I wish that when they release DVDs of TV shows they would give the customer the option of deleting the laughtrack. It is more-or-less my quest to find TV shows that I believe my wife will enjoy. We’ve found some crime dramas but so far little else. There are some comedies that I think she might like, but she has a vociferous hatred of the laugh track. She feels as though she is being told to laugh at something… and she doesn’t like to be told what to do.

And I agree that it can be distracting. It’s one thing when a show has a live studio audience. When I watch Frasier, I feel like I am at a play and so it’s the people around me that are laughing. But lately I’ve taken to watching some British comedies, most of which are not filmed before a live studio audience and have the laugh track added later. It’s hard to argue that they’re not doing precisely what Clancy accuses them of doing in cases like that. And I’d roll my eyes, too, were it not for the fact that the canned laughter is being released at something that is genuinely funny to me (if it weren’t funny, I wouldn’t be watching, most likely). It’s also my chief complaint about Sports Night, an excellent dramedy that they inexplicably added a laughtrack for.


Category: Theater

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

9 Responses to Unqueue The Laugh Track

  1. Webmaster says:

    Laugh Tracks have never bothered me all that much.

    Granted, the shows I tended to watch (with few exceptions) either used a live studio audience, or else weren’t the type to have a laugh track. But a few I’ve watched were, and I enjoyed them just the same.

    As opposed to a live studio audience, a laugh track isn’t all that different for the following reasons:

    – With either, you’ve got multiple takes trying to get a scene right and/or from different angles, and the same joke just won’t get the same laugh the second time, which means if it’s a “live studio audience” they’re using the “prerecorded” laughter from the first track usually overlaid on the visuals from alternate takes anyways. Since someone had to present something funny to someone to make the laugh track, I can’t consider the laugh track any less “genuine”, with the exception being that the laugh track might be mistimed or cued over a joke that falls flat.

    – There are a couple shows I’ve known which switched between them either when special effects were being added or when some aspect of the show was changed, like when they went on location as opposed to being in the studio. Sometimes they just take the on-location clips and screen them to an audience to get the laugh audio, sometimes they use canned laughter.

    And then there’s the old “Applause”, “Laugh”, etc. cue cards or flashing lights that used to be used as well, to cue the audience into doing their thing.

    The idea that a live studio audience is any more genuine than a laugh track in trying to get people to laugh? I don’t see it, mostly because all the editing can make the live studio audience just as phony.

  2. trumwill says:

    You make some good points.

    I wish more sitcoms would do what Roc did and actually film live. Then I’d get the effect that I’m really after. But if it’s a not a stagesque studio* show with an audience, I’d prefer that they get rid of it altogether. It penetrates the fourth wall. If it’s in front of an audience that’s somewhat unavoidable (and perhaps undesirable if it presents itself in a play-like manner), but in cases like that I’d prefer they keep it in the studio and without special effects.

    * – NewsRadio, for instance, or Frasier. As opposed to Sports Night, which has a laugh track, or The Office, which doesn’t.

  3. Barry says:

    I tend to not notice a laughtrack, because there are certain styles of sitcom that use it and some that don’t. It doesn’t bother me when one is present, and I’ve never felt “manipulated” – as a matter of fact, I can think of some instances where the laughter actually accentuated the joke. That happens in live theatre, and I experience it all the time. When I’m in rehearsals (sitting in the band) and there’s a joke onstage after the 10th or 12th rehearsal of that scene even the most uproarious joke isn’t funny anymore. And since there’s no audience, no one laughs and the scene continues. But when there’s a performance and an audience is there, and you get to the point where the joke happens and the audience dies laughing, I find myself laughing as well – as you share in the audience’s emotion. Maybe that can only really happen live, but maybe that’s why laughtracks don’t bother me because I’m used to live theatre.

    I would like to see a couple episodes of M*A*S*H without the laughtracks (and not just when they’re in the OR, which never has a laughtrack).

  4. Bob V says:

    My copy of Sports Night doesn’t have a laugh track. I wonder if we have different versions.

  5. trumwill says:

    Barry,

    It’s different when it’s live as at least there is generally sponteneity, which is why I give a pass on those filmed before a studio audience. Yeah, they have the “laughter” light to prompt the audience, but they don’t have much effect except to accentuate existing laughter.

    Bob,

    Do you have the DVDs? Mine were downloaded, so they may have been straight off the TV. Given that Sorkin became better known for his work on dramas (West Wing and now Studio 60) I could see them playing down the sitcom aspect of it by losing the laughtrack. Interestingly, prior to Clancy (and my best friend Clint’s recent interest in sitcoms) I didn’t even notice the laugh track much of the time… it didn’t occur to me that Sports Night would even have one.

    Anyway, I just got a couple of the DVDs off Netflix so that I can see some episodes that weren’t in the downloads. I’ll go back and check on the laughtrack on those.

  6. Bob V says:

    I bought the whole DVD set. Sorkin didn’t want there to be a laugh track, but ABC was concerned that people would be confused and not know that there were things in the show that were supposed to be funny. (And the ratings for this excellent show still stunk even after the change.)

  7. Will Truman says:

    They apparently got rid of it in between seasons. I’m on episode 16 (first season), so I haven’t gotten the laughtrack free version yet.

    It was indeed a great show. Superior to West Wing, in my opinion. I think that the show would have been much better if they’d given it a full hour and billed it more as a drama than a comedy. Of course I have the hindsight of Sorkin’s West Wing to base it on, which ABC didn’t at the time.

    It was also the only TV show to cause an ongoing argument between my ex-girlfriend and I. Tuesday was one of the only nights we got to spend together and we ended up spending that half-hour in two different rooms so that she could watch Will & Grace, which I thought was okay but not comparable to SN.

  8. Bob V says:

    I didn’t watch more than an episode of Will & Grace, but I never found it to be at all funny.

    If you and your ex were just watching tv, maybe it wasn’t so bad you were in different rooms. It isn’t the most interactive activity anyway.

  9. trumwill says:

    Will & Grace was largely an excuse for people to demonstrate their tolerance of homosexuality. But, unlike Ellen, it was at least vaguely entertaining. Not as good as Ned & Stacy, though, which had the same female lead and a similar plot (though it included a romantic subplot). The true relevence of Will & Grace, though, is that “Will” is named Will Truman, which means that no one will be able to find this blog by googling the name.

    I disagree strongly about TV. I think it’s underappreciated as a social activity. It’s not as interactive as conversation, but it’s nonetheless a shared experience. That does apply less for sitcoms than other genres, though.

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