« What's on my desk? | Main | My worst script »

July 25, 2006



Ken,I think shows like the Simpsons that are laugh out loud also contributed to today's non-laugh track shows.


I don't mind laugh tracks when they're used correctly (such as in live-audience shows, and not using laughter recorded in 1956). Good laugh tracks are like good umpires; you don't notice their presence. What irks me are the holier-than-thou crowd who don't want laugh tracks on any sitcom, as if it's beneath them. That's generational snobbery.


This post has been removed by a blog administrator.


Hey Ken,"Longtime reader, first time writer," (Always wanted to write/say that, sorry."Did your hear about the passing of Makoto Iwamatsu recently. Knowing how you are a MASH scribe was wondering if you have any stories about him.From TVSQUAD.com"Mako almost always played either the general, the authoritarian, the soldier, or the wise old sage. Heck, I think he played all four roles on M*A*S*H alone (he played four different guest roles during the series' 11-year run).""I'll take my answer off-line," (Again, sorry couldn't help myself.)


//don't mind laugh tracks when they're used correctly (such as in live-audience shows, and not using laughter recorded in 1956). Good laugh tracks are like good umpires; you don't notice their presence.//I agree with VP.Also, what amused/irked me about the M*A*S*H laugh track specifically was how it would always, without fail, crack up uncontrollably whenever Klinger was revealed to be wearing a dress. Oh, that wacky Klinger and his completely unforseeable antics!


Yeah, but it's a guy in a dress. Don't you see ? Always absolutely hysterical. Always.(reminds me of the round of applause some characters would get when they walked onto the stage in e.g. 'Happy Days'. Riiight. Cos they've never ever done that before)Totally agree with Ken though.We watched MASH as a family without fail on its first run on the BBC (which played it without the laugh track). Absolutely classic show, brilliantly funny, incredibly poignant, just top drawer all the way.Years later I find the show absolutely unwatchable with the track and (happily for Ken if he still gets royalties ;) despite it being repeated regularly on various satellite and cable channels, will probably eventually buy the DVD sets just so I can watch it in peace.

poor man

As a child of the 70's/80's I had the good (?) fortune of being a latch-key kid, babysat by the TV until my folks came home. That said, I recognize individual laughs on the laugh tracks. Odd? Sad? Yes.There is one laugh on the classic laugh track indelibly marked onto my brain. It sticks out, head and shoulders above the others. I think I've heard him on M*A*S*H, but I KNOW I've heard him on The Brady Bunch. He's generally at the end of the laugh beat, so his distinctive sound is out there, on it's own. The best way to describe this laugh is: a man-squirrel who guffaws upward.Yeah, I know that's real helpful.

Mr. Hollywood

Once wrote a TV variety show and I would sit in the control booth during the sketches. This one sketch played very well...great laughs, etc. But when we cut, one of the producers came to me and told me to re-write the piece, it bombed. I told him it played so well and he told me there wasn't a sound in the audience. What I was hearing was the laugh track in the booth..they were sweetening as we went! That's my peronal stroy of dealing with a laugh track.

Emily Blake

The laughs always end up being so out of proportion to what's really funny, and now that I've been in a studio audience I see why.They expect and encourage you to laugh so much and on so many takes that after a while you can't remember what funny is anymore and you just start laughing at everything. Guy in a dress? I guess they meant it to be funny, so I'd better guffaw like a lunatic. That's what warm-up guy says, anyway.Plus, he gives out prizes for the most enthusiastic laugh. I busted my gut on some unfinny jokes at a taping of Crumbs in an attempt to win a copy of The Princess Bride signed by Fred Savage. I was beaten out by the teenage girls and their incessant squealing.


To me, the laugh track changed my perception of some of the dialog. In particular, Hawkeye's humor always seemed more bitter and defensive during the OR scenes.


"One final note: On CHEERS and FRASIER we used recorded laughs from our own shows."That may be so, Ken, but ALL the Paramount sitcoms from the 1980s onward (CHEERS, TORTELLIS, WINGS, FRASIER) used the original Charley Douglass machine tracks that do indeed contain laughs dating back to the late 50s and early 60s. Listen to the "gasp" when Sam agrees to marry Diane at the end of the courtroom episode. It's the same gasp heard when the Beav did something wrong on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and, oddly enough, when Ken Jennings finally lost on JEOPARDY!.


The laugh track on Bewitched always bothered me because a) The show was never that funny. (The original) Darren would angrily bark "Sam!" and Sam would shrug, and say, "well..." and the audience would be in hysterics.b) The audience would laugh at things and people appearing and disappearing. I could never figure out how an audience could laugh at a camera trick.(What was really sad was the laugh track on the painfully unfunny sequel "Tabitha.")And I really want to watch the show the audience for "Two and a Half Men" were watching.

Will Teullive

Poorman, I from the same demo as you and I remember that same laughing dude. He was out of step with the rest of the laughs and way over the top. I recall him on shows like the "Brady Bunch", "Gilligan's Island", "The Partridge Family".There should been an Emmy category dedicated to him. And the "Most Grating Fake Guffaw" goes to..


Here in Spain the public channel has decided to skip putting in the laughing in the dubbing process. I can tell you you don't want to listen to a live audience show without a laughing track.


The first season of "The Odd Couple" was a three-camera show with the normal Desilu/Paramount canned laugh track. But both Tony Randall and Jack Klugman hated it so much they were able to get Paramount and ABC to experiment with one episode where the laugh track was left out (the one where Oscar takes a job at a Playboy-like magazine, if you're keeping track).Problem was, it wasn't a very funny episode (a problem shared by most of the show's first season episodes), and the dead slience made some of the flat jokes even more noticable. So completely eliminating the laugh track can expose the unfunnyness of a bad episode -- or a bad show overall -- for all to see (Though in the case of TOC, Jack and Tony's efforts did help to get the show coverted to the three camera/studio audience format in 1971, and both the actors performances and the scripts themselves improved tremendously when they performed the material in front of a live studio audience).

The comments to this entry are closed.


    Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS. Ken has also been the radio/TV play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres.
Powered by TypePad