Laugh tracks: Love 'em or leave 'em?

What would happen if we lived in a world without a laugh track? Beyond the obvious notion that everyone on sitcoms would be sad and depressed, it would make things totally awkward. This fact was highlighted by The Hollywood Reporter posting this clip from The Big Bang Theory without its usual laugh track:

Those long, drawn-out silences are painful, but not as painful as watching this slightly funny, slightly twisted clip from a laugh track-enhanced version of The Shining:

The only thing more strange than that is this snippet of Arrested Development with an added laugh track. Is that the version Fox saw when they pulled the plug on AD?

What shows do you think need to lose (or add) their laugh track?

Comments (73 total) Add your comment
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  • Leslie

    If a comedy needs a laugh track – then the jokes aren’t good. All of my favorite comedies are sans laugh track, The Office, Modern Family – Big Bang Theory is the most boring, non-funny, tediously low brow piece of drivel on tv – not counting three & a half men of course

    • firemenfriends

      I like them

    • Jen

      OMG! Leslie, I so agree. I have watched 4 random episodes of BBT, each time trying to suss out what it was that all my friends found so hilarious. I swear to God, I may have mildly chuckled at ONE point, at that’s it. NOTHING about that show is funny; I can NOT understand why it’s so popular. Sheldon has got to be one of the most annoying characters of all time. And I’m a nerd! I should like him! Can not stand this awful, awful show.

    • bj

      American Idol is now using laugh tracks. They are very passive but they are there. Check out the girl with the yellow mustard stockings from last nights episode. They use one there.

  • chowchowchow

    I hate laugh tracks. HATE.

    • Emma

      But you gotta admit they did wonders for the Shining.

  • M Holl

    I’d like to see a laugh track on The Office (US). Those long, drawn-out awkward silences could use some filler.

    • Sarah

      I actually completely disagree. The silence of some of the pauses or facial expressions is what makes those situations so funny. I can’t imagine hearing a laugh track everytime Jim looked sideways at the camera when Dwight, Michael makes an insane comment.

    • Luddite

      I don’t want to say you have no sense of humor, but if you think The Office needs a laugh track, then what they’re doing may not be your brand of humor. In fact, I miss the awkward silences of the first couple seasons.

  • whatevs

    I’m glad there’s an article about this. I loathe laugh tracks. They have managed to convince America that Two and a Half men is comedy.

    My favorite shows are all trackless: The Office, Modern Family, Community, and Flight of the Conchords. It’s not just the fact that laugh tracks are there, but the kinds of shows they’re on are full of tired dialogue and shallow characters.

    I’ve never seen Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, but I’ll go ahead and make an exception for them since some intelligent people seem to like those shows too.

    • nat

      I think Big Bang and How i met your mother could be good without the laugh tracks. Part of the reason the Bib Bang clip above is awkward is bacause they have to pause after everything to make space for the laughter. Also, the background sounds haven’t been added. A full cafeteria without any noise sounds creepy.

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  • mcbridefan

    Also the fabulous “Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is resplendently laugh-track-free.

  • JLC

    I don’t think it’s really a fair comparison, because Jim Parsons and the rest are pacing their jokes for, presumably, the live audience, or at least insertion of the laugh track. I assume that if TBBT were filmed without it, they would tighten it up.
    Still, it’s not nearly as good as Modern Family, Cougar Town, Community, Parks & Rec., The Office or 30 Rock, is it?

    • palais

      It is paced out for the studio audience. Both TBBT and 2 and a Half Men are filmed before audiences. This doesn’t make Men any better. This also doesn’t mean that the laughter of the audience isn’t sweetened in some way, either, regardless of what the producers insist.
      The fact is, multi camera sitcoms have traditionally included laughter, whether it’s canned or a studio audience, which is why the TBBT clip is so painful. Single camera comedies, shot on location without audiences don’t have the same issues with pacing and holding for laughs a traditional sitcom has.
      Believe me, Seinfeld would be just as awkward as that TBBT clip with the laughter removed. so would the Cosby Show and All In The Family. Is anyone honestly going to say those three sitcoms are outright bad because they had laughter in them?

    • Yesenia

      Its definitely true that there are spaces where the studio audience laughed, so its kind of unfair b/c there’s no way that’s not going to sound creepy without it.

      But I’m remembering that The Monkees used a laugh track and then stopped using them towards the end of their run. The episodes were never filmed in front of a studio audience, so the guys performed the same each episode and didn’t know whether that episode would have a laugh track or not. And even thought they didn’t leave pauses for laughs, the laugh track-less episodes feel off.

      I think its because of the style of humor, the type of humor of multi-camera shows just feel weird without the laughs. Now, The Monkees was not a great show, but I think its illustrates that’s its more about the type of humor and jokes and less about a laugh track.

      Maybe even if the Big Bang Theory filmed an episode without an audience and without any laugh track, but the same script and type of comedy, it might still feel weird. Would be an interesting experiment.

  • paige

    I dont need canned laughter to tell me when i need to laugh. The ONLY show that benefitted from a laugh-track was Married With Children because its the only one that felt genuine

  • Karen

    Whatever happened to a live studio audience? The “audience machine” grates on How I Met Your Mother. Love it on the Late Late Show, though.

  • JD

    Seinfeld had a laugh track, and I love that show. I think some great past sitcoms have had laugh tracks, and right now it has just gone out of style for the most part.

  • Maggie25

    I don’t think the laugh track is inherently terrible or anything. Obviously the clip above doesn’t give you the whole picture, because if there was no laugh track they wouldn’t pause for laughter, and I would assume the writers may also pace their jokes differently. It’s just a style. Like at the beginning of Sports Night when there was still a laugh track and it felt so weird because it didn’t fit the writing. On the other hand, I have no problem with a laugh track on a show like Seinfeld.
    And to M Holl, the awkward pauses on The Office are part of what is funny. A laugh track would defeat the whole purpose.

  • ks

    Dislike laugh tracks. A good show does not need one.

  • Sarah

    Remember how the Flintstones and Jetsons had a laugh track? Now THAT made no sense. I don’t mind it on BBT because Sheldon is just THAT funny, but it does get annoying on HIMYM.

  • Sophie

    Not of fan of laugh tracks. They are so phony & horribly loud. Modern Family is very funny and does not use a laugh track. There is a difference between filming in front of a live studio audience (All in the Family, Carol Burnett Show, Cheers & Seinfeld) versus a force laugh-ANY SHOW ON Nickelodeon & Disney Channel. I didn’t even like laugh tracks when I was young. Remember when the old Scooby Doo was on Saturday and it did not have a laugh track? Then they changed and all of the sudden you heard this obnoxious laughter.

  • Rebekah

    The one thing I dislike about “How I Met Your Mother” is the laugh track. I would love it if they took it out.

    • val

      I would watch HIMYM on a regular basis if it weren’t for the laugh track. As it is, I can only stand it on a semi-regular basis — and only because of the power of Barney.

    • Jess

      Agreed! I was going to say the same thing. I find the laugh track distracting. If you allow yourself to focus in on it, it can ruin the show for you.

  • analiesejoy

    Ok, actors hold for laughter on sitcoms! THAT is why there are weird silences. BBT would still be funny if they were not acting to accommodate a laugh track.

    It has a time and place. it doesnt bother me most of the time but does anybody remember the abomination that was the laugh track in season 1 of Sports Night. give me a break. I much prefer it when i don’t have to be told when something is supposed to be funny.

    • analiesejoy

      i wish i could delete comments because i’ve just seen that Maggie25 has written essentially the exact thing as me. my apologies.

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