Life Had a Laff Track
by Mad Dog
Television is the
only medium that uses laugh tracks. Movies don’t have them. Newspapers
don’t tell you to [insert laugh here] when you read the comics
page, though judging by most of them it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
||Lets have a moment of
silence for Charles Douglass, the man who invented the Laff Box. Hey,
quit giggling! He died on April 8th after almost 50 years of adding
laughter, titters, chortles, guffaws, and other unreal audience
reactions to TV shows that its creators thought were being watched by
people so stupid they wouldn’t know when to laugh unless prompted. Of
course it’s also possible they’ve been adding them because they know
how absent the humor is and figure that if they don’t add laughs the
audience probably won’t either. Feel free to chuckle or groan now.
Don’t take it personally, they
don’t think the studio audience is any smarter than you, the home
viewer. If you’ve ever gone to the taping of a TV show you’ve seen
the signs which light up and sitcom star wannabes who cue the audience
when it’s time to laugh or applaud. God help us if we were left to our
own devices. See, we get confused easily, like the audiences on late
night talk shows where the latest trend is not to laugh at jokes, but
rather to applaud them. “It’s not funny enough to laugh at, but we
appreciate the fact that you’re helping the economy by keeping that
writer off the unemployment lines, not to mention out from behind the
counter at our local 7-11 where we’d have to watch him snap his jaws
loudly every time we ask for a Big Bite.”
Television is the only medium that
uses laugh tracks. Movies don’t have them. Newspapers don’t tell you
to [insert laugh here] when you read the comics page, though
judging by most of them it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Humorous books
don’t use laugh tracks, nor are they included with the books on tape
versions. Audio guides in museums don’t have them either, not even
when you find yourself standing in front of a canvas that looks
remarkably like the drawings on your refrigerator which your
artistically challenged 3-year-old niece did, probably because they
assume that in this case you’ll have no problem supplying your own
feel good if when you remembered to put the toilet seat down or replaced
the cap on the toothpaste without having to be reminded there was
There is one place where a laugh track would be a nice addition,
and that’s everyday life. And why not? If six Academy Awards can be
handed to a movie in which people burst into song and dance anyplace and
anytime—at least if they’re in Chicago—why couldn’t there be
giggles, laughter, and applause accompanying us every day? Wouldn’t
you feel good if when you remembered to put the toilet seat down or
replaced the cap on the toothpaste without having to be reminded there
was applause? How about if whenever you stuck your tongue out at your
boss you heard tittering until he or she turned to look and then it
would stop just as you pulled your tongue back in? Think about this:
real life laugh tracks would mean not having to listen to Congress
applaud every fourth word during the State of the Union address since
even the most heavy-handed Laff Box technician wouldn’t dream of
overusing an effect that much when there was obviously no reason for it.
Aside from making life lighter, more
fun, and more like the TV sitcom we all wish we were a part of, we’d
feel much better knowing that we’re laughing at the right moments.
After all, nothing’s more awkward than hearing someone say, “No,
I’m serious” after you burst out laughing at the story of their
grandmother becoming Chipmunk Chow after pilfering acorns from a tree in
the back yard because Martha said the best wooden spoons came from oak
you grew from scratch.
truth is, it’s not always easy to tell when people are trying to be
funny. You can take a cue from those who laugh at their own jokes,
except that’s a dead giveaway that they never say anything funny. Then
there are those who are so deadpan you don’t know whether they’re
kidding or not. They say something, then stare, daring you to laugh. You
know that if you laugh they’ll ask what’s so funny because they were
serious, yet if you don’t they‘ll say, “Hey, I’m kidding around,
don’t you have a sense of humor?” This is what’s known as a no-win
situation, much like being asked, “Does this make my butt look big?”
or “Does my stomach poking out of the gaps between the buttons on my
shirt remind you of Britney?” There are definitely times when being a
deaf mute has its advantages.
Emailing a laugh track as an attachment would be much more
effective. It wouldn’t be so cutesy, would clue the person in as to
whether you’re being sarcastic (groan), cute (awwww),
clever (ohhhh!), or just a real laff riot.
|| Laugh tracks
would also be good in emails, which are notorious for being
misunderstood since there’s no body language to help interpret the
intended meaning. In real life people smile, raise their eyebrows,
grimace, and stick their finger down their throat to help you understand
their intentions. Actually, many of us do the same thing when sending
emails, but the receiving party doesn’t see it so all it does is
remind those in the office who signed your commitment papers that they
made the right decision.
That’s why emoticons were invented.
They’re the goofy symbols comprised of punctuation marks people pepper
through their emails which are supposed to look like a smile, a frown,
and Macaulay Culkin doing his Home Alone look, though no matter how you turn
your head or tilt the monitor they still look like the cat’s been
walking on the keyboard again. Emailing a laugh track as an attachment
would be much more effective. It wouldn’t be so cutesy, would clue the
person in as to whether you’re being sarcastic (groan), cute (awwww),
clever (ohhhh!), or just a real laff riot. Best of all, a flood
of email laugh tracks would clog up the Internet so much that there
wouldn’t be enough bandwidth left for all that spam to get through to
Hey, that was a joke. Hmmmmm…..come
to think of it, maybe having laugh tracks in print isn’t such a bad
idea after all.
©2003 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read them and laugh, or we'll be forced to add a laff track.