The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Should I Laugh Or Cry

Please, television critics, could you stop using the phrase ‘canned laughter’. I beg you. I implore you. I down-upon-my-knees you.

No comedy shows use canned laughter. It hasn’t been used anywhere since the 1970s (except, apparently, on one recent BBC 3 comedy I shall not name).

What you’re complaining about isn’t ‘canned laughter’. It’s the sound of a live studio audience. Which can be intrusive, it can be over-enthusiastic. But it isn’t canned.

When a television critic talks about canned laughter, they’re betraying their massive ignorance. It’s like not knowing the difference between film and video. Or widescreen and full screen. Or actor and actress. It’s that straightforward, that simple. If critics aren’t capable of getting that right, then who knows what else they are misinformed about?

Some shows need laughter. Imagine QI without a studio audience – there’d be no-one for the comedians to play up to. Some comedy shows need laughter, because they’re telling big belly-laugh-out-loud jokes; others don’t, because they’re doing chuckle-inside beard-stroking wit. Horses for courses.

What critics are objecting to is disproportionate laughter. Which it might very well be. Studio audiences get over-excited, they laugh too much, they laugh in the wrong places, they laugh at the wrong things. The later episodes of Red Dwarf are ruined by an audience of ‘Dwarfers’ who don’t laugh at the jokes but applaud the continuity references.

There is an art to mixing audience laughter. It’s important to take off the laughter when the jokes don’t merit it. It’s important too that the audience should be mixed properly; not too tinny, not too harsh. Just like concert albums, you want some of the ambience of a live show, but not too much.

For more on this subject, I’ll hand you over to Graham Linehan.

1 comment:

  1. What definitely DOES happen, though, is that laughs by the same audience get moved around; say, to match the best take of a gag with the best laugh the gag got. That's not "canned laughter", but it's still cheating, in that you can never be sure that the laughter you hear is spontaneous and "true".

    I'm not entirely sure that critics really think that what we get now is the same as on Happy Days and Scooby-Doo; perhaps they're simply objecting to the artifice on principle? Maybe it's the very fact that the "disproportionate laughs" which should be there, sometimes aren't? Could be they'd argue that "canned laughter" was never rigidly defined, and that it's still as good a term as any for what they're moaning about?

    This, by the way, isn't necessarily me agreeing with them. But I always prefer my avocados devilled.

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