Boiling Point: Can Canned Laughter


Canned Laughter.  Laughter in a Can.  Laugh Tracks.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s bullshit.  I keep a running pad of things that make me mad, and the more capital letters I use, the angrier I am when I write – my canned laughter note was virtually all in capital letters.  How can a show even take itself seriously and use a laugh track?  Is it ironic that I said a comedic episode is not taken seriously?

The practice was originally created as  “sweetener” to augment a real live studio audience.  If the people watching the recording weren’t laughing or laughing hard enough, a gentle laugh track was used to instigate the giggles.  Things seem funnier when you think everyone else is laughing too.  Eventually, they realized you didn’t even need the live audience at all, which meant you could save a little cost and guarantee the laughs.  Putting a laugh track became common practice for years, though in the late 1960s there was a disruption in the trend.

For awhile, there were some notable shows that lacked the laugh track.  I readily admit to not watching all that many comedies, but I’ve noticed lately that it’s back.  What the fuck.  Why the fuck is there a laugh track playing over these shows?  If you can’t have a live audience there to laugh, you don’t get laughing on the show.  If your show is funny, people watching it will laugh.  Hearing laughter coming from the TV doesn’t make it any funnier.  To quote my notes, in regular punctuation:  It’s not fucking funny.   When fake people laugh and I’m not laughing, it pisses me off.  Turn that shit the fuck off.  So that’s how I really feel.

Some really great, funny shows have laugh tracks.  Sometimes its at the objection of the creator.  Sledge Hammer had a laugh track, which was removed for the DVD at creator Alan Spencer’s insistence.  Still, some really great shows are using this bullshit.  The following shows are listed as having bucked the system and said no laugh track:  Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, Curb Your Enthusiasm, My Name is Earl, The Office, Scrubs, 30 Rock, Samantha Who?, Flight of the Conchords, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

What’s the common thread?  They’re all pretty funny.  They all have reputations for being really funny.  But there is no laugh track so how do we know we’re supposed to be enjoying this!?   There is some legitimately funny crap there – if you throw in the laugh track and it’s like a slap in the face of the audience.  Every fake chuckle and manufactured laugh is a face punch with “Hey idiots, laugh now!” tattooed on the fist.  Give me a God damn break and cut it out!  How is there any room for this  a modern setting?  Everyone knows its fake!  Why the hell would you keep doing it?  Is there some sort of market testing that proves this is funnier?  Probably, but it’s probably wrong.  I mean seriously, this is ridiculous.  I’m over it.  I think America was over it 30 years ago.  We don’t put dramatic sighs and people sobbing into dramas, why add bullshit laughter?  Enough I say!  Every time I hear that same damn prerecorded laugh I go past my boiling point.

Does the canned laughter bother you while watching a show?  What shows do you notice have it?

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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