fbpx
29/05/2020 The Communication Science magazine

The Laff box: (Not) a laughing matter

Friends, Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory all have one thing in common: the laugh track. But how did the track come to exist? And how did it get so big?


Friends, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory and even Netflix’s newest show Merry Happy Whatever (2019) all share one thing in common: the laugh track. Loved by few, hated by many and iconic to some. But how did the track come to exist? And how did it get so big? The short answer: a man and a box.

Hollywood’s laughter was kidnapped and held hostage for over a decade, and not a soul outside of tinsel town knew. A single man and a fascinating cross between a type-writer and an organ was all that was necessary to execute the crime. Confused yet? Welcome to a brief deep-dive on a (no) laughing matter: Laugh tracks

Douglass and his creation
Charles Douglass was an American naval engineer, who after working on shipboard radar systems during WWII, became a sound engineer at CBS. It was there, in 1953, where he created one of the most crucial and mysterious items of the late 20th century: The Laff Box (or more formally known as: “audience response duplicator”).

The purpose of this invention was to sweeten reactions from live audiences, create smoother reactions, or strengthen laughter

The purpose of this invention was to sweeten reactions (a term for the addition of audience noises) from live audiences, create smoother reactions, or strengthen laughter where jokes didn’t hit as intended. Additionally, these tracks provided the audience at home with a sense of a communal experience and made them more comfortable when laughing out loud by themselves, encouraging even more laughter.

Trapping laughter: The perfect crime
Douglass spent countless hours categorizing various types of real laughs from live audiences, which he combined with real laughter form actors, and ‘trapped’ these into his ‘box’. His invention – a washing machine looking metal box – consisted of type-writer keys and a foot pedal which controlled the volume of the laughs, to fade the sounds in realistically. This information however, was unknown by most of the world until an episode of Antiques Roadshow in 2010.

The Laff box was patented and handmade by Charles Douglass, and for decades, no one except his immediate family knew exactly how it worked or what the machine even looked like. Douglass worked with producers and took notes of where and how they wanted him to sweeten the sound. He would then wheel his creation into a room and proceed to lock himself in to work his magic.

Finally, in 1960 Douglass hired and trained a sound engineer, Carroll Pratt, to aid in the sweetening industry, and be a part of his company: Northridge Electronics. Producers often requested for a specific sound engineer to ‘laugh’ their show, as each engineer had their own signature laugh track compositions. In fact, one could technically identify the year as well as the engineer who worked on certain shows just by the laugh tracks. Add that to the list of important procrastination activities.

Were shows with laugh tracks funny in the first place, or were we unknowingly manipulated into thinking they were?

Shaping comedy
Douglass’ pre-recorded laughs were initially used sparingly but quickly became a staple of televised comedy. Soon, writers and networks became slaves to canned laughter, producing comedies often written around the tracks, causing awkward rhythms in dialogue. This begged the question: Were shows with laugh tracks funny in the first place, or were we unknowingly manipulated into thinking they were?

The truth is that it depends. Many shows are debatably still hilarious even without the laugh tracks, though it’s hard to not find clips of FRIENDS without canned laughter at least a little unsettling.

The fate of canned laugh
Pre-recorded laughter reigned the television kingdom for decades but the early 2000’s marks the date where laugh tracks began to disappear. Many hit shows including The Office, 30 Rock, or Scrubs, proved that a show can be both funny and successful without canned laughs.

So, what happened? Were networks wrong for over half a century? The answer is unclear. Laugh tracks were well received in the past and there didn’t seem to be much debate about their use for the first 50 years of their existence. The greater appreciation for isolated/individualistic activities of the current society could be to blame. Think about it, you lock yourself in your room alone, put on your earphones to isolate yourself from your surroundings and enjoy another season of a show. We experience it alone, so why have the company of an imaginary audience?

 Cover: Tim Mossholder

Reacties

reacties

Related Posts

An Ode to Us

26/05/2020

26/05/2020

Kyle shares an uplifting reflection on why younger generations should be acknowledged for their effort in fighting against the spread of COVID-19.

Lucifer: Bringer of Divine Epiphanies

21/05/2020

21/05/2020

Andrada dives into the infernal territory as she discusses the meaning behind the show Lucifer.

The Art of Photography in the Days of Corona: Interview with Berk Kır

18/05/2020

18/05/2020

In this article, Melike interviews photographer Berk Kır about his art in the days of corona.

GRLSWIRL: Girls Power Swirls On Four Wheels

18/05/2020

18/05/2020

Cecilia tells all about this revolutionary all-girls skateboarding community GRLSWIRL, that has gone worldwide.

The TikTok Challenges You Should Try Right Now

15/05/2020

15/05/2020

In this article, Hope gives helpful tips on how to entertain yourself with the newest trend, TikTok.

Call Me Maybe

11/05/2020

11/05/2020

Do you remember what it is like to make a phone call? Do you even remember how to make one? Margarete refreshes your memory and gives some practical advice to keep in touch the primal way.

Visualizing the Unseen: An Interview with Shivani Bharadwaj

10/05/2020

10/05/2020

The story of a powerful woman; Shivani Bharadwaj, and how she manages to light a hope in her dearest student's life with the help of arts.

Talk Show Hosts Fighting a Lonely Audience-less Battle in Quarantined Homes

10/05/2020

10/05/2020

The big Late Night Talk show hosts had to shift their programs to their private homes. Medium explains how they struggle but also succeed with the absence of live audiences.

Confettiregen: het boek waarvan je hoopt dat iedereen het zal lezen

08/05/2020

08/05/2020

Confettiregen is het nieuwe boek van Splinter Chabot waarin hij vertelt over zijn eigen coming-out. Loïs vertelt over het boek en hoopt dat iedereen het gaat lezen.

Quarantine Photocolumn Special #1: Work Stations

06/05/2020

06/05/2020

For Medium Magazine's first collaborative photocolumn, the theme is work stations. As students are working and doing their coursework from home during the pandemic, they have to make use of what is available to them. Writers, editors and the editorial board (who recently won the Medium Pub quiz), all pitch in to show where their work stations at home.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Activism

05/05/2020

05/05/2020

This article explores the positive side of Fandoms, specifically The Harry Potter Alliance. By asking themselves, ‘What would Albus do?’ Harry Potter fans are making a difference.

Backstage Interview With Gilda Bruno

03/05/2020

03/05/2020

Gilda, former Audiovisuals Chief for Medium, shares her experience on what it has been like to work for DAZED Media as part of her internship placement.

15 stages of a short-lived relationship according to ‘Dedicated’

02/05/2020

02/05/2020

A year after its release, Danny takes another look at Carly Rae Jepsen's vivacious album 'Dedicated', which covers a truly recognizable lovestory.

Digital Proctoring: A New Era in Student Surveillance

01/05/2020

01/05/2020

The shift to online education has changed the learning experience of students from all academic levels. As higher-education institutions insist on maintaining exam evaluations, this calls for digital proctoring. Although digital proctoring may not sound menacing, Karina delves into its implications and potential privacy breaches.

The War Zone of K-Pop Twitter

01/05/2020

01/05/2020

While many enjoy Korean Pop only for the music, the fans on Twitter seem to focus on everything else. Emma provides an outline of the latest K-Pop drama.

mersin escort mersin escort mersin escort canlı tv konya escort
mersin escort