fbpx
06/08/2020 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

Teenage Girls in the Army: A Closer Look at the Fictional Country of Ravka

04/08/2020

04/08/2020

Fictional young girls and boys are fighting together in the army for their country Ravka. Danny explains why literature sets an example for equality in the military.

Folklore: Taylor Swift At Her Best While The World Is At Its Worst

01/08/2020

01/08/2020

Emma uses her Swiftie superpowers to unveil what’s hidden behind Taylor Swift's new album "folklore"

How Internet COVID-19 Face Mask Memes Tackle Skeptics in the Digital Age

30/07/2020

30/07/2020

In this article, Quynh talks about COVID-19 face mask memes. Are they just entertainment or do they also raise awareness?

The Secret Way to Good Grades – But One That Everyone Uses

29/07/2020

29/07/2020

Ritalin seems like the secret way to get a good grade when there is not enough time and too much workload. Jorrit explains why especially Communication Science students are keen to try it.

Delayed

24/07/2020

24/07/2020

In this article, Margarete dives into why Hollywood movie studios delayed the release dates of blockbusters, including Christopher Nolan's newest creation "Tenet."

Jemen: De grootste humanitaire crisis ter wereld die niet vergeten mag worden

18/07/2020

18/07/2020

Onze schrijver Elsa vertelt alles over de oorlog in Jemen die maar niet de nodige aandacht krijgt, en hoe jij kan helpen.

FSR-FMGxMEDIUM: Goodbye council of 2019/2020!

14/07/2020 and

14/07/2020

Together with the members of the FSR-FMG of 2019/2020 Medium is looking back on working together, teambuilding, learning new things and other memories at the end of the member's acedemic year.

Why We Should Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’

13/07/2020

13/07/2020

What does it mean to get cancelled these days? Emma explains the downfall of cancel culture and why it should get cancelled.

Is Hamilton Getting #Cancelled?

09/07/2020

09/07/2020

In this article, Rita writes about the in-demand musical Hamilton and the criticism it receives.

FSR-FMGxMEDIUM: File Update

30/06/2020

30/06/2020

This academic year has ended and so has the term of the current student council. In this article, Medium gives you an insight into the FSR-FMG’s achievements of this year.

Netflix’s “Queer Eye” Season 5 Review: Spreading Human Connection in Lonely Times

30/06/2020

30/06/2020

Quynh reviews the latest season of the Netflix Original 'Queer Eye'. This season continues the sociopolitical crusade of the Fab 5 in Philidelphia.

Movie theatres: Safely “escaping” 2020

23/06/2020

23/06/2020

What better way to escape the anxieties this year has brought us than by getting lost in a good movie? This article provides you with a list of Amsterdam's must visit movie theaters, for the ultimate escape from reality.

Usage of Surveillance Drones Over Black Lives Matter Protests in the USA

19/06/2020

19/06/2020

The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, sparked Black Lives Matter protests all over the U.S. Five years after BLM protests were calling for justice after the murder of Freddie Gray, the U.S. government has resorted to drone surveillance as it did in 2015. However, the questions remain, what are they watching?, why are they watching? and what happens to protesters' data in the footage?

“Er komt een tijd dat stilte verraad is”

18/06/2020

18/06/2020

Na de dood van George Floyd is de wereld gezamenlijk opgestaan om racisme te bestrijden. Elsa schrijft in dit artikel over drie acties die je kan ondernemen om wit privilege en racisme beter te begrijpen en zo je steentje kan bijdragen voor een betere wereld.

The Pros And Cons Of Studying Online

17/06/2020

17/06/2020

Online-learning continues throughout next semester of the UvA. Andrada tells us what this means for the quality of academic education.

bayan escort escort bayan mersin escort bayan escort brazzers tecavüz porno altyazili porno porno hikayeleri turbanlı porno escort bayan bayan escort escort bayan
mersin escort