Transcription: MasterClass – Steve Martin Teaches Comedy. Lesson 19

As some of you already know, I’m enrolled in MasterClass. Last night I particularly loved hearing these thoughts on editing, from Steve Martin’s comedy class (—as the saying goes, “it all starts with writing,” in so many industries, including comedy), and thought I’d share a bit of it with you all, in the form of this transcription. Please grab a cup of tea, and enjoy, dear WordPress friends!

MasterClass – Steve Martin Teaches Comedy – Lesson 19: Editing (Part 1) synopsis:

“Steve believes that editing is one of a comedian’s most powerful tools. In these lessons, he breaks down his own editing processes and illustrates how it can turn something good into something great.” — MasterClass

Section 1: Editing – Intro

“Editing is one of your most powerful tools to success. Changing, subtly reorganizing, taking out… it’s thrilling! [Side note: LOL! This is how I feel when I’m editing. So addictive!]

“I don’t think you want to start editing right away. Although sometimes, internal editing — like if you’re writing a paragraph — helps you get to the next paragraph, and you go, “oh my god this whole half of this paragraph really needs to be up here.” And you’re helping establish the flow of it. So sometimes I do edit. But if you’re writing an opus, you just want to keep writing, and don’t let your critical mind come in too soon. I always speed through a first draft. And the reason I speed through a first draft is, I just want to get the whole thing. The whole picture. Because I know that this is going to undergo fifty edits. Fifty drafts. And I just like to have the overall thing because I can start changing things internally. I can’t think of all the little notations and tweaks that I’m going to understand about it later.

“For me, I’m creating something to help me understand what it’s about. And then, you start to look and say, “Okay, this is — I see the shape this is taking, so that means that *this* scene is extraneous, and *this* scene is more important than I thought.” — Steve Martin

Section 2: Read to Your Dog

“I find a great thing that helps me, in writing prose – especially fictional prose — is reading it aloud. To yourself — or I would actually read it to my dog. And you can hear things that you don’t pick up by reading [silently]. You can hear the flow of that sentence. You can feel [when] something’s stopping the reader.

“When I listen to myself as a comedian or watching a movie that I’m in, I always listen to where it slows down. I always think you can smell it where it’s slowing down. And you can smell it as a reader, reading your own work; especially if you’re reading it aloud. You know, ‘Am I interested in this?’” — Steve Martin

Section 3: Ditch the Fancy Words

“When someone writes effortlessly, it’s the greatest thing in the world, and I have so many friends, who, you know, I have a lot of friends in the art world, and we kind of make fun of art prose that is… gobbledy gook. That uses words that you’re trying to understand what the meaning is; it just sounds so smarty-pants. And no information is transmitted — no emotion[al information] is transmitted. It’s all intellectual information.

“And the real good art writers I know, like Peter Schjeldahl, Deborah Solomon, Adam Gopnik… they’re very clear. They make it fun to read; it’s emotional, there’s no fancy words unless they’re necessary. I just prefer that style of writing. And I believe that style of writing can be simultaneously very smart and very accessible. And I would say that’s what you shoot for. That’s what you shoot for in comedy, is a kind of surprise — clarity, but with a twist.” — Steve Martin

Section 4: Step Away for Objectivity

“I feel that time helps you understand what’s relevant, what’s irrelevant or what can be better. You write it, you read it, you’re in love with it… put it down for a month. ‘Cause when you come back you’ll have forgotten all your wonderful pain you had when writing it, and your insights, and you’re not trying to preserve that moment in yourself; you’re trying to look at it more — you’ll see it more *objectively,* on the page.

“You know, there’s that cliché, you have to “kill your darlings.” And it’s kind of true. You’ll find that the things you love, most people don’t… they can’t interpret your emotion and it’s got to be *on* it — on the page. So you might have a line, that’s say, a terse line, and you know it’s filled with thought — [said emotionally:] “and it was my *father,* and this, and that” — but they can’t interpret that, from that. So you have this special investment in this line. And the audience doesn’t.

“So I like to take time. I find — I hate to say it — how often it might be — that I write something and it’s just feeling really good, really good; put it down about a month and go, ‘What was I thinking?!'” — Steve Martin

[Transcribed from here:]



Further notes:

Dear friends, I can so relate to each of Steve Martin’s points above. But especially the last one. ;)) How about you? Which ones resonated?

By the way, that was only the first half of lesson 19. And there is another lesson on editing as well, in which Steve Martin critiques one class member’s script.

(Unaffiliated) MasterClass plug :))

MasterClass is the absolute best deal on the Internet, IMHO, for online classes. It’s currently priced at $200/year for an all-access pass, and there are over 60 famous and successful instructors. It’s sort of like watching autobiographical process documentaries about your favourite artists, writers, sports players, musicians, etc. The production quality is superb, each video lecture is supported by a printable PDF along with optional assignment, and it is so enjoyable to watch the lessons from the convenience of one’s sofa or armchair. It feels like the instructor is in the room with you, just chatting casually, face to face. Highly recommended if you are considering any casual online courses.

Caveat: I find the built-in community a nice bonus, but not the best interface (it doesn’t at all keep me hooked, as say, WordPress’s social scene does. ;)). Also, it’s hard to stay motivated and focussed, when there are no deadlines (nor feedback) for assignments (except for a chosen few, and you have to be there at the right place, at the right time, to get chosen). There is also the (happy) factor of so many new classes continuously being added, which (on the downside) distract from what you’re already taking. If you need feedback, it *is* possible to get it via MasterClass (there are peer discussion groups for this), but the interface is not great, and the pool of students is vastly wide, so getting good feedback is a lot more work than it would be if you signed up for a different type of class that automatically includes detailed feedback. So, whether MasterClass will suit you or not, depends what your needs are. You’ve got to listen to your own intuition. For me, at the moment, MasterClass feels perfect.

Last night I finished Steve Martin’s class. This was the first MasterClass I signed up for; and I’m ashamed to admit it was over one year ago 😬😅 . (I’d actually been “sold” on the writing classes, but when Steve Martin’s class popped up, I thought I’d try getting a much-needed sense of humour instead. Definitely useful in the rejection-filled writing world. 😉 😄)

I procrastinated and procrastinated, wanting to do the course “perfectly” (i.e. completing all homework assignments, and maybe even blogging a bit about each lesson, and hopefully interacting with the MasterClass community). I also kept signing up for new courses that I was notified about via email — chess with Garry Kasparov, singing with Christina Aguilera, space exploration with Chris Hadfield, producing and beatmaking with Timbaland… not to mention the writing classes by Margaret Atwood and Judy Blume and James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell and more, and not to mention “Conservation class,” with “Gorillas in the Mist” real-life icon, Jane Goodall.

The way I finally managed to complete this single, first-on-my-list, 25-lesson course, after having inadvertently signed up for so many, was to tell myself that I didn’t have to do anything besides *watch* the rest of the lessons. That way I was able to simply enjoy the rest of the course, rather than obsessing about completing it perfectly. I have to admit I have not done the assignments. But I did do this transcription, which I hope might have helped you, as well. :))

The class, “completed” in this relaxed fashion, was truly enjoyable and entertaining! Steve Martin’s “lectures” are interspersed with clips from his most amazing and hilarious comedy acts, and also with him playing a mean banjo (actually gave me tingles – had no idea what a gorgeous instrument the banjo was, till I saw it played like that!). In the talking head sections, Steve’s not at all like his on-stage persona. He’s mostly quiet and introspective and super down-to-earth.

Actually, you know what? I would actually recommend MasterClass as a TV-replacement. To anyone who watches TV-I-mean-Netfladdicts (or other form of web TV), instead of keeping your TV subscription(s), which cost(s) not much less, consider switching to MasterClass. Waaaaayyyyy better input. Don’t worry even if you don’t do the assignments at first. Just soak up the awesome knowledge that MasterClass and some of the most successful people of our time have managed to make so accessible to us. It really is entertaining!

Next, I hope MasterClass makes a series geared towards kids. Can you imagine if our kids could (willingly!) learn this stuff, in their early years?

Here’s a link where you can check out the preview for Steve Martin’s Comedy MasterClass:

Hope you enjoyed my transcription. Maybe I’ll see you in the MasterClass community. :)) Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!




Post image: In some sections of the class, we get to watch Steve Martin give feedback to fledgling comedy writers.

Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. Thank you for reading. ❤︎

18 thoughts on “Transcription: MasterClass – Steve Martin Teaches Comedy. Lesson 19

  1. Thanks for sharing Steve Martin’s ideas with us. Most of them resonate with me. One in particular, read to your dog, seems an especially good idea.

    I’m trying it out now. Interesting! At the sound of Steve Martin’s name her ears pricked up. Then she drooped her head and gazed at me with those soulful eyes which seemed to say “Why are you talking all this crap when we could be playing outside? I know it’s 40C in the shade but I still have a tennis ball which hasn’t been chewed to shreds. …and yes, I know you wanted to play tennis this afternoon but it’s way too hot for that. “

    Have to go now. Where’s that lead? Keep writing, keep sharing and keep believing.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Never been to Saumur… sounds nice.

          Yesterday maybe I skewed the results, laying the thermo on a sunny patch of earth. Today I’ve hung it in the sun on the clothesline and it “only” shows 45C. Still defo too hot for tennis… not to mention any kind of work. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 👍😁

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with you, the Masterclass series is great. I took Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass and it was EXCELLENT!

    I only took the one class though, didn’t sign up for the year long, all access thing. I might do that (sign up for the all access) at a later date. Like you wrote, there are many great classes and more being added all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I total agreement with these. I always read mine out loud before submitting and inevitably there is poorly-constructed, obfuscated text in there. Plus I never think it’s a bad thing to look as if you’ve gone a tiny bit mad, stalking your house late and night whilst speaking to yourself 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Stalking around like a madman late at night certainly would counteract any obfuscativeness of the text! I’m defo going to try that, since my verbosity seems insufferably baroque at times! Thanks Matthew! ;))


  4. Um, that explains why Nadine suddenly disappeared 😋😊 congrats on finishing up that class 👏 👏 I find it funny how in low level classes fancy words are encouraged while in higher classes, plain, easy and common words are embraced. And yes, good humor spices up the day 😂😉😉

    Am a huge fun of Windows Narrator if I can’t find someone to torture, into reading out loud a piece for I; which lately seems to be the case 😷🤕

    Oh Nadine, well played there by signing up for more new classes 😂😁😀😀 you are so busted… Busted, busted, buster 🕵👀👣✊🐧

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joseph! I use the computer narrator too!

      And yes, so busted, this is absolutely terrible as now they suddenly annouce Joyce Carol Oates’ Short Stories class!!!

      I’m done for! So many half-finised books and classes… ayayay… but hey on the plus side I guess I’m supporting the art-makers I love. So my reading and learning ADD ain’t all bad. ;)) 😄😇👹📖📚💗✨

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is true, and besides, it’s not a race. One has to enjoy it while picking insights, rather than simply cruising through😋. Actually, I also started that thing of reading half book and picking another before completing the first one. I am finding it exciting and not pressuring myself into having to complete one before engaging in another. The thrill is spectacular 🤗🙂😍😎

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And oh my.. Joyce Oates’ class? 🙋🙋🙋 added to my to-do list. Thank you for sharing. I previously wanted to check out Mastersclasses before, but mainly it was for the acting. 🤘 💃

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Hmm, good idea also… and wow! Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Mirren, and Natalie Portman to choose from… 😱 ayayay, more for the happy rainy day to-do list! 😁👯‍♂️

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s