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A laugh track, laughter soundtrack, laughter track, LFN (laughter from nowhere), canned laughter or a laughing audience is a separate soundtrack invented by Charles "Charley" Douglass, with the artificial sound of audience laughter, made to be inserted into TV comedy shows and sitcoms. The first American television show to incorporate a laugh track was the Americanmarker sitcom The Hank McCune Show in 1950.


Before television, audiences often experienced comedy, whether performed live on stage, on radio, or in a movie, in the presence of other audience members. Television producers attempted to recreate this atmosphere in its early days by introducing the sound of laughter or other crowd reactions into the soundtrack of television programs.

Historically, live audiences could not be relied upon to laugh at the correct moment. Other times, the audiences could laugh too long or too loud, sounding unnatural and forced or throwing off the performers' rhythms. CBS sound engineer Charley Douglass noticed these, as he put it, "God-awful" responses, and took it upon himself to remedy the situation. If a joke did not get the desired chuckle, Douglass inserted additional laughter. If the live audience chuckled for too long, Douglass gradually muted the guffaws. This editing technique became known as "sweetening", in which pre-recorded laughter is used to augment the response of the real studio audience if they did not react as strongly as desired. Douglass eventually spent countless hours extracting laughter, applause, and other reactions (right down to people moving around in their seats) from live soundtracks he had recorded (mainly from the dialogue-less The Red Skelton Show). He then placed the recorded sounds into a huge tape machine, dubbed the "laff box."

At first, the laugh track was used sparingly to "sweeten" live shows like The Jack Benny Program (Benny insisted the canned "audience reactions" be "softer" and "lower" ); as a result, its invention essentially went by unnoticed. By the end of the 1950s, live comedy transitioned from film to videotape, which allowed for editing during post-production. However, editing a prerecorded live show caused bumps and gaps on the soundtrack. Douglass was then called upon to "bridge or fill" these gaps. Eventually, both performers and producers began to realise the power behind these prerecorded chuckles. Comedian Milton Berle, while witnessing a post-production editing session, once said, "as long as we are here, this joke didn't get all that we wanted." After Douglass inserted a guffaw after the failed joke, Berle reportedly commented, "See? I told you it was funny."

By the early 1960s, live television became cost prohibitive, and producers began to realize how much simpler it was to film a show without a live audience. Douglass was brought in to simulate an entire audience, as the consensus was that live audiences were tense, nervous and rarely laughed on cue. Filming in a studio had its limitations as well, as half the audience could hardly see or hear the show from where they were sitting. After a live show was filmed, producers were faced with the onerous task of removing all overdone or annoying live audience reaction. Douglass would then be recruited during post-production to "desweeten" the episode in question. Eventually, more genuine chuckles were removed and replaced with chuckles from the laugh track, making live shows nearly obsolete. Douglass went from enhancing a soundtrack to literally reorchestrating audience reactions.

Originally, filmed shows that were produced without the benefit of a live audience were difficult for Douglass because there was not enough space to insert a decent amount of laughter. Eventually, writers were conscious of the laugh track, and began writing and timing scripts around it. Directors began leaving spaces for audience reactions so that Douglass could edit with greater ease (watching an episode of M*A*S*H on DVD without the laugh track, for instance, accentuates the awkward pause left for audience response).

Charley Douglass’s famous invention was properly tested in 1965 when producers were trying to launch Hogan's Heroes. CBS screened two versions of the same episode to measure audience reactions; one contained the laugh track, the other was silent. As Hogan's Heroes required cerebral viewing, the audience watching the silent version were left confused, and the episode failed miserably. The version with the canned laughter succeeded and CBS gave the show a green light. After this incident, no sitcom went on the air without a touch-up from Charley Douglass’s laff box.

Shows like Bewitched, The Munsters and The Beverly Hillbillies are virtually showcases of Douglass’s editing skill; the more outlandish the show, the more invasive the laugh track was. Conversely, low-key shows, like The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons, resulted in the laugh track chuckling barely above a whimper. Nearly every sitcom or variety show had canned laughter dubbed onto their soundtrack. Even the few remaining live sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Lucy Show were sweetened with canned laughter.

Charley Douglass and the mysterious "laff box"

From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, Charley Douglass had a monopoly on the expensive and painstaking "laff" business. By 1960, nearly every prime time show in America was "sweetened" by Douglass’s laff box. As TV Guide critic Dick Hobson put it in 1966, the Douglass family were "the only laugh game in town."

The Douglass family was quite eccentric, with Charley himself being one of the most talked about men in television history. Production studios became accustomed to seeing Douglass shuttling from studio to studio to mix in his manufactured laughs during post-production. When it came time to "lay in the laughs", the producer would literally direct Douglass where and when to insert the type of laugh requested. Inevitably, arguments arose between Douglass and the producer, but in the end, the producer always won.

After taking his directive, Douglass would then go to work at creating the audience, out of sight from the producer or anyone else present at the studio. Very few in the industry ever witnessed Douglass using his mysterious "laff box", and he was notoriously secretive about his work.

The one-of-a-kind device was tightly secured with padlocks, stood more than two feet tall, and operated like an organ. Douglass used a keyboard to select the style, gender and age of the laugh as well as a foot pedal to time the length of the reaction. Inside the padlocked concoction was an endless array of recorded chuckles, yocks, and belly laughs; exactly 320 laughs on 32 tape loops, 10 to a loop. Each loop contained 10 individual audience laughs spliced end-to-end, whirling around simultaneously waiting to be cued up. Astute listeners will notice that the bulk of the chuckles always laughed in the same order repeatedly. Experts began to watch sitcoms and knew exactly which recurrent guffaws were next, even if they were watching an episode for the first time. Frequently, Douglass would combine different laughs, either long or short in length. Attentive viewers could spot when he decided to mix chuckles together to give the effect of a more diverse audience.

Controversy and bucking the trend in America

The practice of simulating an audience reaction was controversial from the very beginning. A silent minority of producers despised the idea of a prerecorded audience reaction. Inventor Douglass was aware that his "laff box" was maligned by critics and actors, but also knew that the utilization of a laugh track became standard practice and as a result, a necessity in the industry. Leading industry experts reasoned that laugh tracks were a necessary evil in prime time television: without the canned laughter, a show was doomed to fail. It was believed that the absence of guffaws meant American viewers could not tell if the particular show was indeed a comedy. That did not stop several from forgoing the laugh track entirely:
  • Former child star Jackie Cooper believed that the laugh track was false. Cooper's comedy/drama Hennesey (CBS, 1959-62) was cancelled in 1962 after a three-season run. For its first two seasons, the show used only a mild laugh track (known as a "titter" track); by the third and final season, the chuckles were eliminated completely and, soon thereafter, so was Hennesey. Cooper later commented that "we're manufacturing a reaction to our own creation, yet we'll never know if people out there are really laughing." Cooper concluded by saying, "It's a put-on all the time."
  • In September 1964, the comedy/drama Kentucky Jones (NBC, 1964-65), starring Dennis Weaver, tried to eliminate laughs, simulated or live. After only five episodes and slumping ratings, Douglass was recruited to add the laugh track, but the damage had been done. Kentucky Jones was cancelled the following April.
  • Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., creator of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, outright refused to utilize a laugh track when production began on The Alvin Show (CBS, 1961-62) in 1961. Bagdasarian's reasoning was if the show was funny, the viewers would laugh without being prompted. The Alvin Show was cancelled after a single season.
  • Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz refused to employ a laugh track during the production of the holiday favorite A Charlie Brown Christmas (CBS, 1965). Like Bagdasarian, Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a flop (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable). When the show first aired on December 9, 1965, it was a surprise critical and commercial hit.
  • The musical sitcom The Monkees (NBC, 1966-68) featured a laugh track throughout its first season and several episodes of the second. Midway through Season 2, the Monkees themselves insisted the show eliminate the laugh track, believing their viewers were intelligent enough to know where the jokes were. NBC, already annoyed by the manufactured rock group wanting too much control over their show, cancelled The Monkees after Season 2 concluded, citing the non-existent laugh track as a major factor.
  • Bill Cosby's first sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show (NBC, 1969-71) was also produced without a laugh track at the insistence of Cosby. He stated that his opposition to NBC's desire to add a laugh track led to the show's cancellation after only two seasons.
  • Larry Gelbart, creator of M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972-83), initially wanted the show to air entirely without a laugh track ("Just like the actual Korean War", he remarked dryly). However, CBS rejected the idea. Eventually a compromise was reached, and the producers of the series were allowed to omit the laugh track during operating room scenes if they wished. As a result, few scenes in the operating room contain canned laughter. Certain episodes omitted the laugh track completely, as did some international and syndicated airings of the show; the DVD releases, meanwhile, give the viewer a choice of laughing or non-laughing soundtracks.
  • Sports Night (ABC, 1998-2000) premiered with a laugh track, against the wishes of show creator Aaron Sorkin, but the laugh track became more subtle as the season progressed and was completely removed at the start of the second season. In some cases, a laugh track was needed to maintain continuity, as portions of each episode were filmed in front of a live audience, while the remainder were filmed without an audience present.

1970s: Live TV makes a comeback

Though the use of canned laughter reached its peak in the 1960s, the trend began to reverse with the 1971 debut of All in the Family (CBS, 1971-79). As proclaimed over the closing credits each week ("All in the Family was recorded on tape before a live audience" or "All in the Family was played to a studio audience for live responses.") the sitcom relied upon live, unprompted audience responses. On rare occasions, the studio audience laughter was sweetened with canned laughter.

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall expressed displeasure during the first season of The Odd Couple (ABC, 1970-75), which utilized a laugh track without a live audience. Theatre veteran Randall, in particular, resented the usage of the laugh track, and wanted to perform in front of a live audience. ABC relented and by the second season, The Odd Couple was filmed with three cameras (vs. a single camera the previous season) and performed like a stage play in front of a studio audience. Douglass’s "laff box", however, was used in post-production to sweeten and smooth out the live reactions.

The sitcom Happy Days (ABC, 1974-84) mirrored The Odd Couple scenario. Its first two seasons utilized only a laugh track, and by third season, shifted over to a live audience with sweetening done in post-production.

Usage in America, post-1990

Laugh-track-free production has been gaining ground in the U.S.marker since the early 1990s. The Larry Sanders Show won critical praise for not including a laugh track. Such shows are often produced in the more expensive single-camera style usually reserved for one-hour drama, using on-location shooting and high production values, as opposed to the standard multi-camera sitcom sound stage. Recent live action North American sitcoms that adopted this style include Linc's, Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, Curb Your Enthusiasm, My Name Is Earl, The Bernie Mac Show, The Office, Trailer Park Boys, Scrubs, 30 Rock, Samantha Who?, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Flight of the Conchords, My Boys, Testees, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Bakersfield P.D., and Better Off Ted. Animated shows, such as The Simpsons, King of the Hill, South Park, and Family Guy, have also gone silent, except on the very rare occasion that canned laughter is used comically for a single joke, usually as a parody of a sitcom. However, sitcoms made by It's a Laugh Productions, such as That's So Raven, use laugh tracks, which can be very repetitive. One paying attention can hear the same laughs and other reactions on shows produced by It's a Laugh.

Alan Spencer's Sledge Hammer! was aired with a laugh track for the first 12 episodes including the pilot, but Spencer was not impressed by ABC editing the episodes. Later on, the video releases had all the laugh tracks removed. Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night also began with a laugh track, only to abandon it later on.

Since the 2000s, shows with laugh track became a rarity in the dispute for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. In 2000, of the five nominated shows, only Sex and the City did not use a laugh track. Of the seven shows nominated in 2009, only How I Met Your Mother uses a laugh track, albeit out of necessity due to the large number of scenes per episode, and flashbacks featured in the story; the laugh track is later created by recording an audience being shown the final edited episode.

Sweetening is a common practice in live awards shows such as the Emmy Awards, the Academy Awards, and the MTV Video Music Awards. The microphones onstage often do not fully pick up the audience's laughter and reaction to the monologues as audiences are not microphoned in live awards shows due to the amount of conversation that takes place during filming. Laughter and applause are often sweetened and edited prior to public viewing, or if aired live, are done on the spot via a 7-second delay. (The same crew is also used to mute curse words and controversial statements from award winners). The Kids Choice Awards heavily uses laugh tracks that feature adults despite the fact that the audience is composed of mostly pre-teens.

Cartoons and Children's Shows

Prime time live-action shows were not the only genre to employ a laugh track, as the canned chuckles were eventually used in some prime time animated television series that would not employ a live audience. The Flintstones and The Jetsons incorporated laugh tracks .

Afternoon cartoon shows employed the laugh track on occasion as well. The first episodes of Rocky and His Friends utilized one, as did The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. Eventually, the laugh track entered the world of Saturday morning cartoons, beginning with the Filmation-produced The Archie Show in 1968. By the following year, nearly all cartoons produced for the Saturday morning fare had Douglass’s laugh track, including The Pink Panther Show and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. Later series included The Wombles, Josie and the Pussycats, Groovie Goolies, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

Making Their Own

Hanna-Barbera opted not to pay for Charley Douglass’s services at the dawn of the 1970s. Hits like Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Josie and the Pussycats employed a laugh track, but Hanna-Barbera looked for any chance to cut costs. As a result, instead of utilizing a full laugh track, a sound engineer at the Hanna-Barbera studios isolated approximately half a dozen canned chuckles from Douglass’s vast library. Mixed with an almost tinny, metallic sound to it, there were two or three mild laughs, plus one or two uncontrollable belly-laughs (one contains a very audible woman cackling at the tail end). This "limited" laugh track did not contain any looping tapes with 10 assorted laughs per tape, no endless variety of chuckles, no titter track, and no realism. When audience reaction was needed, the limited laughs were dubbed repeatedly. On occasion, two or three of the chuckles were combined to give the effect that there was more diversity to the already limited laugh track.

Critics took note of the inferior sounding laugh track permeating Hanna-Barbera's Saturday morning fare. The same prerecorded laugh can be heard after nearly every punchline, which does not go unnoticed by the astute viewer. The fact that the treble was mixed far too high for the soundtrack it accompanies only drew attention to the falsity of the practice. Several shows that are victim of the abridged laugh track are The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, Jabberjaw, Hong Kong Phooey, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, The Flintstone Comedy Hour and Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch!. On occasion, the studio would slow down the laugh track for a greater effect; this was done in Season 2 of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.

Animation studio Rankin/Bass also experimented with creating their own laugh track for The Jackson 5ive Saturday morning cartoon show. Like Hanna-Barbera, Rankin/Bass isolated several snippets of canned chuckles from Douglass’s library, and inserted them onto the soundtrack. Unlike Hanna-Barbera, though, the chuckles were nothing but loud eruptions of laughter; mild jokes received unnatural bouts of laughter, while other times, the laughter would erupt mid-sentence. The poorly edited laugh track emphasized the artificial nature of canned laughter twice as much as Hanna-Barbera's version; as a result, Rankin/Bass ceased using laugh tracks after The Jackson 5ive mishap. Rankin/Bass' laugh track, however, did provide a better variety of laughs (regardless of the intensity of each laugh), compared to the extremely limited Hanna-Barbera laugh track. The laugh track also was more up-to-date; most of the chuckles used on the Rankin/Bass laugh track were used on a regular basis during the 1971-1972 and 1972-1973 television seasons.

Unlike the two "silent" pilots before it, The Muppet Show series incorporated its own laugh track onto the show, but in a completely different manner; because the variety program was modeled after vaudeville, oftentimes the viewers would be treated to glimpse of the theater audience and their reactions to The Muppets' antics on stage (though the audience was composed of Muppet characters as well). As the show was produced overseas at the ATV studios in Elstreemarker, Englandmarker, Jim Henson and his Muppet production team were able to bypass Douglass’s easily recognizable laughs. New laughs, chuckles, and even applauses were recorded for the first few episodes so they would sound fresh and new. Some of these guffaws were provided by the actual cast and crew members reacting to the playbacks and dailies of the episodes they were taping. Eventually, The Muppet Show recycled these same chuckles repeatedly over its five year run, establishing its own one-of-a-kind laugh track. A byproduct of this convincing laugh track was the belief by viewers that The Muppet Show was indeed taped in front of a live audience, some even asking for tickets to attend tapings. From time to time, various Muppet characters or guest stars would break the fourth wall and acknowledge the use of the laugh track. In one episode, Kermit the Frog is asked if he felt a gag or routine would be funny enough for the show, to which he replied "That's up to the laugh track".

From 1969 to 1975, Sid and Marty Krofft incorporated a full laugh track onto all of their Saturday morning children's shows (save for Land of the Lost, which was more of an adventure series, instead of a comedy); by 1976, however, the Kroffts transitioned from high concept children's fare to variety programs. While shows like Donny & Marie, The Brady Bunch Hour, Pink Lady and Jeff, and even their 1987 syndicated sitcom D.C. Follies were mostly taped in large studios, before a live audience, some elements were shot in smaller studios, that could not hold an audience of any size. Because of this, the Kroffts too isolated several chuckles from Douglass's library to incorporate into the soundtrack of these shows, for both sweeting, and to maintain continuity; the laughs the Kroffts isolated were of a better variety, ranging from loud belly laughs, to soft titters: some of these laughs were older (from the laugh track of the mid-to-late 60s), while others were of the current 1976/1977 television season, just before the real television laugh track was overhauled by the 1977/1978 television season.

Filmation, like the Kroffts, utilized a full laugh track for their Saturday morning lineup from 1968 to 1979. Many of Filmation's shows that employed a laugh track were The Archie Show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Brady Kids, Groovy Goolies, and The New Adventures of Gilligan.

Children's Shows: 2000s

Laugh tracks are used extensively in Disney Channel original sitcoms such as That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Cory in the House, and more recently in Sonny With a Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana, but all these shows still shoot in front of a live studio audience. Disney's top competitor, Nickelodeon, also use laugh tracks on shows such as iCarly, True Jackson VP, and Drake and Josh due to their decision to do away with their now-defunct original studios and aren't shot in front of studio audiences.

The recent Glenn Martin, DDS, a claymation show produced by Nickelodeon, had a laugh track for the first seven episodes, but after the eighth episode, the creator removed it. He commented, "It took too much internal thinking".

Laugh tracks outside the U.S.


In 20th century Britain, most sitcoms were taped before live audiences to provide natural laughter. Other comedies, such as the The Royle Family and The Office, which are presented in the mode of cinéma vérité rather than in the format of a traditional sitcom, do not feature any audience laughter.

The League of Gentlemen was originally broadcast with a laughter track, but after the first two series this was dropped. The pilot episode of the satirical series Spitting Image was also broadcast with a laughter track. This idea was quickly dropped as it was felt that the series worked better without one. Some later editions, in 1992 (Election Special) and 1993 (two episodes) did use a studio audience, and therefore a laughter track, as the format of these editions included a spoof Question Time.

Additionally, some programmes have been shown to a live audience, though they were not filmed live. Many scenes of the BBC's Last of the Summer Wine are filmed outdoors but the show's producers, while confirming that the show is filmed without an audience, point out that the laughter is not "manufactured" but instead is a recording of the genuine response of a studio audience to whom the completed episode is shown. This is a technique which is frequently used for programmes that feature a lot of location filming (for which an audience could obviously not be present) or which involve a lot of post-production effects work. A prime example of this is Red Dwarf; the first six series were shot partly in front of a live audience and, due to special effects scenes, filmed but shown to the audience later. This caused a lot of problems, so Series 7 was filmed without an audience but was shown to one to get 'live' laughter. Series 8 saw the return of the live audience. The show's return, Red Dwarf: Back to Earth does not use a laugh track.


Most contemporary Canadian television comedies are laugh track-free (e.g., The Newsroom, Made in Canada, Trailer Park Boys, The Jon Dore Television Show, Good Morning World, Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Billable Hours, etc.), but some still rely on laugh tracks in some form. Other comedies such as The Kids in the Hall, The Red Green Show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer Report, and Royal Canadian Air Farce, feature the laughter of a live audience. In the case of The Red Green Show, the audience itself is incorporated into the show's format, playing members of Possum Lodge, the fictional setting of the show.


In parts of East Asia, laugh tracks are often loud and exaggerated in comedy-variety shows despite them being filmed with small live audiences.

While contemporary sitcoms in Mainland China use a live studio audience, the Shanghai-based sitcom iPartment uses a laugh track despite being filmed in a single-camera format.

Support and Legacy

Si Rose, executive producer for Sid and Marty Krofft, convinced the Kroffts to use laugh tracks on their puppet shows such as H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, and others. Rose stated, "The laugh track was a big debate, they (the Kroffts) said they didn't want to do it, but with my experience with night-timers, night-time started using laugh tracks, and it becomes a staple, because the viewer watches the program and there's a big laugh every time because of the laugh track, and then when you see a show that's funny and there's no laugh because of no laugh track, it becomes a handicap, so I convinced them of that. Good or bad." . Marty Krofft confirmed that he and Sid were initially reluctant to use a laugh track on their shows, but agreed that it was a necessity.

In a 2007 DVD interview, Filmation producer/founder Lou Scheimer praised the laugh track for its usage on The Archie Show. "Why a laugh track?" Scheimer asked. "Because you feel that you are watching the program with a group of people instead of being alone." Scheimer confirmed that The Archie Show was the first Saturday morning cartoon to utilize a laugh track.

Television Historian Ben Glenn, II once commented that the laugh tracks used today are radically different than the "carefree" quality of the laughter of past:

See also


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