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I Changed My Mind Today - Canned Laughter

12 Post author: pre 15 April 2009 11:59PM

If we had topic-headings here, I'd be suggesting a new one: I changed my mind today.

Being rational is all about chainging your mind, right? It's about re-assessing in the face of some new evidence. About examining the difference between your assumptions and the world itself. Narrowing down the difference between the model and the reality, the map and the territory.

Maybe your 'karma' should reflect how much you've told us when you changed your mind? Certainly I'd like to know when people change their minds about things more than when they just agree with me.

In fact, I think that is probably the thing I most want to know about from any of the people whom I know primarily because of their professed rationality.

Especially if they explain why they changed their minds, and do it well.

With that in mind, and introducing the new acronym: ICMMT

I Changed My Mind Today!

Or at least I revised my opinion.

As you may know, the UK TV channel "Dave" recorded and then broadcast three new episodes of "Red Dwarf" this Easter. If you didn't know that, your time is better spent tracking down those shows and watching them than reading the remainder of this article. Come back when you're done. If you haven't even watched the BBC originals then, um. Enjoy! See you in a year or so.


I enjoyed the new episodes, laughed a lot, reminisced a lot more, but was left somehow feeling more *flat* than when watching previous shows.

I didn't really even know why, until a friend pointed it out:

> The new shows have no 'laugh track'.

As soon as she said it, I knew that I'd heard mention that this was the first time they'd shot the show without a studio audience. And that she was right. And that the "laugh track" had been an important part of that show to me right from the first episode.

Now this was a revelation.

Until now, when I've noticed a laugh-track or when a laugh-track has been talked about by others, it's been to bitch about "canned laughter" being really false and it ruining the whole atmosphere and making everything seem fake.

Which I agreed with. Totally. That stuff is damned annoying. When I notice a laugh-track, it's because the people laughing are clearly moronic idiots who'd laugh at the fact of gravity and I hate them.

However. When my friend said that the lack of that laugh track left the show 'flat', I knew exactly what she meant. It made all the difference in the world. Deathly silence, all over. The comedic timing that was essential, the knowing when the laughter comes, knowing when it dies, responding to the audience, was gone.

They were all great actors, and they faked it well. Presumably they timed it so well with my drunken-stoned first viewing that I didn't even notice. But once you do, it's obvious.

Which completely changes my view on the laugh-track in comedy.

I used to think it was just an annoying gloss, a manipulation, an attempt to program my brain through skinneresque association. Now I see that it communicates *both sides* of an interaction between two groups of people. That the live audience, and being able to hear that audience in the edit, tells the performer exactly how to act. How to reflect the laughter and mood back.

This is annoying, to some extent. I have some minor film-making ambition, and in any show I want to shoot on any kind of budget I can afford, the audience won't be there. Yet now I see the need to find a way to do so. Which makes it all even *more* expensive and difficult.

I already knew that "canned laughter" isn't the same as "filmed in front of a live studio audience" of course. But it always just sounded like a cop-out.

Turns out that the live audience laughter and the actor actually interact. That's what makes it so compelling. That's what makes it actually work in a way that actual canned laughter doesn't. Why actual 'canned laughter', if it really exists, got it's reputation.

Even showing the film to an audience and then dubbing on their laughter for release won't really cut it. The way the actor responds to the audience is more important than the way the audience responds to the actor.

So yeah.

I changed my mind today. I already knew the difference between "Live studio audience" and "Canned laughter", but now I feel like I know why one irritates so much and the other stops a film looking so damed flat. I'm no longer against it in principle.

Comments (8)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 03:34:10PM *  3 points [-]

I'm in favor of having a regular "I changed my mind" thread, like the Open Thread.

I decided today to use the phrase "the other sex" from now on instead of "the opposite sex". Does that count?

Comment author: thomblake 16 April 2009 09:46:57PM 2 points [-]

Even better: note that hermaphrodites are a significant (by some numbers, 1%) part of our population and shouldn't be ignored.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 April 2009 05:19:04PM 0 points [-]

I don't think I can do that in 2 words.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2014 05:14:02PM 0 points [-]

I'm in favor of having a regular "I changed my mind" thread, like the Open Thread.

That'd be a good idea.

Comment author: dclayh 16 April 2009 04:21:25PM 1 point [-]

But if the show is filmed in front of a live audience, and then you removed the laughing for the final broadcast, would that be better or worse than leaving it in?

Comment author: pre 16 April 2009 04:25:13PM 3 points [-]

No need to remove it, just don't put a mic on the crowd.

My suspicion would be that the actors would appear to be reacting to something which didn't exist, and that it'd be even worse than no audience at all.

We'd have to do some experiments to check though.

Comment author: MrHen 16 April 2009 06:40:07PM 1 point [-]

It depends on why there is an audience. Is the audience there to give the actors feedback, or is it to provide laughing sounds, or to sell tickets?

In terms of study, do people laugh more or less when a laugh track is included? I know that a laugh track is an audible clue that something is happening. There are things I have watched where I did not realize a joke was occurring until I heard the laugh track.

That being said, if I think about a funny movie, it would sound absurd with a laugh track. But stand-up comedy almost needs laughing. My hunch is that the format probably dictates the laugh track. Late night comedy, talk shows, family sitcoms, and game shows seem off without an audience. If there is none, my guess is that one will be simulated.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 16 April 2009 09:22:16PM 1 point [-]

In terms of study, do people laugh more or less when a laugh track is included?

The evidence is that it does work, even as the audience considers it blatantly stupid and phony, and that it's even more effective for poorer material.