Laughter Tracks are Great

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.

Back to comedy shows. Here’s something from Graham Linehan (either from his blog or Twitter I forget/can’t find which). I’m going to embolden it.

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.

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My Name is Region, For We Are Many.

I live somewhere. Outside this very house is somewhere. No, honest, I can see it out my window. Somewhere. An actual place.

So why doesn’t comedy?

Remember that Executive Comedy Editor for Commissioning Editor Executives? Well, at a comedy briefing someone from the audience asked why there were so few comedies with regional accents. He replied that….Actually, fuck that, I was going to skirt round it…but fuck it.

Here’s what actually happened. Last year, Scotland produced three opt-out comedy shows. Opt-out is when a BBC region broadcasts a different show from the rest of the country. It’s why every non-Welsh rugby fan scours the multi-channels looking for BBC Wales, where they can see Scrum V. So anyway, there’re these 3 comedies that Scottish punters got to see that the rest of Britain, iPlayer aside, did not. On the whole, the audience received these comedies kindly. Some loved them, some hated them, but they were successful enough to get second serieseses. So far, so fuck.

Well, at this briefing, a brave soul asked why network BBC didn’t broadcast these shows? Any of them? Even as a cheapo repeat? On any network BBC channel?

Here’s the pisser…Apparently, according to the visiting TV Tsar, there are people “in the south” who are turned off by the accents. They just won’t watch. They find it hard to understand. He tittered that Fawlty Towers would never have been made if everyone in it spoke like Manuel.

My, my, how fucking droll!

Ignoring the offensive parallel between regional accents and a comedy foreigner who can barely speak English, this scaredy cat spectacularly missed the point.

Actually placing a comedy somewhere adds flavour. The accents, the references, the attitude, the backdrop, the swearing, the history, the slaggings, the stereotypes…All these things make this somewhere, although different, an actual somewhere like my very own somewhere. Which makes me love it a little more.

Obviously you can have comedy set nowhere. It’s not obligatory. Who the fuck am I to say that every comedy should be set somewhere? But the only people who are against it, actively frightened of something from somewhere seem to be those at the top. Isn’t that a rusty pipe to the teeth?

Recently, off the top of my head and avoiding sketch shows, we’ve had…

  • Benidorm
  • Big Top
  • Coming of Age
  • FM
  • Gavin and Stacey
  • Getting On
  • How Not To Live Your Life
  • Krod Mandoon
  • Last of The Summer Wine
  • Lead Balloon
  • Miranda
  • Moving Wallpaper
  • My Family
  • No Heroics
  • Not Going Out
  • Outnumbered
  • Peep Show
  • Plus One
  • Psychoville
  • Pulling
  • Rab C Nesbitt
  • Reggie Perrin
  • Rev
  • The Gemma Factor
  • The Inbetweeners
  • The IT Crowd
  • The Life of Riley
  • The Old Guys
  • The Thick of It
  • Two Pints of Lager

There are some works of genius on that list. There are some shows that boast some lovely accents on that list. And, yes, there are a couple on that list that really do feel like they exist somewhere. But slap me sideways and call me Barbara if there aren’t too many nowheres on that list.

Or maybe I’m just getting old and miss hearing about Partridge’s Norwich. And Trotter’s Peckham, And Arkwright’s Balby. And Fawlty’s Torquay. And the Likey Lad’s Newcastle. I even miss the imaginary Walmington on Sea, Slade Prison, Craggy Island and Slough.

Naah fuck that. I want a new Geordie, Irish, Scouse, Yorkshire, Brummy, Welsh, Cornish, Bristolian, Cockney, Essex boy, Lancashire comedy. Any will do please.

UPDATE – Thanks to the media mastermind that is @gusman, I found out about this piece on yesterday’s BBC News website. It would seem that Jana Bennett, BBC director of television is linked to me telepathically.

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Zoltan, Hound of Dracula Vs Zombieland

Well hello there, dog flashback.

That’s a dog remembering how it became a vampire. Just think about that for a second. The chance to watch the visual memories of a dead dog as its unliving brain replays its own death and rebirth. How the fuck do they do that? Isn’t science wonderful?

But what’s this shit? Zoltan is chased off by the barking of other, live, not dead, dogs? That’s Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, vampire dog returned from the dead, strong, violent, hungry and loyal who wants nothing more than to bite, thus create, a new master, being shooed off by a woofing mutt. Yasss! More please.

Flared jeans, a giant Winnebago, some tight male polonecks, pastel shades and old style Coke cans in a Dracula film? It shouldn’t work. And doesn’t. But does. But doesn’t really.

Oh good, a competition among the script and/or producer folks. Well, it must be a competition. Otherwise there is no reason for the spectacular number of times the word “Zoltan” is whispered versus the numerous zooming shots onto Reggie Nalder’s pursed wee face. I dunno who won the original bet, the zoltans or the facezooms, but we’re the winners overall.

Because boy…Reggie Nalder’s face.

Just….I mean….aww man. Reggie Nalder’s face. It’s on screen constantly. Often without the face talking or even moving. Just those pursed testicle-bag lips and the starey how-am-I-going-to-spend-my-£10-from-my-scratchcard eyes. Tyra Banks doesn’t know the meaning of the word “fierce”. Every time I blink now I see Reggie’s face. Can you damage your eyes by blinking too often?

But here’s what’s truly magnificent about Zoltan. All the effects are practical effects. Fucking brilliant. Real actual dogs running and barking and biting and looking all menacing as some stagehand shines a light in their reflective creepy eyes. Stuntmen, or maybe just the cheaper actors, rolling in dirt with big, slabbering, there-on-set dogs. Great. Not a CGI spurt, snap, stab, claw or cleave to be had. No floating animals or crap animation or stinky green screen. Your actual Zoltan is actually in your actual Zoltan film.

Then comes Zombieland. A decent TV pilot. Some good zombie action. Comedy even when plot is needed. Fun lines, stupid deaths and a great opening titles. Mind you, you can fuck your American kooky geek heroes, I’m done with them.

But Zombieland has the single best cameo in the history of films. The best. Ever. Ever.

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Why I Love Sketch Shows

I love sketch shows. Like, proper love them. I’d draw them nude on a big ship. I’d return from death to reach round and rub mud into their hands. I’d carry them through a factory in my smashing white suit.

Not that I don’t love shows that aren’t sketch shows. Some of my best mates are shows that aren’t sketch shows. It’s just I love every single sketch show there’s ever been.

Why?

There are a million reasons.

  • They’re hard to make.
  • They’re often cheap, so are lean and hungry.
  • They’re hindered not by plot or character development, but by imagination.
  • They introduce then discard hundreds of vibrant little worlds.
  • They develop writers, performers and production staff before they go onto “narrative comedy”, strutting about as cocky as carwash boys.
  • They can be animated, they can have puppets, they can have archive footage, photographs or still drawings. Anything.
  • They can be surreal, satirical, silent, shocking, poignant, intelligent, repetitive, violent, warm, vile and dumber than a stupid brick all within the same half hour.
  • And on, and on.

But there’s one belter of a reason why sketch shows are better than you and me.

They absolutely have to be funny.

That’s it. Yes, yes, they can offend my girlfriend’s dad or rip celebrity a new one. They can even give idiot politicians a handful of words to say in the correct order to sound vaguely human. But if they don’t raise a giggle, they fail. They can’t get away with “worthy” five-minute-deserts of no-laughs, scenes so shit-scared of not getting a laugh they avoid trying. A humourless sketch show cannot pull the “it was a comedy-drama” excuse so beloved of failed sitcoms.

If you don’t get laughs with your sketch show then it dies. Horribly. No excuses.

Which is why I love them all. Either they made me laugh, or they tried to make me laugh. That’s fucking “comedy” right there. And comedy makes me happy. Look.

That's me that is.

Oh, and if you’ve ever described a sketch show as “hit or miss” then fuck you, you lazy-brained state-the-obvious halfwit. Does your critical genius regard football games as “sporty”? Fuck off.

Because see sketch shows and me? We’ll always have Paris.

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Ratman Vs Tokyo Gore Police

Italian Horror, you’ve got to love it.

Oh look there’s a fat Italian actor who looks like he’s been stung repeatedly in the face by wasps. That’ll be the wasps hanging around the pakora plate at the lunch wagon. Fuckin wasp pakora.

And there’s a creepy David Hayman guy taking photos of lassies that’ll probably get totally nudey later. Not a member of the IBTC among them. Or Equity.

Here’s the ubiquitous drunk English-speaking actor trying to look all suave in their mother’s blouse. Smashing life eh? Whisked off to Italy for a few weeks a year to drink and smoke and letch and…FUCK ME!!

An actual Ratman

IT’S AN ACTUAL RAT/MONKEY HYBRID!!

Oh no, sorry, it’s Nelson de la Rosa playing a rat/monkey hybrid. Two foot four inches high. Christ. Years of your family and friends praying for your wee heart to keep beating just a little longer, only so you can be rolled in fur and have a set of Tam Shepherd’s teeth fired into you.

It must have been a nightmare filming with him, pretending everything was normal, he’s just a regular actor, la la la and then during a break; BOOM, someone kicks a football at him.

And those Ratman attacks. Actors holding the poor wee fella as he pretends to eat at their face while the director shouts “Don’t hurt him. Don’t hurt him”. Desperately trying to shake him hard enough so it looks like a vicious mauling, yet not hard enough to snap his wee twiglet bones.

Mind you, the end result is smashing. Among the Italian stretches of tedious twattery there’s some toppermost trash. And a ratman-shadow-climbing-the-curtain shot that pisses all over most modern horror. G’on yersel wee man.

Then there was six minutes of Tokyo Gore Police. Cerrrrap. Manga should stay manga, get video to fuck out of films and, boy those Japanese blood sprays were tedious the second the Shogun Assassin films finished. Six minutes of boring.

So The Fog saved us. Yes, the glowing cross is shit but shit things don’t ruin films. Not having good things ruins films. And The Fog has many many good things.

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Dread Vs Daybreakers

Hey you guys, where’s the joy?

At any time during the writing or preparing or shooting or editing did you rub your hands in idiotic glee? Did you ever giggle like a 5-year-old hiding a dog shit in their parents’ bed? Or grin like a girl whose bought her boyfriend those first condoms he’s been too scared to buy?

Did you ever get that feeling you get when you hear a belting joke and you can’t wait to tell someone? Or have some great gossip and are bursting to blab it?

Because surely that’s what making a horror film should be all about; impatient to shock or disgust or make laugh or upset or amaze or titillate or dumbfound an audience. Is that not why you do it?

Because it doesn’t fucking look like it.

There are a couple of moments in Dread. The birth mark girl. The axe wielding start. The split stripper. But, fuck me, it’s po-faced. Not a smile nor a gag, nobody is enjoying themselves and the ending ends before the end should end just so you can act all big and clever. Fuck your solemn, somber back-patting pish. I want to have fun.

That counts for you too Daybreakers? Fuck-a-me-a. A humourless monotone world where vampires completely outnumber humans is a fucking terrible idea. F.U.C.K.I.N.G. T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E. Dracula aside, vampires only excite 15-year-old girls. Oh, and 45-year-old women who have never been fingered. All that forbidden, alluring, mysterious, dangerous, eternal love, they lap that shit up. So what the fuck are you doing having a world where vampires are boring? Are you mental? You’ve got vampire police for fuck’s sake. Are you sure that’s what the punters want? Have you thought this through? When the vampire police ask Ethan Hawke about his car crash do they then have to go back to the station to file a vampire report? Vampire paperwork. Vampire red tape.

That would be shit. A vampire shit. A blood shit. A black pudding.

How unromantic is vampire insurance salesmen queuing for vampire coffee served by vampire baristas? Bloody coffee? They drink coffee with blood in it? Perhaps with a nice blood muffin? Blood bread, blood butter and maybe a small string bag of mini bloody Babybels. And don’t 15 year old girls, already serve coffee in the real world? I’m sure their dark passionate desire to become as one with the Nosferatu tarnishes somewhat at the prospect of continuing to make skinny lattes into eternity.

And what about the war? You know, the war that must have raged between vampire and human as they progress toward equal population sizes. Wouldn’t that have eventually turned all cities to rubble, instead of all those gleaming spires and city blocks? Or were they rebuilt by vampire labourers, guided by vampire foremen, aided by vampire JCB drivers and vampire crane operators?

Fuck off. You’ve clearly not thought about your film as much as I have. You don’t care about it as much as I do.

But hey, at least we all hate it.

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Survival of the Dead Vs Cabin Fever 2

George, George, George. Survival Of The Dead? Comedy? Really? So many have taken your zombie ball and run with it that you’re reduced to clunky, tortured, cheapo comedy? That special gift you made especially for me is now a prop for a joke? Really? Can I have a look at your big glasses George? Yeah, your glasses. Just a quick look? Thanks *SNAP*.

And does Jessica Fletcher not want her Murder She Wrote story back? Feuding Irish families? Really? The Muldoons vs. The O’Flynns? I mean, what? A cryingly lame pro-life/pro choice doesn’t cover the shittery. “D’ zombies are always after me lucky charms!” Let me see those glasses again George. Come on, I’m not going to do anything to them. Just give me a look George. Thanks. *SNAP*

Introducing a female character by having her hands down her trousers flicking her bean? Really? Where are you going to go with that one George? Oh, nowhere. Right. Those are nice glasses George, any chance I can have a shot of them for a sec? What? Break them? No, no, there’s just a thing in the newspaper here that I want to have a look at. I’ll give them right back George, I promise. *SNAP*

See, you wanted me to snap them glasses that time George. You gave them to me, knowing I was going to do that.

Mind you, you’ve got some decent gore there George. I’ll give you that. Some head-popping loveliness, and the usual pull-a-boy-apart gubbins. Anybody got some tape for George’s glasses? George’s glasses need a bit of tape over here. There you go George, that’s your glasses fixed.

Hold on though, the acting? And the terrible accents? And the awful plot dressed up in a dreadful script? And the ridiculous set pieces? But it’s mainly the comedy George. The bored comedy. Hooking a zombie on a fishing line? Scooshing a fire extinguisher into a zombie’s mouth till its head pops? Glasses George! Give me the big glasses! *SNAP* Now, let’s balance them back on your nose. Sit still. Nearly. Nearly. There! Now don’t move.

Because here’s Cabin Fever 2. “Wooooaaahhh!” and “Ooooph No!” and “Oh come on now!” and “Get to fuck”. Sick, vile, wannabe shocker. Vibrant, hilarious, don’t-give-a-fuck rampage. Fuck House of the Devil Ti West, this is what you should be making. Seeping, gruesome frolics.

Gaah, your glasses have just fallen off there George. Looks like they’re broke too.

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The Children Rant

Hey The Children, c’mere a minute. Here’s the thing…The Children under ten years old aren’t scary.

Unless you do something fucking smart, or fun, with them, I’m not going to be scared by an evil that can be shooed away with a wave of my hand. See if I’m lying on the sofa and my daughter climbs on my chest, I find it easier to stand up than after I’ve had a Chinese takeaway from the top of the road.

Primary school The Children are only terrifying when they point at your beard and shout “Paedo”. That’s horror for you.

But then again, The Children, you’re not a horror. You’re a mid-series episode of Casualty.

First, someone is bumped by a sledge.

Then a woman gets scratched.

Next, Jeremy Handsome slides down a hill on a sledge, a flash of spikey-sharp garden implement and suddenly, a shocked Jeremy looks like someone told him the highlight of his career would be a Renault ad.

Cut on impact of Jeremy and implement.

Come on The Children, stop fucking cutting away. Show me what happened. Is Jeremy Luscious badly injured? Fuck knows. When we see him later where is all that blood coming from? Fuck knows. Who thought this would be satisfying? Fuck knows. Actually, it’s probably everyone involved. But they hate horror films. They must.

Then a mother slips on a climbing frame and breaks her leg. Fuck me, these The Children aren’t evil, their parents are just clumsy flapfeet.

But the thing that bursts the most is the character-is-the-audience shit. A parent looking for their The Children isn’t going to get a big fright when they are hugged by the very The Children they are looking for. No matter how loud you make the screechy noise, or how quick you cut away to another scene, it’s not a real scare. Film characters can’t hear the droning soundtrack. They don’t see the editing. As a general rule parents aren’t scared of their own The Children, so they wouldn’t be wary of, or unnerved by, their own The Children, even after a tantrum and two accidents. Having characters acting like they are the audience is just weak. It’s just reminding me that I am watching a film. And I hate knowing I’m watching a film. I want to forget I exist. Then shit myself.

Or I want to see gubbins. Sloppy, popping, showering, crunching gubbins. And if you can’t afford it then you’re doing horror films wrong. They’re cheap, when used in combination with an imagination. Try it. Make your film fun. Have a laugh. Then maybe I’ll enjoy it too.

Until then The Children, stop ruining British horror for everyone. Especially The Children.

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Panel Show Rant

Two reasons for this rant. The pisspoorness of this piece on panel shows and something an Assistant Comedy Commissioner said. Or was it a Comedy Assistant Commissioner? I forget. Are they meant to assist comedy in getting commissions, assist the commissioner of comedy or be a comedy version of an assistant to the commissioner? Hmmm, I just checked and it seems they’re all Executives or Editors or Executive Editors. Fuck it. Doesn’t matter.

The Independent article whines that panel shows are a bit shit because the same old folk appear on all of them. Guess what Fiona Sturges? You’ve completely underestimated the shit level. You’re complaining about the smell of the zombie clawing out your pancreas. Panel shows are fucking killing comedy. Or maybe killing fucking comedy. Killing comedy fucking? Fuck it. Doesn’t matter.

First up, panel shows are homogenising the channels. Yes you did read “homogenising.” And again.

An increasingly short list of really funny people are on any and all channels at any and all times. And they are funny people, despite what Fiona Sturges says. But this relentless panellisation means the idea that, say, Ch4 is tonally different to BBC2 or even BBC1 is as unbelievable as me missing a meal. I want my channels back. However, it’s not the programme makers’ fault. They make the best show they can with the best people, often resulting in genuinely good shows. And those best people need to take the cash when it’s waved. No, the fault lies with childish, safe, scaredy-cat commissioning.

And so we get to the crippling shittery spouted by the ExecuComEditor. In case you don’t know these people work for TV channels, essentially hiring other people to make shows they think the viewers for their channels would like to see. How this happens is complicated and never the same way twice, but basically they are ultimately responsible for what comedy hits our screens.

So, at a briefing where this particular ComedyExecutidor was telling a sweaty room full of potential comedy suppliers the types of shows their channels wanted, out slips the gem that they weren’t interested in sketch shows because they get their “quick comedy hits” from panel shows.

Well, fucking /golfclap.

Never mind that so many comedy writers are inspired by, learn from, get the chance to experiment on and, importantly, scratch a living from sketch shows.

Never mind that tomorrow’s comedy will therefore come from an increasingly small pool of experienced writers, leading to less successes leading to yet more cowardly commissioning.

Never mind that it shortens the on-screen life of the funniest folk by wringing them, and our patience, dry.

Most importantly, never mind that I love sketch shows like fat kids love cake-based sketch shows.

Panel shows are risk-light commissions and you know it.

But you just keep on avoiding those difficult decisions. Keep on ducking those deliciously painful judgements that lead to either disaster or triumph. Keep on plumping for more and more panel shows and you’ll be fine. Well fucking done. Do you wrap your desk legs in foam in case you bump a knee?

So Fiona Sturges you are wrong. A panel show is much better, but panel shows are much worse, than you ever went and thunk.

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