Kurt McKee

lessons learned in production

Hey there! This article was written in 2004.

It might not have aged well for any number of reasons, so keep that in mind when reading (or clicking outgoing links!).

Oxygen! *Audience laughter*

Posted 25 November 2004

I was thinking about laugh tracks the other day. Every other line is a punchline, and the ones in between are used for set-up. What makes the lines they deliver funny? I remember watching "Blossom" all those years back, and Joey was telling Blossom what a loser she was. They argued over how big of a loser she was, and Joey eventually said that if there was a contest to determine who the biggest loser was, she would come in second. Blossom looked at him quizzically and said "Wouldn't I come in first place?". Joey replied "No, because you're such a loser!" The audience roared with laughter. I did too.

But of course! It's because TV has reduced me to the level of Pavlov's dogs! Where Pavlov rang a bell and the dogs would begin to drool, the TV plays back others' laughter, and I laugh as well. It is because of conditioning that Joey could utter "Whoa!" at least two dozen times each episode, and each time was funnier than the last.

So next time you're watching a sitcom, count how many times the audience laughs, and how many times you laugh. I'm willing to bet that the show isn't as funny as we're trained to believe.