Ever used the phrase “canned laughter” when discussing modern television comedy?
Then you’re a pie. Yes, a pie.
Ever complained about shows having a laughter track, perhaps because you don’t need to be told where and when to laugh, or because there’s no way that anyone could find this show funny? Then you are also a pie.
Laughter tracks are great. Here’s why.
Laughing is a social event. When I am alone it takes a Conan-the-Barbarian-esque hero of a joke to make me laugh. If I am in good, joyous company, I’ll laugh at any old pish. Laughter is infectious. Try watching comedy with friends. It’s fun.
Laughter makes the show feel warm and inviting. Come and enjoy some merriment with us. Everyone’s here. Join in. Why do you think that most mainstream entertainment shows have an audience? From quizzes like Millionaire, to shiny floor shows like Strictly, X Factor, then Harry Hill, Graham Norton, QI, blah blah. All of these shows would work without an audience. The content would be near identical. And it would be cheaper to do without an audience. So why have one? And why record/transmit their reactions? Think on.
Knowing there will be a laughter track makes writers write jokes.
Simple. They have to put enough good jokes in to make the live audience laugh out loud. And keep laughing. And this applies doubly if it is studio-based; acted and recorded in front of a live studio audience (that sounds familiar). Who wants to leave comic actors blethering through a couple of pages of dialogue without a joke? A idiot, that’s who.
So, shows with laugh tracks tend to have more jokes. A good thing no? IF “no” THEN GOTO fuckyersel.
And as we are talking about studio comedy, there is little in life as sweet as watching a performer timing his/her delivery along with an audience’s laughter. One laugh suddenly becomes many. What should be a two second joke becomes a minute-long masterpiece. These hilarious extra pauses and looks and tweaks only exist because there are actors in front of an audience.
Selfishly, I love the nights when we record audience laughs. I write to tell jokes. I direct to tell jokes. I want people to laugh at these jokes. My loft does not boast a creaking pirate’s chest overflowing with scripts I was happy enough to write but am scared to let loose. Fuck that. No one has ever laughed at a joke in a drawer. They’ve never hated a joke in a drawer either but hey, grow a dick. Which makes an audience night amazing. It’s exciting. You get to watch people laugh at your jokes. Hear them laugh. There’s no waiting for viewing figures, or the scribbling of critics, or the phonecall from your mum. The response is immediate and honest. Beautiful.
Which also helps with the final editing process. After filming, most shows have too much material and an audience night is as harsh and helpful a guide to what I should “mark in, mark out, extract” as I could want. Wheat/chaff and all that.
There are a couple of other reasons, like how the sound of laughter helps smooth out picture edits, but that’s enough. I was bored of the argument before I started. And I’ve exhausted my monthly quota of “laughter”, “show” and “audience” usage.
If you want to add your own reasons feel free.
Oh, and I know there are great shows without laughter tracks. I’m not a pie.