
- Tap into your cultural perspective.
- Characterize yourself.
- Establish a manifesto.
- Define your taste.
Steve Martin believes that you need to perfect your talents in order to become a more interesting and diverse performer by:
- Assessing demographics to tailor your comedy.
- Form yourself as a comedian.
- Take influences from other disciplines.
- Establish your standards as a performer.
Developing a Comedic Persona
When it comes to comedy, having a comedic persona is very important. Steve Martin discusses a few examples of famous comedians who have established a clear persona over the years. In this lesson, Steve Martin also talks about some of the creative decisions he has made to define his persona and what he thinks the key takeaways from this lesson are for young comedians.
One of the key differences that set a good act from an average one is in the delivery. Here is what you can expect to learn from this video:
- The importance of timing and tempo.
- Why you should use physical comedy.
- How to line up body and speech to hold your audience.
- How to stay ahead of the audience with ‘rollover jokes’
In this lesson, Steve Martin teaches a few techniques you can use for pacing, physicality, and timing to help hone the jokes you’ve written for the stage. Overall, his main goal with delivery is to make it look effortless and he relates this to the ‘illusion of the first time’ used in theater.
Steve Martin begins the lesson by discussing the differences between characters for film and stage. He then shares the processes he used to develop memorable characters and how to bring them to life on screen. This class covers:
- Exploring the many faces of emotion.
- Channelling your own weirdness.
- Following quirks through on characters.
Martin also gives a short case study of his own acts in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the help of costume and physical comedy.
Crafting Your Act
Jokes by themselves do not make them a stage worthy act. You need to be able to take your material and tell a story in your act to hook audiences. This lesson teaches you:
How to get the most out of the resources available.
- The elements of showmanship.
- How to gain an artistic advantage.
- How to structure bits into a unified act.
- Giving your act a deeper meaning.
This section provides valuable advice on how you can unify your act, make use of callbacks and tell a meaningful story. Steve Martin also teaches how you can make the most of every moment, create running gags, and decide what to cut. Overall, this is a solid lesson for anyone starting out in their early acts.
Student Session: Workshopping Nalini’s First Stand-Up Act
In this session, Steve Martin sits down with a group of aspiring comedians to give them hands-on guidance in the development of their very first stand-up bit. Through this lesson, you get to learn:
- How to start your act with purpose.
- The importance of developing an onstage identity.
- How to work with sensitive topics.
The workshop sections in the Steve Martin MasterClass are easily the best parts of the course as Steve Martin teaches you how to refine and improve your acts.
Student Session: Workshopping Tim’s Act
Continuing on from the workshop session, Steve Martin then analyzes one of Tim’s bits and illustrates what he can do to heighten the comedy, connect with the audience, and streamline his act. With reference to this, the class teaches you how to:
- Perform live comedy like a pro.
- Establish your premise
- Dispose of “chuffa”
- Build a character
- Sell yourself
- Opening and Closing Your Act
The key to a memorable act is to have a strong opening and closing. In this chapter, Steve Martin talks about the importance of having a good opening and closing and how you can use them to your advantage. At the start of the lesson, Martin makes it clear what he and most audiences like to see at these crucial points. He goes on to explain what you should establish in your opening act.
Growing as a Performer
If you want to excel in comedy, you’ll need to practice and practice – just like everything else. In this lesson, Steve teaches how to learn from your mistakes, refine your material, and ensure that you’re ready to take the next step. His lesson includes tips on how to:
- Develop a catalog of experience
- Use the stage to rehearse
- Learn from being bad
- Take steps towards success
- Build confidence as a performer
This section offers a good mix of theoretical and practical teaching as Steve Martin teaches how to become aware of the mistakes you’ve made to maintain success. This leads us to our next lesson:
Nerves, Hecklers, and Bombing
Even a comedic legend like Steve Martin has had a bad show every now and then. But instead of running away and giving up, he teaches you what you can do to avoid common pitfalls, manage your stage fright, and make the most out of bombing the show.
Nerves are natural and you can turn them to your advantage simply by embracing them. This video teaches you how to improve your performance by eliminating distractions, choosing the right locations, and dealing with hecklers.
Section 4: Writing Comedy for the Stage and Screen
Almost every writer – if not all, has experienced writer’s block but you shouldn’t let it trip you up. Steve Martin explains his process for comedy writing script for film vs on-stage as well as where he starts and how he works from his initial idea. This lesson places particular focus on structure, free-writing, and dialogue. You’ll learn how to:
- Create and build a base structure.
- Let your characters write their dialogue.
- Give your subconscious time to work.
- Deal with writer’s block.
Steve Martin provides ample examples here as references, among which include stories from Bowfinger and The Jerk where he used to demonstrate dialogue writing.
Screenwriting Case Study: Roxanne
Roxanne is his 1987 adaptation of a 19th-century play and he discusses his experience writing Roxanne and the inspirations behind some of the show’s funniest scenes. In this lesson, he takes you through some of the stumbling blocks he encountered when adapting and updating the text to fit the era.
Editing: Part 1 & 2
Editing is one of the most powerful tools and in these lessons, he breaks down his own editing processes and illustrates how you can turn something good into something great. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to writing style and editing.
Returning to Bowfinger as a case study, Martin demonstrates how he spared his audiences a predictable scene by only keeping the best and most impactful dialogue there. Here are what you’ll learn in this lesson:
The importance of keeping the heart of a scene
- How to source feedback and collaborate
- How to write for film vs. other literature
- Assessing feedback to edit your sketch
Writing Case Study: Meteor Shower
Steve Martin introduces and uses his play – Meteor Shower, as a teaching tool to explain efficient writing, smart exposition, and practical character development. He pays particular attention to the exposition and teaches you what you can do to hook your audience from the get-go. Here you’ll also learn how to:
- Establish intent in your work.
- Avoid clunky exposition
- Drop clues early on
- Reveal descriptively vs. blatantly
Martin takes you through the opening lines of his script to demonstrate what he wanted to achieve in his opening. This includes a description of the characters, situation, and theme. This is a useful lesson that shows how you can adapt your skills for a medium beyond sketches. It also offers an interesting glimpse into how you can transfer your comedy knowledge into other kinds of writing.
Section 5: Finding Your Place in Comedy
Getting Started in Comedy
There are many ways to jumpstart your comedic journey and just because you lack talent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try either. It’s all about knowing yourself and recognizing how to build what you have. Martin teaches how to:
- Make the most out of starting from scratch.
- Understand what comedy means to you.
- Recognize the qualities required for show business.
- Get noticed in the comedy world.
- Stay original and inspired.
A Life in the Arts
Failure, rivalry, and bad reviews are common setbacks you can expect in the industry. In this lesson, Steve Martin covers how to roll with the punches and even turn negative energy from reviews and media to his advantage. Here, you’ll learn:
- How to embrace the ups and downs of being a comedian.
- Know when to leave artistry behind you.
- How to stay upbeat and inspired in your career.
While Steve Martin talks about being a standup comedian here, his advice can also be applied to fame and art generally. He discusses the emotional toll of being overly analytical and philosophical. He also shares a few lessons that he has learned throughout the years and how he deals with negative feedback.
Profanity and Morality
Profanity and foul humor are not Steve Martin’s favorite cup of tea. In fact, he seems to steer away from anything that could potentially be considered as vulgar or political. Nonetheless, deciding your persona is a matter of individual preference and he teaches you how to:
- Identify your morality
- Define your taste
- Tell comedy kindly
This is one of the shorter lessons, but it does contain useful points to consider. The video includes a student workshop session where Steve Martin addresses a student’s act in relation to foul material. While he doesn’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t say in your act, he does pose a few questions that will make you think about which language choices are more impactful.
Steve’s Comedic Inspirations
Steve Martin admits that he is where he is today by being observant of the best. In this lesson, he talks about his favorite comedy legends that inspired him to pursue his passion as well as the impact they had on his work. From early influences to physical comedy, Steve Martin relates the styles that influenced him as a performer and made a lasting impression.
Steve’s Journey and Final Thoughts
To wrap the course up, Steve Martin talks about his journey in comedy. How his love for performing took him from a childhood magic act to sold-out arenas. Some of the biggest takeaways from this lesson are:
- How you can develop as a performer
- Making use of your other talents to bear on your comedy
- How to pitch ideas
Martin then concludes his course by offering some parting advice and words of inspiration. He reminds you to maintain your integrity as a performer and how to use his advice to achieve success.
Key Things I Learned from Steve Martin’s MasterClass
It is clear that Steve Martin is an incredibly intelligent man and he has quoted poets, comedians, essayists, and people of various backgrounds throughout the Steve Martin MasterClass. This simply goes to show the vast knowledge he has in his craft of writing comedy and performing a comedy act.
His E.E. Cummings quote on “Like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” really stood out as Martin speaks about how your comedy act can move the audience with a script that is cleaner and less fluff. You need to be aware of every consonant and vowel to hone your speech into something funny.
Don’t Fear Your Mistakes
It’s hard to conquer self-doubt, much less muse on how you’ll manage success or sell out an arena when you’re just starting out in your creative career. This is common and even Steve Martin himself had the same doubts as he spent many sleepless nights after his shows. However. He advocates giving yourself some room to be bad so that you can learn from it and come back stronger.
Mine Your Worst Qualities
Everyone has their own unique qualities and many comedians take advantage of their bad qualities by exaggerating their flaws in front of an audience. This is something he encourages everyone to do the same when preparing an act.
Gather Material from Everyday Experience
You can draw inspiration from anywhere, even whatever is happening around you. Steve Martin believes that you should use ordinary experiences and what happens around you as an important source of material for creative work. He encourages you to carry a notebook around to record any ideas you may have throughout the day.
Test Your Ideas
You need to practice and test your materials incrementally and improve them over time. This practical advice can be applied to both live performances or writing in different genres. Martin also shares how he will refine his idea by setting up a joke in Act 1 and including a callback towards the end.
You Don’t Need Profanity to Be Funny
While many people often laugh at the use of profanity, they laugh at the word itself and not because the bit is funny. So, the decision to use profanity will depend on the writer themselves. He advocates self-deprecating humor and makes a case for reflecting jokes on yourself rather than picking on someone else to get a laugh out of your audience.
Overall, the main thing I learned from Steve Martin’s MasterClass is that comedy is a craft and it’s not the same as just being funny with your friends. It takes a lot of effort to become good at comedy shows. The insight into the amount of work and effort put into his work has made me appreciate Steve Martin’s craft even more.
Good Parts of The Steve Martin MasterClass
The opportunity to learn comedy from a legend
Steve Martin is one of the best-known and most successful comedians in the U.S. his likable talent with old school comedy has helped him maintain his success from the 1960s to even today. Steve Martin’s MasterClass gives you a unique opportunity to learn from the master himself and the comedy course even includes an exclusive workshop “sit-in” with budding comedians.
Plenty of resources available
Alongside the video content, Steve Martin MasterClass is equipped with other additional resources to help you engage with what you’ve learned. This includes a 74-page workbook with assignments and further reading as well as two sets of Martin’s original scripts.
These PDFs are a godsend for anyone who prefers learning by reading and annotating. The Steve Martin MasterClass really encourages you to take learning into your own hands and it makes the learning experience even more effective by providing multiple modes of learning to cater to different styles and individual preferences.
Helpful workshop sessions
The student sessions in the MasterClass course really add another layer into the online learning experience as it gives you a break from the lecture-style content and allows you to experience a seminar session with Steve Martin and his students. The workshops feel as close to a 1-on-1 experience with Martin as you’re going to get. It was also particularly encouraging to see how the students in the workshop were in the same boat as those taking the Steve Martin’s comedy course at home.
The workshop presented in the course tackles the following points:
- Performing for the first time
- Establishing your persona
- Structuring your act
- Dealing with hecklers
The workshops also give you a great chance to hear Matin’s tailored advice and you may end up taking away some great tips from here that weren’t taught in the other sections.
Parts That Could be Improved
Not the best comedy MasterClass for everyone
His style of teaching and content may not be everyone’s cup of tea. While Martin covers a wide range of topics from standup to acting, the course was heavily focused on his style of comedy with particular emphasis on physical comedy, “kind” comedy, and live performances. Steve Martin personally stays away from using vulgarity and profanity in his comedy acts.
This is why the Steve Martin MasterClass might not be suitable for those who prefer politically-driven and vulgar comedy. Steve Martin is heavily influenced by old-time comedians such as Jack Benny and Jerry Lewis as evident from his silly characteristics.
This point is quite subjective and is a matter of opinion. However, it’s undeniable that Steve Martin’s height of success spanned the 60s and 70s’ comedy scene. And considering how the comedy era has evolved with times, the world now is very different from what it was 30 years ago.
Some may consider his type of comedy “timeless” but throughout his MasterClass, he constantly qualifies his comedy in relation to its context such as his live shows after the Vietnam War. Occasionally, he even appears stuck when trying to relate his teaching to current times.
That being said, it’s clear that Martin pays a lot of effort to try to keep atop of current events such as referencing contemporary comedians like Amy Schumer and Chris Rock.
May be hard to follow
Steve Martin’s teaching style is mostly engaging and it could feel like listening to him share his secrets. However, he isn’t a trained professor and it may get quite hard to follow as he veers off track and give contradictory advice. This point is more apparent in the “Opening and Closing Your Act” chapter where his advice may seem elusive and hard to understand.
How Much Does it Cost?
Just like every other MasterClass course, each member is presented with two options. You can either buy the course on its own for $90 or you can opt to pay for a year of all-access pass subscription to every course on MasterClass for $180 a year.
Option 1 – $90 for a Standalone Steve Martin Teaches Comedy MasterClass
The course itself is 4.6 hours and if you break it down to an hourly rate, Steve Martin’s MasterClass ends up costing a rate of $20 an hour. That’s a very competitive price compared to taking stand up comedy classes, let alone learning from one of the greatest comedians alive.
The course offers an unbeatable value, especially since you get to learn at the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. You can choose to take as much time to pause and practice as you need.
To buy this course individually, you’ll need to buy it as a gift, and gift the course to yourself. Furthermore, you get lifetime access to Steve Martin MasterClass, meaning you get to dip in and out or revisit it anytime you like.
Option 2 – $180 a year for a MasterClass Subscription for the Whole Year
The second option to getting access to Steve Martin MasterClass is by subscribing to an annual all-access pass for $180. This works out to be about $15 per month for an all-inclusive access pass to lessons by the best experts in the world.
This subscription will give you access to an excellent cooking course by Gordon Ramsay, jaw-dropping game of poker by Phil Ivey, jazz piano lessons from Herbie, and how to be a comedian by David Sedaris. As long as you’re able to find at least 4-6 courses you like from the website, you’re effectively only paying $30-45 per course.
MasterClass is an absolute goldmine of information with courses taught by world-class experts at a very reduced price. Nonetheless, if you’re worried about the commitment, the website includes a refund policy just in case you decided that the course is not suitable for you.
What Others Have Said:
No review is complete without considering what others have said about the course. A quick Google search has resulted in a few interesting points with a mixed reception.
“Worth is relative. If you have to ask, I’d probably say no. Standup isn’t exactly some arcane secret magic. You can find all the same info in $10 books, and there are classes that are cheaper.” – Comment from Reddit
“If you want to watch it for entertainment purposes or because you’re a Steve Martin fan, go for it. But if you’re actually trying to get better at comedy, open mics will teach you more than any instructional video would.” – Comment from Reddit
“I’m an absolute beginner in standup and it has been insanely helpful.
I’m not saying it has made me a more funnier person or a better standup comedian but Martin gives some amazing insights and teaches how to analyze your thoughts for material, etc.” – Comment from Reddit
“Most people don’t realize he was performing in stadiums. The guy was huge! He knew when he was on stage performing for 10,000 that he was going to stop because it couldn’t get bigger than that. He’s a great writer, performer, comedian, actor, and museum. I’m enjoying his MasterClass.”- Comment from Reddit
Final Verdict – Is Steve Martin’s Comedy MasterClass Worth It?
This MasterClass is best for fans of classic standup comedy. This in-depth course covers many specifics of standup performance – something he hasn’t done about his art before. That being said, the value of his course really depends on what you’re interested in and what you aim to achieve.
If you prefer contemporary comedy that’s politically driven, then this course might not be the best choice for you. Steve Martin relates his comedic style and techniques to the 1960s and 70s when his career was at its peak.
Additionally, if you’re less interested in live performance, then you might also not get much out of the course. This course focuses on live acts and his advice centers on interaction with audiences while on stage.