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There is nothing more annoying, more nail-screechingly appalling, than a sitcom laugh-track. I’m not a fan of sitcoms in general—they’re formulaic, predictable, fake-as-heck and just plain boring—but a sitcom with a laugh-track is like a fat-free frozen yogurt “sundae” with carob chips. It was disgusting already. Now it’s repulsive. Did you think I’d be fooled by “delicious morsel” imposters? Did you think I’d be all, “oh wow, this is totally chocolate!” Um, no.
Laughing is supposed to be the reward for a clever joke. It is supposed to be the delightful product of a job well done, erupting organically from an involuntary reaction to something funny or fun, like an amusement park. When a laugh happens, a real laugh, an angel baby gets its fairy wings… or something. A devil fairy gets its baby feet? Whatever, the point is: there ain’t no substitute for actual laughing. Period.
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The first laugh track appeared on the Hank McCune Show in 1950. I can only imagine the television executives being like, “Wait a second… fake laughter? Do you know what this means? We never have to write an actually funny joke again!” It’s like when Hormel invented Spam. In America, we have a long and storied history of replacing perfectly good real things with significantly less good fake versions of those things. It’s big business.
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I can’t watch a show with a laugh track. It doesn’t matter how funny the show is, how much I love the actors or how drunk I am. I tried to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory and, for the first time in my life, I thought Blossom totally sucked. Yeah, I know, Blossom had a laugh track too. See, back when Blossom was popular, I was a kid. It may be hard to believe, but back then I wasn’t as super smart and wise as I am today. I heard a laugh track and I thought, “Oh look, there’s an audience, and they’re laughing.” I probably also thought, “huh, Spam, is that like some kind of chicken?”
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It may be a controversial opinion, but I think it’s good writing, good acting and good old-fashioned showmanship that make a show funny. My favorite comedy shows on television today—The Office and Parks and Recreation—don’t have laugh tracks. They don’t tell me when I’m supposed to crack up and I don’t need them to. The jokes stand alone, proud and tall, monuments to that old-timey, nearly forgotten television art: comedy.