TV Show Laugh Tracks – Do They Annoy The Crap Out of You Too?

by on October 12, 2011

in Entertainment

Laught TracksLaugh Track; Laff Boxx or Canned Laughter… but no matter how you label it, it’s still a tool used to propogate the popularity of various entertainment performances. And, like advertising on TV, it works.

Take a single moment and think about this: If laugh tracks didn’t work to the advantage of the studios to elicit what they want out of TV show viewers, laugh tracks would not stick around. Because, face it, it costs money to add in post-production and studios don’t waste money.

There are those that don’t mind the proliferation of laugh tracks in their show, but then there are those who can’t take the repeated mental pounding of this trick and sadly, I’m one of them.

The other day I had tried to partake in a comedy series premiere for the TV show called Whitney. The show was hilarious, but it turned out that on average, a laugh track went off every seven seconds. And that was too distracting for me to be able to enjoy the show.

For me, (That is an important distinction here) I find laugh tracks to be distracting and I feel insulted that someone feels I need to be psychologically convinced or prompted that I think something is funny. Or that a laugh track will make me think more agreeable thoughts about a TV show. I tend to think for myself and I’m swayed by things besides programmed psychological ambiance.

Again, that’s me. I know other folks out there feel different about laugh tracks. I had written a piece on Whitney and made note about being driven bats from the very distracting laugh track. Think about it, every 7 seconds. Yea, my mute button was getting a workout.

It got me to thinking about it and I started to wonder who in god’s name started laugh tracks???

Comedy in TV and Movies on AMAZON

Over on Here’s The Kicker, they say that “canned laughter” came about 500 years ago in Shakespearean plays to help spur on the audience reaction of laughter and cheering.

That makes sense… have you ever caught yourself getting caught up with someone else’s laugh fit or chuckled at something others were also finding humorous? Sure, I have. But that’s in person, amongst my friends, like-minded folk who appreciate much the same things that I do. When I’m watching TV, I have no connection with that noise that comes out of my new Sony Bravia LED TV.

In fact, not only do I have no connection to that noise, it’s distracting and on some levels, insulting that someone thinks I have to be told what’s funny.

It’s said that in the 40’s, radio tried to recreate the atmosphere of experiencing a performance with a live audience by adding the atmosphere of fellow fans to a show.

In television, laugh tracks started their life on TV with single-camera filmed TV shows. That’s where they film the same scenes over and over from different angles and they could not do that with live audiences, so the ambiance of the laughter was added. Then there are TV shows filmed in front of a live audience, and it seems that canned laughter is also added in during post-production. The reason for that is to compensate for when the audience either doesn’t laugh enough, laugh at the wrong times or just not laughing at times the showrunner want’s TV-land to think is funny.

The first TV show used canned laughter in 1950. And it’s been a hit ever since.

The Psychology of Laughter

People’s laughter sparking others to laugh is referred to in once source as “The Pattern Recognition Theory of Humor.“ And remembering from my few years of psychology classes, something I took away from those books was that laughter is a form of embarrassment. Weird, huh?

Sounds like Twitter!

But laughing can also be a good thing, a stress reliever of sorts, so there’s nothing wrong with it. But some also say that…

“laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together”

Like I said… reading that line made my think of how we come together on Twitter or Facebook to share our short bursts of thoughts and how we all find ourselves responding to our friends out there in the personality neutrality of the net.

But more on the laugh track…

Back in 1999, Time Magazine called the laugh track one of the top-100 worst ideas to come about. But they also note that due to the nature of hearing laughter, laugh tracks do increase the chance that we’ll laugh at something. Which to me, the control freak, finds annoying. But only on the count that because of that, the track is used to convince me to laugh at something I might not otherwise find humorous. Well, the track is used on the Nielsen families and it definitely works on them. Or so I’m presuming since reality TV is also highly popular with the mentally exhausted folks who comprise the statistically neutrally selected TV families.

“…since 1974, when a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that subjects were more likely to laugh and find jokes funny when the jokes were followed by the recorded sound of laughter “

Contagious Laughter?

Laughter is so contagious, that there was an actual outbreak of it in 1962 in a school in Tanzania, Africa. The school had to be closed. But two years later, this weird epidemic was noted for being responsible for afflicting around a thousand different people before it faded away. Yea… I know, it sounds nuts and like some sort of premise for a bad Twilight Zone or Fringe episode. But the cited source for this event was mass psychogenic illness, or mass hysteria, brought on by stress.

Back on “Track”

But as you can see, with billions of dollars at stake per each television season (Roughly $10 billion per season is spent by advertisers on TV spots), you can see why it’s important to trick people into thinking they like a show. BUT not everyone needs to be tricked. Some folk just love the shows, and I’m not trying to discredit them. This isn’t about you… this is just about my perception and what’s behind laugh tracks.

But you have to be aware that even in front of the live studio audiences, canned laughter is filtered in to smooth out the gaps of silence, or even pull inappropriate moments of laughter.

What’s weird is that there seems to be some professional stigmata surrounding the early industry of the laugh track and people to this day, insist no speaking “off the record.” Dudes, the gig is up and the stats are out! It’s OK to talk about it!

This article here>> Canned Laughter: A History Reconstructed, on And Here’s The Kicker, is a great and curious read, to say the least. One of my other sources, TV Party, also has a well spun piece on the matter.

No matter what your perspective, I’m just voicing this Cinema Static Opinion piece because of how disappointed I was by Whitney‘s deployment of the technology. And I was as surprised to find out that Laugh Tracks are even used to buffer shows that were “filmed in front of a live studio audience,” much like Whitney was. Which explains a few things.

If you don’t mind laugh tracks, more power to you! That means you’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy something a little more than those of us, this sector of TV viewers, who find themselves very distracted and in some cases, insulted by the deployment of this tool. Hence why you see very little or no coverage of comedies on this site.

Oh, and here’s something that popped up in this brain of mine… why don’t we ever see (hear) laugh tracks in movies on the big silver screen? Eh, that’s for another day. I think I’m close to wearing out my readers with this tirade of mine.

Thanks for coming by gang and as always, I appreciate all aspects or thoughts on the issue!

Cinema Static - TV News, Movie News and other Entertainment Opinion


TVparty: Laugh Tracks

wikipedia: The Laugh_track

psychologytoday: laughing contagious laugh

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