Masterclass: Success in Comedy Writing by Steve Martin
My MasterClass.com notes taken on the writing habits, stand up practice routines, and philosophy of improvement
“Don’t be intimidated starting with nothing. In fact, if you start with nothing, the workaround can lead you to originality.” — Steve Martin
The magic of hearing from people that dream big and work in optimizing their habits to increase their skill and talent level always amaze me. I’ve been watching MasterClass.com’s greatest creators talk about their process to become great.
But this process is no different than successful performer, athlete, CEO, mother, father, or lover. The process of building habits isn’t easy, especially in an arena we want to succeed in. Steve’s journey reminds me of the power and potential we all hold inside us.
Steve started comedy with nothing. No experience in acting or dance. No parents in the business. One of the quotes he used was,
“Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? LIVE WHERE YOUR PASSION IS.
Move to a place where your passion is most practiced.
If you love startups, move to Silicon Valley. If you love A.I. move to Boston and hang out with M.I.T. folks. If you love playing hoops, move to L.A. If you love comedy, move to New York, L.A. or Chicago.
Or crush your community and start there.
Many of the greatest performers in comedy are introverted. This is probably you waiting to express yourself. If you are an introvert, you need to find that persona, character, or reservoir of courage to perform inside you and do it.
Doing it is hard.
Taking that step to perform and be vulnerable is hard, but the performance is inside you, and the only way to get better is to practice and surround yourself with people better than you.
Then, start practicing. Start working.
Be so good, you can’t be ignored, and then you have to be in position to be chosen, so just be around.
Get there in your community, get to a city, and start taking those small steps of learning.
Then be so good they can’t ignore you. Most people think about head shots, about getting an agent, when they first need to think about being good.
START TALKING TO YOUR FRIENDS AND MENTORS ABOUT YOUR PASSION FOR COMEDY.
Ask your friends questions about not-so-obvious scenarios of what your ideas are. See what they say? Can you answer their questions with confidence? Can you eloquently speak about your topic? Do you truly know your vision, your brand, and do you constantly think about learning more about it?
Keep talking about ideas and go to the end of the rabbit hole.
What hasn’t been talked about?
What is new and fresh and hasn’t been talked about or done yet?
Don’t be afraid to be different, and learn about what interests you and find the comedy in the things that everyone knows, but don’t want to say.
THINK ABOUT YOUR PASSION. ALL. THE. TIME.
Don’t think about anything else, but comedy (your passion) in the beginning.
Always be thinking about the joke.
“Tom Hanks, I just listen to him and let him talk. Think of jokes while he does. Either by default or intent, you are going to be thinking about comedy all the time, until you can relax 25 years later, so you might as well be thinking about it all the time, especially in the beginning.”
This is true of anything you are passionate about doing and want to be successful at because passion is sustainable because you are being authentic. Know this before you start something, from startups to relationships, from business to new jobs, and you will save yourself a lot of suffering.
No matter what, you will have to work a long friggin’ time at whatever your passion is — including your partners, your kids, your hobbies, your writing, your startups, or your standup routine, so make sure you love it before you start giving yourself to it.
BECOME INFORMED. BECOME INTELLIGENT. LEARN ABOUT THINGS.
Everytime you learn something new, you get new material.
If there is trouble, or an argument, let it happen. Watch the cycle or patterns of human behavior. Drama is what people are drawn too and you can take the funny bits from you see and hear. Steve says,
“Everything you hear is copy. You are a thought machine. You have a million thoughts a day. Observe them. Ask yourself, is that an idea I could use? A million things happen to you every day. Make notes on anything that strikes you.”
Gold is found in the smallest of conversations. Drama is found in the most normal of situations. Just watch your world and analyze it. Write notes about the stories you see unfolding. Find the comedy in these ridiculous situations.
FIND A VACUUM YOU CAN FILL.
- What does society, your community, and your soul need right now?
- In the late 60’s, 70’s, there was Vietnam War and Richard Nixon. Everyone was doing the same thing. He had a hippies look and he decided to change. The nation needed some laughter. Something fun to see. He pivoted away from what was main stream to what he thought he wanted.
- Be front of end of a new movement instead of the tail end of an old movement.
- What would be unique or unusual? Slightly different. Finding a hole in the climate of the nation.
- Use what everyone’s thinking and say what is on everyone’s mind. Say the truth. It connects the audience and is comedic in nature.
Steve started from nothing, but he built his career because he focused on the habits that promoted his growth as a successful comedian.
Focus on doing what you can to get your processes in every day. Build power through intention and focus.