Steve Kaplan Solves the Comic Equation

Steve Kaplan

Steve Kaplan

Over the span of several decades many concepts have been presented with the help of a hypothetical (and other-worldly) alien; also known as Blank Slate. True to form, our little green friend has recently touched down on Earth (interestingly enough in Kansas) and his first act of exploration, after reading TMZ and eating nine jars of Nutella, was to watch a load of pandering sitcoms and comedies having nothing to do with Judd Apatow. Despite his numerous funny-bones (his people are  born with five) his only utterance during his “comedy” marathon was a flatulent hazelnut induced gas cloud.

If our interplanetary traveler would have aimed about 12oo miles due east and a couple of decades earlier, he might have found himself at Steve Kaplan’s Manhattan Punchline Theater laughing his second tukhus off (albeit without “the peanut butter of the gods”). This is the very same theater where Steve honed his comedic tools while developing writers like Peter Tolan (Analyze This), Tracy Proust (Ugly Betty, Will & Grace), and Michael Patrick King (Sex and The City, Will & Grace) among many other soon to be successful writers and producers. His former students really stink up the joint having been nominated to win over 43 Emmy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, and an Oscar for good measure.

“Coincidence?”, you ask. Not even close. Steve applied some serious science for a funnyman and broke down what was working in his comedy shows and why. He developed and refined his comedic tools like “Winning”, “The Non-Hero”, and “Straight-line / Wavy-line.” These techniques were integral to his 40 week masters’ class on comedic performance. And while the Manhattan Punchline Theater and his 40 week course  are no longer around (apparently bills can’t be paid with just laughter) the lessons Steve forged in Manhattan are the foundation of his two-day seminars appropriately titled, Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive. His next class is January 24-25 in Los Angeles.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Steve. His ability to deftly move between his quick wit and the underpinnings of comedy exploration had me engaged from the start of our call. One of my favorite things that he said on the podcast was actually a quote he attributed to John Cleese that I think perfectly sums up the intuition Steve developed about comedy all those years ago in Manhattan.

John Cleese said something like this, “When we started Monty Python, we thought that comedy was watching someone do something silly. We came to realize that comedy was watching someone watch someone do something silly.”

Hey! Who wants to watch me watch an alien eat some more Nutella?

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Show Notes and Links from Curious About Filmmaking Episode 007

  • The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges?
  • “Great art and great theater is telling the truth about people”
  • Is British humor superior to American humor?
  • What do the Brits think of American sitcoms?
  • Can pain and sadness coexist with comedy?
  • The Daily Show’s perfect execution of satire using character and relationship
  • The fate of Andrew Dice Clay’s satiric comedy
  • “Why is something funny on a Thursday and not on a Sunday?”
  • Learn about the tools Steve created for his 40 week master class in comedic performance
  • How Steve Kaplan became the “Robert McKee of comedy”
  • Why Steve turned his focus to helping writers over actors
  • What is the Comic Equation that Steve teaches to writers and directors?
  • The movie genre Steve likes to watch to relax and have fun
  • The premise is the “lie” of the story, but a character must act within the context of who he is and the context of the “lie”
  • Don’t write your comedy by asking, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…”
  • The show runner v. the stand up comic

Movies / Television Mentioned in this Episode

Books Mentioned in this Episode


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