In this Steve Martin Masterclass review, I'll explain who it's for, what you can learn and what to expect from it.
Steve Martin's Masterclass is one of the more popular writing online courses available today, in part due to Steve's fame as a comic, film star and Oscar host.
I spent several weeks taking this course and putting some of his lessons into practice to improve my ability to write humor.
I also took the Steve Martin Masterclass because I've always admired his comedy shows and films like Father of the Bride and The Jerk.
Martin also hosted the Oscars multiple times and was one of Saturday Night Live's biggest stars in the 1980s.
In short: he's a “wild and crazy guy”.
(Comedy nerd alert: That's also the name of Steve Martin's comedy album.)
- Who Is Steve Martin's Masterclass For?
- How much Does Martin's MasterClass cost?
- What is Steve Martin's Masterclass Like?
- Writing Comedy Like Steve
- What I Learnt
- Mine Your Worst Qualities
- Gather Material from Everyday Experiences
- Test Your Ideas
- Profanity Not Required
- Keep Bits That Don't Work
- Community and Office Hours
- Is Steve Martin's Masterclass Worth It?
- Masterclass Resources
Who Is Steve Martin's Masterclass For?
This Masterclass course is for aspiring comics and anyone who wants to inject more color and humor into their writing or creative works.
It's also an excellent course to learn about how a top creative like Steve Martin approaches coming up with ideas and performing them.
In this Masterclass, Martin reflects on his popular stand-up shows from the 1980s. He describes how he comes up with jokes and bits. And he also workshops pieces in-person by two lucky students.
He promises to teach students about everything from “finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.”
This Masterclass is less suitable if you write fiction or are unfamiliar with Steve Martin's shows, films and creative works.
How much Does Martin's MasterClass cost?
Like any Masterclass course, you can't buy this course outright. Instead, it costs $180 for an annual membership. For that price, you can get access to every course on Masterclass for a year.
It's a bargain if you want to learn from top creatives. How else can you take courses from Steve Martin, Neil Gaiman or David Lynch?
What is Steve Martin's Masterclass Like?
Steve Martin's Masterclass involves 25 video lessons filmed in HD. It's four hours and 49 minutes in length. These are:
- Introduction: 03:04
- Getting Started in Comedy: 09:30
- Gathering Material: 11:23
- Finding Your Comedic Voice: 10:36
- Developing a Comedic Persona: 11:37
- Jokes and Bits: 15:43
- Delivery: 10:19
- Crafting Your Act: 16:28
- Student Session: Workshopping Nalini's First Stand-Up Act: 17:08
- Student Session: Workshopping Tim's Act: 9:54
- Opening and Closing Your Act: 15:21
- Profanity and Morality: 09:15
- Growing as a Performer: 12:09
- Nerves, Hecklers, and Bombing: 08:37
- A Life In the Arts: 10:51
- Creating Characters: 10:39
- Story Techniques: 13:43
- Screenwriting Case Study: Roxanne: 11:00
- Editing: 12:10
- Editing (cont'd): 15:25
- Writing Case Study: Meteor Shower: 11:10
- Steve's Comedic Inspirations: 9:10
- Steve's Journey: 10:29
- Final Thoughts: 04:59
- Bonus Case Study: Speeches: 10:57
The videos are shot in HD, in a large, colourful home office. Steve speaks straight to the camera and also interacts with two lucky students.
The video lessons also include transcripts and a 74-page downloadable PDF workbook. The course also includes extras like extras from some of Steve's scripts and bits over the years.
Tip: You'll get a lot more from this course if you read Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up beforehand and understand how his career developed.
Writing Comedy Like Steve
Throughout the course, Martin explains how he came up with bits and jokes. He talks at length about how he came up with a comedic persona and how students can do the same.
Martin references and analyzes materials by other top comedy writers like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Amy Schumer.
After each class, Steve either provides an exercise to students or offers one via the companion workbook. Here's an example:
Steve’s appearance was not wild and crazy, nor was he a “ramblin’ guy,” yet he found it funny to call himself such on stage. Now it’s your turn to experiment with opposites. What are you absolutely not? Shy and reserved? Extraverted and itching to talk to everyone? Play on what you’re not and work that into your act. Come up with a few jokes that work with your opposite qualities and share them with your classmates in The Hub.
Did I mention he plays the banjo in one lesson?
What I Learnt
I'm not a comic, but I came away from this class with several valuable lessons about creative work, including writing and entrepreneurship.
Don’t Fear Your Mistakes
If you’re at the start of your creative career, it’s hard to conquer self-doubt, much less muse on how you’ll manage success or sell out an arena.
It turns out Steve Martin had many of these same doubts and spent many sleepless nights in his hotel room after his shows, wondering if he was any good.
“You’ve got to give yourself room to be bad, because you learn more from being bad than you do from being great.
Mine Your Worst Qualities
Martin explains how many comics make themselves look bad and exaggerate their flaws in front of an audience… or even on the page.
He encourages students to do the same by considering their worst flaws and exaggerating them.
Gather Material from Everyday Experiences
Martin tasks students with using ordinary experiences as source material for the creative works.
He encourages students to carry a notebook around with them and record ideas. And he even recommends observing arguments discreetly. He says,
“Everything you see, hear, experience is usable.”
Test Your Ideas
Martin advises aspiring creatives to test new materials incrementally and improve it over time.
That could apply to performing jokes in front of an audience or writing in different genres in public.
Martin also refines his ideas by setting up a joke in Act 1 and including a callback towards the end. This is a technique that writers use all the time to end their work too. He explains,
If you’re looking for an ending, look in the beginning or the middle. Something established there is your key to pulling it all together.”
Profanity Not Required
Steve Martin is known for performing clean sets and gigs. He explains that people often laugh at swear words because of the word itself and not because the bit is funny. Deciding to use profanity depends on the writer.
Martin also makes a case for reflecting jokes on yourself as the writer or performer rather than picking on someone else to get a laugh. In short: use self-deprecating humor.
Keep Bits That Don't Work
Martin describes how he cut jokes and bits from his films and sets that didn't work. However, he recommends students keep their cut-offs because it may be possible to reuse elements on them in a future creative project or show.
Martin also explains it's possible to use old jokes in new contexts, hence his banjo callback in the first lesson.
Community and Office Hours
Masterclass runs a dedicated community and office hours for students. Although Steve workshopped pieces by two students in his course, don't expect him or the other instructors to pop-up much in the forum.
Typically, Masterclass moderators post exercises related to the course in question, answer student's questions and offer feedback.
Is Steve Martin's Masterclass Worth It?
Steve Martin is an unusual creative. He found success on stage, on screen and also in show-biz as an Oscar host.
Martin speaks about all of these creative pursuits and offers advice for anyone who wants to do the same. However, it's hard to imagine many students attempting all of these disciplines like Steve.
In short: some of the lessons probably won't apply to your specific creative interests.
That said, Steve Martin's Masterclass is a well-produced and engaging online course for anyone who wants to learn more about writing comedy… or about Steve's creative process.
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
The Bottom Line
Steve Martin's Masterclass is an entertaining online course if you want to become a stand-up comic. It's also a good choice for learning how to inject color and humor into your writing or creative works. It's also a great writing Masterclass if you like reading and listen to Steve Martin talk about his comedy writing, films and shows. If you write fiction, dislike stand-up or Steve's humor, consider taking a course by Masterclass instructors like Neil Gaiman or David David Sedaris.
- Steve is a warm, engaging teacher
- Polished learning materials
- Includes practical comedy writing exercises
- Not many students will have an interest in writing, films and performing on stage like Steve
- Appreciation of Steve Martin's work required