Box o' Yuks
September 28, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Metafilter has debated the necessity of the laugh track before; we even got called out by Craig Ferguson for allegedly mistaking a live studio audience for canned laughter. But do you know the history of the laugh track? (previously)

Canned laughter was the invention of one man, CBS sound engineer Charles "Charley" Douglass. For over 30 years, Douglass used his "Laff Box" to enhance television comedy. Initially canned laughter was utilized in order to "sweeten" audience laughter--or to mute it when audience laughter went on too long, breaking narrative flow. Later, use of the Laff Box allowed sitcoms usually taped before live studio audiences to shoot on location. In the 60s, at the height of the Laff Box's reign, a laugh track often replaced studio audiences completely, and were even utilized in animated sitcoms like The Flintstones (though the laugh track there has been removed in the remastered version).

But there has long been pushback against canned laughter. In 1969, The Bill Cosby Show debuted without a laugh track, a fact commonly cited in its eventual cancellation. The Monkees lobbied to have theirs removed in their series' second season, and later lampooned canned laughter in their reunion special. And Aaron Sorkin famously wrestled with ABC over use of a laugh track in his series Sports Night.

Today, many series focus on droll, realistic humor without the use of either a laugh track or a studio audience. Ironically, though often targeted as overly relying on dated canned laughter to provoke audience response, sitcom producer Chuck Lorre is adamant that he does not use laugh tracks at all:
"I didn't use one on Roseanne 20 years ago, and I'm not doing it now. I have a live audience that comes in to watch the show. If they don't laugh, in the silence you can hear your career going by. We rewrite the material on the spot or cut it. If it's not funny in front of 200 human beings, it's probably not funny at home."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi (115 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 


Also it's the subject of one of my favorite Ellison shorts.

That story made it hard for me to watch old sitcoms without thinking about the fact that some of the people laughing are dead.
posted by drezdn at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


That story made it hard for me to watch old sitcoms without thinking about the fact that some of the people laughing are dead.

Jim Carey ad libs a line about that in Man on the Moon, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 AM on September 28, 2011


I might be imagining it, but the laugh track on Sports Night always seemed like it was only after a the worst joke in a scene, so that the pattern sort of went

Joke
Joke
Terrible Joke
Laugh track

Of course, highlighting the worst joke with a laugh track was in its own way oddly hilarious.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:48 AM on September 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


From yesterday's Community thread: The Bang Bang Theory is just really, really sad when you remove the laugh tracks.
posted by schmod at 10:50 AM on September 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


"The muffled thunder of dialogue comes through the walls, then a chorus of laughter. Then more thunder. Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead."

- Chuck Pahlaniuk, Lullaby
Laugh tracks are one of those things that date a sitcom... or make it seem dated. I suspect the same will be true of the contemporary sitcom convention (The Office, Modern Family) that it's being filmed for some kind of mysterious research.

But I hate laugh tracks so much, I'm willing to float them that much.
posted by ErikaB at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


When the BBC bought M*A*S*H* the decision was taken to show it without the laugh track. It made it so much better.
posted by essexjan at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


2nding eesexjan...I have the MASH complete box set, and it allows you to switch off the laugh track. Almost a different show that way.
posted by timsteil at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


The first episode of Community this year managed to temporarily work in a laugh track while subverting them, with the laugh track on "Cougarton Abbey (RIP)" getting louder when the Community characters made jokes.
posted by drezdn at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Canned laughter is weird. It's like favoriting your own joke on MetaFilter.
posted by resurrexit at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


When someone removes the laugh track from a show where the "audience laughter" was built into it, there is the silence that most people associate with a comedian waiting for feeback. The silence is the sign of a failed joke. Keep it up, and the comedian is bombing, and you feel awkward.

To properly judge shows with laugh tracks sans laugh tracks, I think the show would need to be edited, cutting out the dead time.

Thanks for the history, PhoBWanKenobi!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I suspect the same will be true of the contemporary sitcom convention (The Office, Modern Family) that it's being filmed for some kind of mysterious research.

Well, it's a convention. And there's already pushback -- Graham Linehan uses a live studio audience for The IT Crowd specifically because of The Office.

The whole sitcom has/had become very stale and committee-built, with the three-camera setup and the whole home, work, third place set breakdown.

There's also the "irony" era (perhaps more or less the Friends era), and the post-irony era we're supposedly in now.
posted by dhartung at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2011


*snort*
posted by Melismata at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2011


That said, I'd like to see a study on cultural understanding of humor for people who aren't fluent, comparing a show with a laugh track and without. We adopted my sister from Russia when she was 6, and she learned English by immersion, and we knew no Russian to ease the transition. Add to this, she is 10 years younger than me, and 7 years younger than the now middle child, my younger brother. She learned a lot from watching TV, and she liked sitcom re-runs, especially Threes Company and The Cosby Show. She never laughed at the shows, but they had laugh tracks, marking the funny parts of the show. She still seems to have an odd sense of humor, and I still wonder if laugh tracks shaped her.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: Chuck Lorre - does this mean actual living humans have been laughing at "Two and a Half Men" all these years? If so, I want names and addresses.
posted by tommasz at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The part of Annie Hall that always sticks out in my memory, even more than the lobsters and the spider as big as a Buick, is Alvy's friend sitting in the editing room, mixing himself his own audience approval.

To find humor in something, you have to be engaged with it, you have to either be empathizing with the characters or observing the scene critically. A passive audience won't laugh as much as one that's thinking about what they're seeing, and the jokes it does laugh at will have to be broader.

There really aren't a lot of shows with laugh tracks anymore, are there? Most of them have used a live studio audience for some time. Yesterday I was in a waiting room where they had an episode of Sanford and Son on, and it was surprised that the laugh track lent it almost a theatrical feel. With how cartoonish Fred Sanford is, I think that works for the show; if a person acted like that in real life you'd have to wonder where he escaped from. (In the episode he buys himself a new car. The first time we see him after he's got it and presumably he's driven himself home, he comes into his house wearing goggles and a long aviator's scarf. Wow.)
posted by JHarris at 11:08 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related fiction: The Laugher, by Heinrich Böll.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a question of editing the show--performances on live-audience and laugh-track shows are made with time for the laffs kept in mind.

The Marx Brothers used to screen-test the hell out of their famous movie routines. Using the feedback from live screening audiences, would reshoot them to punch up jokes, remove dead spaces and insert more time if needed for audience reactions.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I posted this link in the Community thread, but here are some of the shows that are taped in front of a live audience.

You can't actually get tickets to see 2.5 Men since it's too popular. Ha!
posted by smackfu at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can only hope that North American programs don't try and incorporate what seemed to be on every Japanese variety show, which was the picture-in-picture featuring a closeup of some celebrity watching whatever is on the screen. They are in a little circle in the corner and they typically have very exaggerated reactions to whatever is playing, and as far as I can tell serves much the same purposes as a laugh track (i.e. to suggest something is funny or interesting or gross in case you couldn't tell already).
posted by Hoopo at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Slavoj Žižek on the laugh track.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2011


I can only hope that North American programs don't try and incorporate ... picture-in-picture featuring a closeup of some celebrity watching whatever is on the screen.

Fortunately, I don't think there's room for that here, due to station logos, "coming up next!" marquees and the like.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fortunately, I don't think there's room for that here, due to station logos, "coming up next!" marquees and the like.

I could see them have a character from an upcoming show watching the current show and goofing off. They've already done stuff close to it.
posted by drezdn at 11:21 AM on September 28, 2011


I think I would like to listen to just the laugh track and the incidental music, and work out what was happening in my head.
posted by scruss at 11:22 AM on September 28, 2011


The new one this year is posting Twitter hashtags on the screen.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter has debated the necessity of the laugh track before...

I don't even know how this would work. Is this Matt's idea?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


which was the picture-in-picture featuring a closeup of some celebrity watching whatever is on the screen

I kinda like those. There should be some sort of OOB stream and a way to add these to programs if you want. Maybe it is just the fact that I am re-watching a lot of shows I first watched when I was young enough to have roomates but I kinda miss the banter. I kinda want some loser guy sitting there saying "mmmmmmmm .... Blalock" at random duriing Enterprise.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter has debated the necessity of the laugh track before...

It automatically favorites funny comments.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get the controversy. A "live studio audience" is just a different way of playing a laugh track.
posted by CaseyB at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand many of the criticisms against laugh tracks, but not the "they're all dead" one. Many of the actors are dead (all four of the principals on I Love Lucy, three out of four Golden Girls, etc.) but that doesn't seem to affect our enjoyment of the shows.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't get the controversy. A "live studio audience" is just a different way of playing a laugh track.

One is what some sound engineer presumes most people will find funny. The other is a genuine reaction to humor by a group of real people. Complaints about laugh tracks are (though not always) often about artificiality, which isn't really the case with a live studio audience. In fact, subtle laughter that we read as more "genuine" is often laugh track laughter--you only get wild, intrusive audience sounds (like over Steve Urkel's entrances on Family Matters) with real people
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2011


Metafilter: really, really sad when you remove the laugh tracks.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Since some people have mentioned The Office: there are reasons for The Office not to have a laugh track that are highly specific to that show. Every episode (at least of the American version) has a character (mainly Michael Scott, but also others) desperately trying to make the other characters laugh and failing miserably. A lot of the humor comes from watching these painfully awkward failed attempts at humor. These moments are funny to us as viewers precisely because they're unfunny to the characters. If you heard conventional audience laughter at these moments, that could be a miscue to actually find the characters' failed jokes funny. The dead silence is important to convey that awkward "Hey, no one else is amused" atmosphere. I would prefer all sitcoms not to have laugh tracks, but unfortunately "It works on The Office" might not carry over to other shows.
posted by John Cohen at 11:53 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Slavoj Žižek on the laugh track.

See, this is what we need: for every sitcom, a screen-in-screen reaction shot of Žižek's face.
posted by everichon at 11:54 AM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: It automatically favorites funny comments.

Goodness, you're behind the times. That was the first version, circa 2007. It was a crude blend of AI, and an attempt to improve the new "favorites" system. It fell out of favor, due to a concern of people trying to game the system. I think it was 2009 or 2010 when the text shadow laughter was suggested, as a way to display a laugh track as shadowed text. Here is an example from the beta script. It came across as awkward at best, and most of the laughter was at what cortex said, so there were allegations that it was rigged from the start.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Office and Parks and Rec have a kind of visual laugh track. The audience is supposed to laugh whenever Jim or Pam or Ann or April flick their eyes toward the camera, as if to say, "can you believe this guy?" it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.
posted by painquale at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Good post.

Last night my 12-year-old turned on some new show that had a laugh track--we don't watch a lot of TV and it was really striking to him. "The fake laughs make me think I am watching Everybody Loves Raymond," he said.
posted by LarryC at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


"I'm Alan Partridge" has this weird phenomenon where people think a laugh track has been added in since the last time they watched it. Happened to me when I took a while to watch Series 2 after Series 1 and thought the laugh track was really, really awful.

But there isn't a laugh track. The sets are enclosed (four walls instead of the usual three) and lit to look like they're filmed on location. The live audience is there for filming and watches on monitors. You can see the performances adjusting to their laughter. Still, it seems...off.
posted by unsupervised at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


During the discussion on the AV Club, Noel Murray described the sound of a laugh track as "that annoying 100-bowling-pins-falling-down-a-staircase "laugh" sound" -- and I was struck with how apt that description is. Early laugh tracks are almost inhuman-sounding if you just listen to them alone. I find that creepier than whether or not the laugher is alive or not.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

What, acting?
posted by joe lisboa at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, this is what we need: for every sitcom, a screen-in-screen reaction shot of Žižek's face.

I would so, so watch that.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2011


To properly judge shows with laugh tracks sans laugh tracks, I think the show would need to be edited, cutting out the dead time.

Indeed. Much like David Lee Roth sounds ridiculous without a backing track, removing the laughter from a live-taped sitcom is itself artificial.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2011


Re: Chuck Lorre - does this mean actual living humans have been laughing at "Two and a Half Men" all these years?

Yes, but they're not laughing because they think the jokes are funny. They're laughing because the actors paused to let them laugh and they're just excited to be in a studio audience.
posted by The World Famous at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2011


From yesterday's Community thread: The Bang Bang Theory is just really, really sad yt when you remove the laugh tracks.

Yeah, there's an early bit from Suck.com (remember them? So old...) about that:

"Canned laughter was developed to assuage the deep sense of loneliness people felt sitting at home alone listening to noises come out of furniture. "
posted by mhoye at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Every episode (at least of the American version) has a character (mainly Michael Scott, but also others) desperately trying to make the other characters laugh and failing miserably. A lot of the humor comes from watching these painfully awkward failed attempts at humor. These moments are funny to us as viewers precisely because they're unfunny to the characters. If you heard conventional audience laughter at these moments, that could be a miscue to actually find the characters' failed jokes funny.

A more generalized version of this applies to lots of good no-laugh-track sitcoms. Basically all of the funny moments in It's Always Sunny come from the characters' distance from reality. A laugh track would have the paradoxical effect of making their opinions seem more acceptable and, ergo, less funny. Same with Louie.

The Office and Parks and Rec have a kind of visual laugh track. The audience is supposed to laugh whenever Jim or Pam or Ann or April flick their eyes toward the camera, as if to say, "can you believe this guy?" it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

I reluctantly agree, though I like those shows a lot. That kind of cue has certainly existed in stage comedy for a long time. As far as I know, it's much newer in TV. The documentary conceit gives them an excuse to wink at the camera.

Arrested Development relentlessly used music in place of a laugh track. 30 Rock does it a little bit too.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter has debated the necessity of the laugh track before...

It automatically favorites funny comments.
posted by Bunny Ultramod


Apparently you do not understand why a laugh track is necessary. It would automatically favorite the unfunny comments.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:24 PM on September 28, 2011


Last night my 12-year-old turned on some new show that had a laugh track--we don't watch a lot of TV and it was really striking to him. "The fake laughs make me think I am watching Everybody Loves Raymond," he said.

I was just thinking this. One of the new shows this season has a REALLY fake sounding laugh track and it was very distracting, but now I can't remember which show it was. Must have been that good...
posted by Big_B at 12:26 PM on September 28, 2011


Breaking Bad with a laugh track.
posted by birdherder at 12:29 PM on September 28, 2011


One of the new shows this season has a REALLY fake sounding laugh track and it was very distracting, but now I can't remember which show it was.

Did you watch Whitney? I was going to be game and give that show a chance, but the laugh track was so intrusive and occurred after weird non-jokes, I had to shut it off.

There's an interesting segment of RadioLab about a professional studio audience.
posted by gladly at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you watch Whitney? I was going to be game and give that show a chance, but the laugh track was so intrusive and occurred after weird non-jokes, I had to shut it off.

I had the same experience. Some of the jokes were good, but the laugh track made it unwatchable.
posted by The World Famous at 12:34 PM on September 28, 2011


One is what some sound engineer presumes most people will find funny. The other is a genuine reaction to humor by a group of real people.

The audience for The Nanny was all extras from Central Casting that had especially good laughs. Shows either still use extras audiences or sweeten the audiences with a few well-placed professional laughers. Before the show starts, a warm-up guy comes out to get the audience into a silly mood, often, in part, by handing out gifts. ADs then come out to pump up the audience the way cheerleaders do, and to give them the feeling of being complicit in the success of a show. By the time the filming starts, a percentage of in-studio audiences are primes to find almost anything funny, because laughing is as much or more of a social activity, and can be shaped by social controls, as it is an expression of finding something funny. And a few people laughing are likely to set everybody else off.

Live studio audiences offer a live reaction, but I wouldn't assume it is genuine.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:35 PM on September 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


My favorite laugh track experience was when some friends and I went to a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno ten years ago. No. One. Laughed. Except for my buddy who intentionally laughed loudly and distinctly.

We watched it that night and they had edited out not just our lack of laughs but his overly-visible laugh as well.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Did you watch Whitney? I was going to be game and give that show a chance, but the laugh track was so intrusive and occurred after weird non-jokes, I had to shut it off.

Me too. I heard her interviewed the other day and she insists that not only is it real laughter from the studio audience, but that it's not sweetened and they actually have to dial down the volume on it because the audience is laughing so damn loud. I am not buying it.
posted by amro at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2011


it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

It's television. It's all artificial.

Maybe you find it distracting or mechanical, but while the convention may mirror the timing of a laugh track, and indeed prompt laughter, it's quite a different mechanism and is supposed to -- in the reality of the show, at least -- be mimicking the way that producers construct narratives in reality television.

Every episode (at least of the American version) has a character (mainly Michael Scott, but also others) desperately trying to make the other characters laugh and failing miserably.

That may be true of the Michael Scott character, but I don't think it's the universal mechanism. For instance, many times we are laughing at Michael Scott flailing at himself for being stupid, and he's being completely sincere (part of the genius of Steve Carrell). In those cases it can actually be a kind of sympathetic laughter. The gap between his unfunny comments and the funny he thinks they contain is but one subtype of the dramatic irony they are mining in almost every Office-style gag.

Live studio audiences offer a live reaction, but I wouldn't assume it is genuine.

See, I object to this extension of cynicism. The point is that they are trying to make an entertainment that people will enjoy watching. Saying this is about as silly as denigrating a band's live albums because, after all, the crowd is only excited to see the band in person (and there was a warm-up band or opening act). It's a synergistic effect and the actors (or the band) are presumably able to bring their game to a higher level because of the interactivity.
posted by dhartung at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


We need some kind of, "metafilter users make embarrassing assumptions and get called out by content creator" aggregate thread.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2011


I'm sorry but this is funny with a laugh track (and fart).
posted by stormpooper at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Some of the only good work to come out of 4chan's /tv/ is copypasta based on Big Bang Theory's live studio audience laughter:
>"Hey Sheldon, wanna see the new Harry Potter movie?"

>The audience chuckles nervously

>"No, Harry Potter is for children. I prefer realistic and dramatic films, such as Star Wars."

>The audience laughs heartily

>"Luke, I am your father!"

>The audience begins laughing so hard they burst into flame and their lungs explode. They start pissing themselves from laughter, which fails to put out the flames but makes everything smell like burnt hair and urine. An older gentleman has a heart attack and dies on the floor, burning and covered in piss. The earth trembles below the studio, opening a gaping crack into the underbelly of the earth. Several members of the audience are dragged into the blackness, laughing so hard blood spills from their mouths as they descend into the molten core of the earth, smashing into the rock as they fall. The continued laughter echoes off the rock, causing the largest known earthquake in history, crippling the powergrids of several of the world's major cities, plunging humankind into darkness for weeks. Martial law is called into effect as the riots increase in size and aggressiveness. As food begins to run out, half of the world's populace is dead, with the survivors now resorting to cannibalism and subsistence farming.

...

"Hey Leonard..."

>The audience giggles.

"Hey Sheldon."

>Small laughs rise in anticipation.

"I've got a hangover bigger than the original X-Box..."

>There is silence. The set goes black. One lone face appears, illuminated by candlelight. It looks upwards, towards an unknowable heaven, and an even more mysterious Lord. The fifth Horseman, Comedy, rides rough over the plains, and trumpets the true end. Somewhere, a child is born, and does not cry, but instead laughs. A man on trial for murder laughs as the prosecution delivers expert testimony; the judge, while in the middle of chastising him, laughs as well. As does the family of the victim, and then the entire court. The victim, long dead and stiff with cold, laughs, muffled by the confines of the morgue shelf they are in. They are joined by many more muffled laughs. If they are alive, if only for one second, it is to laugh, and nothing more. A new constellation forms in the sky, and it forms the letters L, O, and L. Brighter than the moon, they shine down upon all providence, and all who see it know what makes the world. Not pain, or cold reason, but laughter. Pure laughter.

posted by Sticherbeast at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2011 [24 favorites]


I heard her interviewed the other day and she insists that not only is it real laughter from the studio audience, but that it's not sweetened and they actually have to dial down the volume on it because the audience is laughing so damn loud. I am not buying it.

The sequence when she's in the nurse costume trying to turn her boyfriend on is the kind of thing that you laugh at a lot in person, not so much on TV (see also SNL tongue-kissing jokes).
posted by roll truck roll at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, I object to this extension of cynicism.

In your parallel, you didn't mention that the audience for the live show is made up, in part or in whole, of paid actors, that they were functionally bribed to enjoy the show, and that the show took seven hours or retakes and close ups to produce the album, of which the audience only saw a small part, but which was later assembled into the completed version. Your parallel also left out that the resulting show was bad, despite the audience's vocal enthusiasm.

I object to you calling this cynicism. Hollywood has figured out how to manufacture a live laugh track. More power to them, but I'd be more interested if they figured out how to consistently produce genuine laughs.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


and were even utilized in animated sitcoms like The Flintstones yt (though the laugh track there has been removed in the remastered version yt ).

I wish they wouldn't do things like this. Clean up print, restore the colors, yes, by all means, but changing something fundamental like a laugh track is rewriting the show by the standards of your time, not letting it be what it was in its own time.
posted by madajb at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Office and Parks and Rec have a kind of visual laugh track. The audience is supposed to laugh whenever Jim or Pam or Ann or April flick their eyes toward the camera, as if to say, "can you believe this guy?" it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

Modern Family uses a variation of this same idea, with the characters giving knowing looks to the "documentary crew". It works if you have the right expressive face.
posted by madajb at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2011


The Office and Parks and Rec have a kind of visual laugh track. The audience is supposed to laugh whenever Jim or Pam or Ann or April flick their eyes toward the camera, as if to say, "can you believe this guy?" it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

We're ragging on the concept of straight-men now?
posted by Navelgazer at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've never seen Modern Family. Is it explicit about being a documentary, like The Office and P&R (sort of) are?
posted by roll truck roll at 1:05 PM on September 28, 2011


I've never seen Modern Family. Is it explicit about being a documentary, like The Office and P&R (sort of) are?

I've seen a few episodes and I never picked up on that before. If it is, it's subtle enough and generally fits the sitcom mold. Except it's actually pretty funny.
posted by Hoopo at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2011


I've never seen Modern Family. Is it explicit about being a documentary, like The Office and P&R (sort of) are?

It's as explicit as they are about being a documentary, yes. As a matter of fact, in an earlier version of the show, the unseen documentarian was actually a character.

We're ragging on the concept of straight-men now?

Well, straight men who engage with the audience, breaking the fourth wall. Of course, since those shows have as a conceit the idea that they're documentaries, it's not technically the fourth wall, but rather an acknowledgement of a never-seen audience for a nonexistent documentary.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2011


ALVY: Do you realize how immoral this all is?

ROB: Max, I've got a hit series.

ALVY:Yeah, I know; but you're adding fake laughs.

ROB: (Turning to the technician) Give me a tremendous laugh here, Charlie.

ALVY: Look, uh...

Loud laughter from the TV monitors.

ROB: (To Alvy) We do the show live in front of an audience.

ALVY: Great, but nobody laughs at it 'cause your jokes aren't funny.

ROB: Yeah, well, that's why this machine is dynamite. (To the technician) Yeah... uh, now give me a like a medium-size chuckle here... and then a big hand.

The sounds of laughter and applause are heard from the TV.

ALVY: (Removing his glasses and rubbing his face) Is there booing on there?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've seen a few episodes and I never picked up on that before. If it is, it's subtle enough and generally fits the sitcom mold. Except it's actually pretty funny.

Characters do talking head interviews with the camera, so that's pretty much on the documentary side.
posted by smackfu at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2011


I don't get the controversy. A "live studio audience" is just a different way of playing a laugh track.

One is what some sound engineer presumes most people will find funny. The other is a genuine reaction to humor by a group of real people.


That's ridiculous. You honestly believe this? You can listen to a "live studio audience" and completely suspend that disbelief? It is utterly mechanical, and entirely predictable. I don't know the tricks they use to get the effect they want ("APPLAUSE" lights? Pumping nitrous oxide into the studio?) but the results are entirely artificial.
posted by CaseyB at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2011


A straight man is typically someone who sets up a joke without providing the punchline, not someone who provides the nudge-nudge-wink-wink-geddit after the punchline for the audience's benefit.
posted by painquale at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2011


That's ridiculous. You honestly believe this? You can listen to a "live studio audience" and completely suspend that disbelief? It is utterly mechanical, and entirely predictable. I don't know the tricks they use to get the effect they want ("APPLAUSE" lights? Pumping nitrous oxide into the studio?) but the results are entirely artificial.

We don't necessarily know that it's completely artificial, whether it seems to us to be mechanical or not. Humor is generally pretty predictable to a certain extent, too. Go to a comedy play and people laugh at punchlines--often whether they're funny or not. Regardless, there's still a qualitative difference between an audience reaction and the recorded reaction of people who aren't even there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2011


roll truck roll: I've never seen Modern Family. Is it explicit about being a documentary,

Interestingly, it is not explicit in being a documentary, and in fact it avoids appearance of being a documentary; when the camera is 'following' around the family, it is handheld and shaky-and-panning, but it isn't a part of the environment like in The Office. The 'talking head' segments are more 'internal monologue' than 'answering questions'. It's like they've taken the structure of the Office, used the good parts to their advantage, without keeping the construct of a documentary being filmed. In a sense, it's more like The Office had added a bunch of new storytelling tools to the toolbox that viewers understand, which people grasp more readily without needing an explanation for why it's happening that way than in pre-Office days, and Modern Family is using it to their advantage. More discussion of the structure is here.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2011


We don't necessarily know that it's completely artificial

It stands to reason, though. The chances that the take you're seeing on the teevee is the first take (and thus the joke is new to the audience) is pretty slim.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2011


A straight man is typically someone who sets up a joke without providing the punchline, not someone who provides the nudge-nudge-wink-wink-geddit after the punchline for the audience's benefit.

That can be their role, in a fully vaudvillian sense, but I'd argue that the best straight men get more laughs out of their reaction shots than the comic gets out of his or her antics. (Dave Foley on Newsradio is a great example of this.)
posted by Navelgazer at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2011


Antiques Roadshow appraised an actual Charlie Douglass "Laff Box" on one episode.

Pretty cool.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, but quotes like Lorre's suggest that there's a synergistic effect between an audience and the writing regardless, which still would result in differences not present in completely canned situations. If I gleaned anything from the two hours mining links today, it's that laughtracks, "sweetening," and live audiences are viewed differently by those on the production side of things--and likely for at least somewhat good reasons.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:35 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Canned laughter is weird. It's like favoriting your own joke on MetaFilter."

When I saw that this comment had three favorites I had to check to see if one of them was yours.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first documentary-style sitcom I saw (other than that one episode of M*A*S*H) was Trailer Park Boys, which was very explicit about it being a documentary, often showing the sound guy getting killed, assisting in crimes, etc. Gervais' The Office did that sort of thing too sometimes.

But the American The Office and all its copycats (P&R, MF) don't do that. They've taken the grammar of those earlier shows and used them without excuses. It's sort of cheating, and it doesn't really make sense if you think about it too hard. But it's usually still pretty funny. Usually.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2011


You can listen to a "live studio audience" and completely suspend that disbelief? It is utterly mechanical, and entirely predictable.

To be honest, it doesn't bother me at all. Maybe that's why there is such a polarity of opinions about it, it's like cilantro or something.
posted by smackfu at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2011


That can be their role, in a fully vaudvillian sense, but I'd argue that the best straight men get more laughs out of their reaction shots than the comic gets out of his or her antics. (Dave Foley on Newsradio is a great example of this.)

That's true, and Dave Foley is a great example. I'm not sure what bothers me about the eye flick. Maybe that it's fourth-wall-breaking. Maybe just that it's too easy. You can do it response to any joke --- even a failed joke --- to sweeten the reaction. Dwight says something about beets? Eye flick to remind the audience that he's buffoonishly hilarious!

Dave Foley couldn't just act exasperated in response to anything in the same way in order to sweeten a joke. He needed to act, and he needed to change his acting according to context. Also, his exasperation didn't intend a kind of laughter in the same way that eye flicks do. The eye flick works as a laugh track because it communicates to the audience: "hey, I'd be laughing right now if I weren't in-universe or if it were acceptable to laugh at this idiot in public!" It functions as a laughtrack but it's diegetic.
posted by painquale at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


painquale: The Office and Parks and Rec have a kind of visual laugh track. The audience is supposed to laugh whenever Jim or Pam or Ann or April flick their eyes toward the camera, as if to say, "can you believe this guy?" it's just as artificial as a laugh track, IMO.

As others have said, they're fake documentaries. These are not characters breaking the fourth wall, but real people who are looking to the camera person for something, be it support in an awkward situation, acceptance that the looker is not as ridiculous or foolish as the other party in the shot, or understanding for the type of crap the looker has to deal with on a daily basis.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on September 28, 2011


The original Charlie Douglass Laff Box appeared on Antiques Roadshow - appraised at $10,000.
posted by exogenous at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My problem with the eyeflicks on The Office (US version) is that the show pretty quickly established Jim as our audience surrogate, far more than Tim on the UK version, so having Jim be the only character who seems to be aware of the nuttiness of everyone else around him feels a little to audience-flattering.

I don't have this problem with Parks and Rec because it tends to be April who does it, and she's much less of an audience surrogate than Jim.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Years ago in Italy I caught a rebroadcast of some horrible failed 80s sitcom based, I think, on some fairy tale like Cinderella or something. It had been dubbed into Italian. It usually takes longer to say things in Italian than it does in English, they had to redo the laugh track. The Italian producers had looped the laugh track so that it played continuously and simply spiked the volume after each joke.

And yeah, we gave Whitney about 30 seconds. It can't be a good move to use a laugh track after three funny shows without them.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2011


Oops, sorry I missed that mr_crash_davis posted that already.
posted by exogenous at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2011


You can listen to a "live studio audience" and completely suspend that disbelief? It is utterly mechanical, and entirely predictable.

smackfu: To be honest, it doesn't bother me at all. Maybe that's why there is such a polarity of opinions about it, it's like cilantro or something.

I think the annoyance with elements of a show are more like concern about picture quality decreasing when you're more engaged in the show. If you're into the story at hand, the laugh track can become background noise. As long as I'm paying attention to a well-done show, the laugh track can fade away. But when the show is awkward or full of dull humor, I'm not engaged, so I pick out all the problems with the show, including the laugh track. But if you're really annoyed by laugh tracks, I'm sure it's something that can jump out, like any other pet peeve that becomes something of a fixation.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


hydrophonic: Years ago in Italy I caught a rebroadcast of some horrible failed 80s sitcom based, I think, on some fairy tale like Cinderella or something. It had been dubbed into Italian. It usually takes longer to say things in Italian than it does in English, they had to redo the laugh track. The Italian producers had looped the laugh track so that it played continuously and simply spiked the volume after each joke.

That sounds kind of surreal. I'd love to see an example of this.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:59 PM on September 28, 2011


I was part of a live studio audience for recordings of Father Ted and The Legacy of Reginald Perrin. Father Ted was naturally funny -- it was the episode where they go on holiday -- so there was lots of natural, unforced laughter. Reggie Perrin, not so much (it was an excruciating, Leonard Rossiter-free updated version David Nobbs is probably ashamed of).

I watched both episodes on TV when they aired. Father Ted ebbed and flowed with what sounded like the original laughs around the punchlines, setups, and characters' expressions. Oddly, and somewhat creepily, Reggie Perrin was now filled with guffaws, chuckles, and giggles where once there had been slightly strained and polite laughs.

As an aside to this, there's a cameraman (I assume -- or other floor staff) with a very distinctive "heh-heh" laugh on The Colbert Report. He chuckles slightly behind the audience and a little bit longer than they do.
posted by vickyverky at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about the other Whitney Cummings produced sitcom that just debuted? I saw the first ep of 2 Broke Girls and thought it was OK and had potential. The stereotyped Asian owner was pretty awful but I figured maybe they'd tone that down later. (The other diner workers are pretty big stereotypes too, now that I think about it.) So then I'm watching the 2nd episode and I'm already annoyed because Han is still a walking stereotype, and then there's a fucking extended falling in poop gag. I actually had to stop watching at that point. Maybe I'm just an old man and a prude, but does anybody find that shit (no pun intended) funny? As opposed to fucking gross?

Now that I think about it, I love Monty Python and the Meaning of Life for the most part, but I have to fast forward through the restaurant scene every time. Blech.
posted by kmz at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2011


I'd argue that the best straight men get more laughs out of their reaction shots than the comic gets out of his or her antics.

It's like you people have never heard of Jack Benny.

PHILISTINES.
posted by grubi at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


More on topic, I've always found How I Met Your Mother interesting. It's a multi-camera sitcom but it's structured more like single-camera shows, with liberal use of flashbacks, quick cuts, multiple sets, etc, so they don't film in front of a live audience but instead record an audience that watches the finished cut. I've never really found the laugh track too annoying on HIMYM other than once or twice when it's had a seemingly disproportionate response.
posted by kmz at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Han is still a walking stereotype, and then there's a fucking extended falling in poop gag. I actually had to stop watching at that point. Maybe I'm just an old man and a prude, but does anybody find that shit (no pun intended) funny?

I stopped watching there too. not because I was grossed out, but just because it was so telegraphed and unfunny. And that was one of the best reviewed new sitcoms. Craziness.
posted by smackfu at 2:26 PM on September 28, 2011


As others have said, they're fake documentaries. These are not characters breaking the fourth wall, but real people who are looking to the camera person for something

Well, I don't think that matters for my point as long as they function like laughtracks extra-narratively. But in any case, I agree with Sys Req: they're really not documentaries. No one ever talks to the camera people directly, they don't have names or presence, they go where it's obvious no camera person should be, strangers rarely acknowledge the camera, no one wonders why the documentary is taking so long to make, etc. It's just become a stylized form of sitcom filming. The fiction of there being a documentary filmer is almost always quickly forgotten so that they can use the documentary form in itself.

Anyway, even within the fiction of there being a documentary, why so sure that the eye flicks are to the cameraman and not to the audience? When characters sit down and talk about their motivations, they're talking to the documentary audience, not the cameraman directly. Why not think they eye flicks are similarly meant for whoever is watching the doc?

The final episode of The Office should be about the unveiling of the documentary. Everyone sits down and watches a movie that has been cut down to 90 minutes out of hundreds of hours of footage. The cameramen and the director are revealed. Everyone knows their names, and they are wacky Office-like characters themselves. They fondly reminisce about past adventures and hijinks the documentarians have gotten into with the other characters, but these hijinks were never caught on tape because they were too busy having the hilarious misadventures to simultaneously film them. The episode should be shot like a standard sitcom --- you never see one of the walls of the office, and all action is filmed from that perspective. There should be a laugh track.
posted by painquale at 2:27 PM on September 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hey, here's an AV Club review of that terrible "2 Broke Girls" episode: "Let’s get this out of the way up front: This was a bad episode of television."
posted by smackfu at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


No one ever talks to the camera people directly, they don't have names or presence, they go where it's obvious no camera person should be, strangers rarely acknowledge the camera, no one wonders why the documentary is taking so long to make, etc.

The last Michael episode of The Office did address some of this. He took off his mike pack and then you couldn't hear him anymore. And then he asks if this thing is ever going to air. Kind of cute.
posted by smackfu at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


As others have said, they're fake documentaries.

Are they fake documentaries or fake reality shows? They always seem like fake reality shows to me, with the hand-held camera work and the confessional interviews. Documentaries typically have a narrator and are presented as a way to educate the viewer about the topic. That's not at all the case with Modern Family, The Office, Parks & Recreation, etc. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, might be a documentary, since it has a narrator who is not part of the story itself but who speaks at the beginning and who then appears on screen at the end with one of the characters and then addresses the audience directly. Plus, I live in Los Angeles and, if my own experience is any indication, The Big Lebowski is definitely a non-fake documentary about Los Angeles.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live in Los Angeles and, if my own experience is any indication, The Big Lebowski is definitely a non-fake documentary about Los Angeles.

Yeah, I was living there in the early 90s, when the film is set, and was hit by a bag of underwear flying off a bridge. Not saying it was the bag. Just saying, you know, maybe too much of a coincidence.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The last Michael episode of The Office did address some of this. He took off his mike pack and then you couldn't hear him anymore. And then he asks if this thing is ever going to air. Kind of cute.

I can only assume there's a list of these somewhere. The biggest intrusion was when Jim and Pam were outed by the camera crew as a couple. The crew made them sit in the conference room and watch a video of themselves kissing.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:49 PM on September 28, 2011


The crew also alerted Pam to Dwight and Angela's relationship.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2011


I like how the laugh track is subverted in the "King of Comedy." Rupert Pupkin is rehearsing his monolouge (around 1:50) and the laughter rises and becomes a frightening sound. He even has a fake audience frozen in eternal laughter. Their dead expressions are both terrifying and hilarious
posted by hot_monster at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


filthy light thief, the worst part was that my Italian hosts saw nothing strange about it, and my Italian wasn't good enough to explain tactfully what was so, so wrong. It added a touch of Kafka to the surreality.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:23 PM on September 28, 2011


When characters sit down and talk about their motivations, they're talking to the documentary audience, not the cameraman directly.

Nope, they're talking to a (imaginary) producer, answering a producer's questions that have been edited out. This is sometimes explicit, but always implied.

Likewise, I don't think the eye flicks do function extra-narratively like laugh tracks. A laugh track (or absurdly primed live-audience; whatever) says "This is hilarious! Everyone thinks this is hilarious! Listen to them! You should be laughing too." The eye flicks do a number of things in different contexts, but rarely that. At most, maybe they're saying "Your audience surrogate thinks this is pretty out there. Don't worry -- we're with you here. The show's not as dumb as that other character's behavior would suggest."
posted by nobody at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2011


More on topic, I've always found How I Met Your Mother interesting.

I like How I Met Your Mother and agree that they've used some interesting techniques. The thing that has diminished it in my eyes has been someone pointing how much of Ted's story line is cribbed from things that happened to Ross on Friends (they share writers).
posted by drezdn at 3:38 PM on September 28, 2011


Also, I hope 2 Broke Girls can work out it's problems because Kat Dennings pulls off a pretty convincing self-hating snarky hipster waitress.
posted by drezdn at 3:47 PM on September 28, 2011


> I wish they wouldn't do things like this. Clean up print,

I love to put small bits of audio into music mixes. The laugh tracks in so many great comedies make this pretty much impossible - Third Rock, Frazier, Flintstones, etc. So, for me, knowing that this is out there, is a great discovery.

Also: Police Squad!

I am convinced the main reason it failed was a lack of a laugh track at a time when EVERYTHING had one. It was just too confusing for people.
posted by mmrtnt at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2011


I like laugh tracks. I think I need one for my everyday life. Applicants to be my laughers contact me.
posted by jonmc at 5:15 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"When someone removes the laugh track from a show where the "audience laughter" was built into it, there is the silence that most people associate with a comedian waiting for feedback. The silence is the sign of a failed joke. Keep it up, and the comedian is bombing, and you feel awkward. To properly judge shows with laugh tracks sans laugh tracks, I think the show would need to be edited, cutting out the dead time."

Alternately, I'd like to see clips of Community or The Office with awkward pauses added in to see if it makes them less funny.
posted by speicus at 5:27 PM on September 28, 2011


Alternately, I'd like to see clips of Community or The Office with awkward pauses added in to see if it makes them less funny.

It might just turn them into a live action version of Sealab 2021.
posted by drezdn at 5:48 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like How I Met Your Mother and agree that they've used some interesting techniques. The thing that has diminished it in my eyes has been someone pointing how much of Ted's story line is cribbed from things that happened to Ross on Friends (they share writers).

I like the HIMYM well enough, but worrying about its similarity to Friends seems to suggest it is something other than an intentional reproduction of a successful format. Friends itself was pretty much "Seinfeld with likeable pretty people". Going with what has been shown to sell is always going to be a popular formula.
posted by howfar at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2011


Alternately, I'd like to see clips of Community or The Office with awkward pauses added in to see if it makes them less funny.

Must admit to never having seen the US version of The Office. In our version it was the awkward pauses that made it funny.
posted by howfar at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2011


I like the HIMYM well enough, but worrying about its similarity to Friends seems to suggest it is something other than an intentional reproduction of a successful format.

I'm not saying they reproduced the format, I'm saying that things that have happened to Ted are lifted straight from the Ross character.
posted by drezdn at 6:05 PM on September 28, 2011


It's like you people have never heard of Jack Benny.

PHILISTINES.


O|
posted by Sys Rq at 6:21 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


> You can listen to a "live studio audience" and completely suspend that disbelief? It is utterly mechanical, and entirely predictable. I don't know the tricks they use to get the effect they want ("APPLAUSE" lights? Pumping nitrous oxide into the studio?) but the results are entirely artificial.

I've been in a live studio audience member for a few sitcoms. I was tourist at the time, and a promo person came up and asked if I wanted free tickets and I thought it might be fun.

Two things really surprised me. The first show I saw was one that I only normally watched if someone else had it on. But seeing it live, I was blown away by how funny the jokes and performers were in real life. When they're on TV, my attitude was normally like, "Oh, this boring shit", but when you could see that they were actually people, it was really clear that if one of these guys were hanging out with us at a party, we'd be laughing really, really hard. I think it's like how you see some singer on American Idol, and it's like, "Yeah, she's kinda flat and lacking in emotion", but if she were hanging out with you and singing, you might be like, wow, her voice captivates everyone in the room. It's hard for a TV to capture what it's like being in a room with someone.

The other thing that surprised me is that they kept filming some scenes over and over and over again. It got really boring, and they'd keep us waiting for ages, only to start and then film the exact same scene again. It wasn't until this happened a couple of times that I understood why.

The first time, someone would say a particular line, and we'd just think it was dialogue.

Then there'd be a break, and they'd film the same scene again, and that particular line would be worded slightly differently, and we'd collectively make a faint groaning sound, getting that it's a joke, but a lame one.

Then there'd be another break, then the same scene would be filmed again, and they'd try the line differently.

Finally, they'd start filming again, and when the line came, it was a joke, and we all laughed. It was pretty amazing to see what was essentially the same joke transformed from something that was indistinguishable from non-comedic dialogue to something that made me laugh, just by persisting in changing the ordering and timing of a few words.
posted by surenoproblem at 7:25 PM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod, to make peace, I believe I misunderstood when you wrote Live studio audiences offer a live reaction, but I wouldn't assume it is genuine. You were implying that the studio audience might not be a genuine audience, while I focused on whether the audience reactions might not be genuine.

My point stands. It's all artificial. You seem hung up on this issue of whether the laughter you're hearing is somehow a real person who thinks the joke is funny. To me, that doesn't matter. Heck, M*A*S*H was one of the funniest sitcoms ever made, and it had to use canned laughter. The whole era where the live studio audience all but disappeared -- prior to All in the Family -- had some excellent sitcoms. Clearly excellence is not coterminous with a "genuine" live studio audience. Maybe you object to sweetening and other strategems on aesthetic grounds, but I don't see the problem here. Enjoying a sitcom, thinking light, amusing thoughts for 22 minutes -- is this something we need to dissect to the point of individual laughs and clean-room objectivity about Teh Funnay? No, they exist in our messy, artificial culture, and they're providing what it says on the tin (mostly). it's more important to me that this Whitney Cummings sitcom (of which I just watched about 3 dull minutes) seems to have little inherent humor than it is how they try to get the audience to laugh.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 PM on September 28, 2011


Breaking Bad with a laugh track.

There goes Tuco again ... so wacky.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:25 PM on September 30, 2011


Every episode (at least of the American version) has a character (mainly Michael Scott, but also others) desperately trying to make the other characters laugh and failing miserably.

That may be true of the Michael Scott character, but I don't think it's the universal mechanism.


Of course it isn't the only joke on the show. I just said it happens at least once an episode. If it's even an element in 10% of the jokes, that's a good enough reason for The Office not to have a laugh track: so that 10% of the jokes don't get ruined.
posted by John Cohen at 4:53 PM on October 7, 2011


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