Meet the man behind the laugh tracks of 1980s sitcoms

Originally published at: Meet the man behind the laugh tracks of 1980s sitcoms | Boing Boing





My recollection is that the excellent '80s show Sledge Hammer! used an intentionally overdone laugh track in order to get the network to remove the goddamn thing, which they did in later seasons. Wikipedia doesn’t back me up, but does say

ABC insisted that the violence be toned down for network television and that a laugh track be included (although some versions – including the DVD release of the show – do not have this track or had it removed; Spencer found it offensive that the audience be told when to laugh and was furious over the decision)



The laugh track is one of those “how did we put up with this garbage for so long?” artifacts. It’s now a sure sign of a crappy and lazy TV show (unless it’s being used ironically).

@allenk: the only thing more off-putting is no laughs at all. The dialogue delivery is all stilted as the actor delivers his “clever” insult or joke-like substance and then everyone waits a couple of seconds for the laughs that aren’t there.


Meet the man behind the laugh tracks of 1980s sitcoms

Good lord, someone keep me away from him as i have a sudden urge for murder that is hard to contain…

Canned laughter tracks irritate me so much in so many ways… Just AHHHHHHHH!.. so much media ruined by this…


As a bit of a follow up, if you need to actively tell someone something is funny by adding a laughter sound effect… You’re not funny…

Edit: pet peeve, please excuse my rant


I prefer the more traditional method of audience manipulation, a two drink minimum and plants…


The enhanced “Webster” clip was much better.


a) What was that wonderful machine he was using? Custom?

b) Webster was cute af! I know it’s obvious, but damn.

c) The mom used to scare the shit out of me and still does.

It’s sad, too. Because Seinfeld is no crappy nor lazy show, but it’s somewhat difficult to re-watch, with the laugh track lurking in the background, ever ready to strike.

Larry David even targets Seinfeld’s laugh track in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where he has Ricky Gervais (playing Ricky Gervais) condescendingly praise Seinfeld:

"Lovely show. I love broad comedy. I love the laugh track on it, to tell you when to laugh."


The amazing thing about Seinfeld is that it’s so funny and well-written that your brain screens out the laugh track that was foisted on them.


One of the ways I realize how unnatural and inorganic the laugh track is:

Try to apply the standard sitcom laugh track onto non-American shows (even sitcoms), it doesn’t work. I’ve seen it. I assume they’ve constructed an entirely localized laugh-track system eventually.

Natural laughing is universal, unpredictable. Organic audience reactions may have a cultural pattern to it, but still lacks the predictability. Laugh tracks are insidious because they are repeatable, a vocabulary of their own which shows their unnaturalness when transposed into another language and culture.

There’s a vocabulary and cadence to canned laughter that’s been very curated and manufactured to fit the needs of the machine (the literal device and the production operation).


I wonder if there’s ever been a study that links political affiliation with susceptibility to a laugh track.


A bit more technical info in this one (which starts off oddly familiar):


Due to Covid, we now have laugh tracks on Jeopardy and fake cheering on hockey games. At least on sitcoms the viewer imagined there was a live audience, not a bunch of empty seats.

I was sure that someone would have mentioned Police Squad (in color) by now, but it looks like this gracious necessity falls to me. It makes the perfect example of how the laugh track drove the TV audience’s expectations throughout those decades.

things police GIF

This was IMHO the funniest US television program produced in those years by far (edging out good old Sledge Hammer) but it was a miserable failure - all six episodes were eventually sold on a single VHS tape. The reason why is generally accepted to be the lack of a laugh track. Hilarious sight gags, word play, over-the-top exaggerations and lampoons were all followed by “spooky” silence. People were so used to being told when to look for the joke that most of this humor sailed right by the majority of viewers.

Now that we’ve had the pandemic for well over a year and many comedy/talk shows are broadcast without a studio audience, this is a lot less surprising now. Police Squad was a major education to the television industry at the time.


That’d actually be really interesting!

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The reason why is generally accepted to be the lack of a laugh track.

Not just lack of laugh track specifically, but because the humor itself wasn’t “obvious.” It wasn’t a show you could have playing in the background while you did something else–you had to pay close attention to what was being said and going on on-screen. And for American audiences (at least in the early '80s) that was a kiss of death.


I don’t recall where I found it or read it, but here I’ll share the remark that put me off laugh tracks forever (it worked all too well).
You see, being assembled in the eighties using even older audio samples, there’s a pretty good chances that all these people we hear laughing are gone by now.
So those merry comedies were spiced up… by the laughter of the dead.


I was so disappointed when they started doing that; I was enjoying hearing the players and refs. I think perhaps there may have been a little too many “You’re not a very nice man!” and “Why I oughta!” ‘s for the networks’ liking. That and refs “managing” the games…