Laugh tracks: The illusion of comedy

The CBS comedy show, “The Big Bang Theory,” uses a laugh track in its episodes. AP Photo/CBS, Michael Yarish
The CBS comedy show, “The Big Bang Theory,” uses a laugh track in its episodes. AP Photo/CBS, Michael Yarish

Laugh tracks are the deathly shrieks that bellow in the background of television sitcoms in an attempt to turn a malignant punch line into something a little more benign.

They are false advertisements, telling the people, “This is good,” when what’s hidden underneath is bad.

Sitcoms with laugh tracks are like teenagers with marijuana. Sure, it seems good at the time — you’re laughing and enjoying yourself. But it’s probably burning brain cells and making you dumber in the long run.

The laugh track, or canned laughter, can be traced back to the 1940s, when radio was the main medium for entertainment and still had its place inside the family room.

Laugh tracks were first used during post-production on radio shows such as “The Cosby Show,” and by the 1950s the laugh track had infected our televisions and the medium has never been the same.

Sure, at the time, the laugh track had its place. TV was just beginning to take off, a live studio audience wasn’t cost effective and networks thought it was necessary to brand a comedy show.

But, like the human brain, television comedy has evolved, and the laugh track is no longer a necessity.

Now, the laugh track acts as less of a complement to a funny quirk or silly punch line and more like an overbearing father-in-law at the dinner table, retelling the story on how he met your mother until it gets syndicated.

The laugh track takes something that is supposed to be as complex as the Big Bang Theory, and turns it into a TV show with dumb jokes for dumb people who think they’re watching smart comedy.

“Have you ever seen ‘The Big Bang Theory’ without the laugh track,” actor and comedian Joe Rogan said. “It’s f — ing confusing, this makes more sense at least, you know when you listen to people not laughing, and you go, well OK, that’s much more likely.”

In today’s TV comedies, the sole purpose of the laugh track is to make poor writing, mixed with lackluster punch lines and mediocre acting into something that is somewhat palatable.

“Nothing drives me crazier, than hearing (laugh tracks.) Even if it’s a live studio audience, I don’t want to hear people laugh. Don’t tell me when to laugh,” Tony Hinchcliffe, writer and stand up comedian, said.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some shows that still use laugh tracks that don’t deserve to get thrown under the bus with the aforementioned sitcom. But many of today’s well-written comedies have unshackled themselves from the primitive chains of an awkwardly placed chuckle and crowd reaction.

Shows like, “The Office” and “Scrubs” have proven over the years that needing a laugh track is laughable, letting the writing speak for itself.

Newer shows like “Parks and Recreation,” “Community” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” also follow in their footsteps, stepping away from the laugh track and letting the viewer choose to laugh at what they deem funny. And shouldn’t that be the case?

Times have changed, and so have the people who watch television, for the most part. I don’t need someone’s generic laugh, snickering in the background as if it validates what I’m watching on TV. If I think it’s funny, I assure you it will pull, without much effort, a genuine giggle out of me.

Laugh track, it is time for you to go the way of “The Johnny Carson Show,” peacefully into the night, never to be seen again.

You are no longer needed to make jokes funnier, awkward stares more awkward and uncomfortable timing any more uncomfortable.