This weekend I got into a heated discussion with a friend about Laugh Tracks. I hate them. For me, they ruin a viewing experience. Take the acclaimed ‘Big Bang Theory’. Even though technically it’s not a track since they have a live studio audience, the laughter feels like an emotional crutch. It’s as if the jokes aren’t good enough on their own, so they cue everyone: “hey! this is where you’re suppose to laugh!”
The result is awkward pauses in flow of the script as the group waits for the laughter to subside. Through the magic of technology others have skillfully edited out laugh tracks in such shows as the Big Bang Theory. The result is awkward.
“But Wait!” you interject, “That’s a tendentious example, it’s not always awkward!”
Actually you’re right. This article does a good job at making the argument that laugh tracks aren’t the problem: The attempt at saving a failed joke is the problem. When laugh tracks or laugh cues are used when there isn’t actually anything funny… perhaps that is where it fails. In fact, I get that same distaste from stand-up comedy when I have a disagreement with the crowd’s appreciation for a joke. It makes me pause and wonder why the crowd guffaws. Ultimately, I become detached from the show. Maybe it’s the show’s resulting lack of sincerity from mistimed laughter that causes my distaste.
To me a laugh track seems as bizarre of an idea as a sob track for a sad film or a fear track (the crowd gasps!) for a horror film. These ideas seem so ridiculous; but conceptually they don’t differ at all from the idea of a laugh track.
But perhaps if laugh tracks or sob tracks were used in perfect harmony with the viewer’s genuinely experienced emotion, they would enhance the viewing experience. Perhaps people who love shows with laugh tracks just have a more welcoming sense of humor.
Maybe I’m just a dud.