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rpm_pseud0name's avatar

Sitcoms: Have laugh tracks, we at home laugh a little... yet the actors never laugh. Why?

Asked by rpm_pseud0name (8193points) July 6th, 2010

In sitcoms, when a character says something funny, the other characters don’t even acknowledge the joke, yet the ‘audience’ is roaring with laughter. When the actors laugh, it’s considered a cut & added to the gag reel. Wouldn’t the actors laughing add a sense of realism & familiarity to the situation(comedy)? What world do they think we live in, where when a friend says something funny…we don’t laugh? Anyone else bother by this, just a little?

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23 Answers

kenmc's avatar

It’s fake, dude. It’s all fake.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

@boots How is humor fake? The ‘situation’ may be fake.. but the comedy is not.

kenmc's avatar

@rpmpseudonym Not the humor, the shows. You’re examining too hard.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

I think you may be missing my point. If I tell a good joke, people laugh. It’s a natural response. TV may be ‘fake’ in regards to what is happening, but the concept of laughter is not fake in tv land or in reality. For sitcoms, the very name coming from situation comedy.. .to completely ignore the concept of laughter is just baffling. I was just wondering if there was reason behind it, because sitcoms, since the beginning, have always ignored the idea of laughter.

jazmina88's avatar

They (actors) have heard the script a million times, they are waiting for audience to respond.
Even if the fake stuff has to start it.
It takes a fabulous actor to fake laugh, probably harder than the crying bit.

kenmc's avatar

@rpmpseudonym I totally get your point. But you must remember, it’s all fake. It’s not you telling a joke, its a bunch of actors reciting a script. A completely inorganic situation.

cfrydj's avatar

Watch Curb Your Enthusiasm instead of whatever terrible sitcoms still have laugh tracks.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

@boots Then give me inorganic laughter. :) It just feels awkward to have a joke told, followed by silence…that is more inorganic than if the actors fake laughed.

@cfrydj I can’t stand Larry David humor, sorry. The only sitcom I watch with a laugh track is How I Met Your Mother. So no harping on it. :) The other sitcoms I watch, like Modern Family, don’t have laugh tracks, which is a relief.

tranquilsea's avatar

We are currently watching, “Yes Prime Minister”. The laugh track is appalling and distracting though the stories are well written and acted…and funny.

El_Cadejo's avatar

laugh tracks are the easiest way to ruin a show that could have been great

One sitcom i can think of where you could tell the actors are laughing at the jokes is News Radio. That show is fucking hilarious and you can tell sometimes the actors are trying desperately to hold back some big laughs to be able to deliver the next line.

andrew's avatar

Comedies aren’t about being real (of course, neither is drama, really). They’re about being funny. It’s not funny when the actors laugh.

OR: It’s the same reason the characters don’t hear the soundtrack of a movie.

unused_bagels's avatar

The actors know their lines and aren’t as amused by them as we are due to repetition.

However, I’ve always enjoyed comedians and sitcoms more when they laugh at their own crap, genuinely, no matter how often they’ve memorized them. Watch Eddie Izzard. He laughs at his own preposterousness a lot, and it makes him very relateable (even if he is a transvestite). So does Stephen Colbert.

JLeslie's avatar

Every once in a while they do come out of character and laugh, and that can be pretty hysterical. But, the reason they don’t laugh is because the comedy that makes the audience laugh is that the characters on the sitcom think what they do is normal. Not that the actors think it is normal, but the character they are playing.

gemiwing's avatar

I think it harkens back to vaudeville acts. You need a ‘straight man’ to have the funny guy’s stuff bounce off of. If the other actors laugh then they’re no longer the straight man- it’s akin to breaking the fourth wall.

if you don’t know much about acting/shows/plays that looks like a bunch of gibberish. haha

In sitcoms anyone who isn’t telling the joke is the straight man. Like in How I Met Your Mother- NPH is the funny guy and everyone else (even the doofus character) is the straight man in that segment. Later, if someone else makes the joke- the others take the straight man part.

Other shows don’t have this enamorative relationship with the SG/FG dynamic. Take improv shows, if one says something funny then most of the time the others will laugh. Panel shows also rely on several FG’s and the moderator is the SG.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

@andrew “It’s not funny when the actors laugh.” Thats subjective…I love when actors fight back the laughter. “Comedies aren’t about being real… They’re about being funny.” Funny is real. It’s one of the few ‘universal languages’.
“It’s the same reason the characters don’t hear the soundtrack of a movie.” It’s a comparison like that, that still leads me to believe some people may not be understanding my question. A soundtrack is not natural. That is a man created element that is pasted onto the show at a later time. I’m talking about laughter. A basic human emotion that is prevalent anywhere there is at least one human being & 1 comedic situation. To make laughter not exist on a sitcom, is like having the characters never eat or sneeze or cry. Wouldn’t it just feel weird, if a character told another, “You dad died in a car accident.” & the other character did nothing & waited for us to dry our tears?

@gemiwing I’m not sure having someone laugh at something funny is really apart of taking down the fourth wall. Because it is still a laugh that exists within the situation & contained within their world. If Barney tells a joke on HIMYM & Robin laughs, that in no way disrupts the dynamic of the show or their reality, nor does it reach into my reality. Now if Robin laughed & gave a quick shot to the camera, then yes consider the 4th wall shattered.
I think you may be right though on the fact that if a joke doesn’t ‘bounce’ off of the straight man, maybe we wouldn’t find it as funny. If the straight man laughed, maybe the joke is somehow absorbed & we wouldn’t feel the need to laugh or find it as funny.

I wonder who made the decision to make sitcoms with characters who don’t laugh at jokes?

gemiwing's avatar

@rpmpseudonym I agree that it doesn’t break the fourth wall to me- but that someone once made that decision and it stuck, possibly because of that reason. I’m not sure who was the one to decide that laughter was ‘wrong’ somehow in the sitcom. I wonder if it also has to do with sitcom’s radio roots. Perhaps on the radio you couldn’t have laughter because of the microphones or some such and it just carried over into the early sitcoms.

There is a really great episode of this PBS series called Make Em Laugh that’s all about sitcoms. It was a great episode and maybe you’d enjoy it. Link There’s a little video there and some interesting history.

downtide's avatar

I’ve seen out-takes of some shows and films where they had to cut because the actors were laughing at each others’ (or their own) jokes. But I guess when you’ve done rehearsals and a few dozen takes, the jokes stop being funny any more.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I like this question. GQ. I, too, find laugh tracks annoying and distracting. Watch Seinfeld and you will see the reason they don’t laugh. Usually the characters are supposed to be so wrapped up wrapped in the petty siiotuation they do not see they are funny. Sure, they will laugh when Kramer does something ridiculous, but when Elaine is calling a guy “sponge worthy” she is serious. We find it funny . She is merely stating a fact.
Jerry offers to tell George’s mother a joke. She says in her sqeaky voice, “Nah. Not interested.” Perfectly straight face.
George’s parents argue over nothing. “Do you want to coffee, or tea?” “Coffee.” “What’s wrong with tea?” They are arguing but we find it funny because we see there is no point.
It is supposed to be their life. I’m sitting here in my tighty whities typing. I’m not laughing but if you could see me now, you would.

JLeslie's avatar

I think @gemiwing gave a good explanation I think it harkens back to vaudeville acts. You need a ‘straight man’ to have the funny guy’s stuff bounce off of. If the other actors laugh then they’re no longer the straight man- it’s akin to breaking the fourth wall. Exactly. It is akin to what I meant, I think the sitcom is building on this idea. I also think about how Jerry Seinfeld used to say something along the lines of funny things happen to him every day, or that he sees humor in things every day, can’t remember exactly. For the people portrayed in the sitcom their normal every day is funny. I guess the goal is for it not to seem like they are trying to make you laugh. And, I think it has to do with comedic timing. They may pause, or make a face, or two of them might look at each other when a third is doing something ridiculous. Letting the audience know they know it is over the top also. It seems to work.

The funniest man I know just says stuff that is funny. It does not seem like he is trying to be funny at all. His wife almost never laughs at his jokes, or is telling him to stop it, haha. Every time my family visits them we are in hysterics. Spending time with them is like watching a sitcom.

Samantha5355's avatar

I think people play comedy too straight, because doing so is trendy right now. Actors are always talking about how they have to play drama and comedy in the same way, and not give the audience the impression that they find the material funny.

I agree with you; I think playing things so straight is unrealistic and unnaturally grim, too, at times. It’s also a little pretentious: “Look at me, elevating the material!”

Speaking of sit-coms, have you ever noticed that when you catch a re-run of an old sit-com, it’s always the same episode? I never watched “Friends” during its run, so I tried to catch up in re-runs. However, whenever I tune in, the gang is in Vegas, getting married. It’s like “Groundhog Day”! And whenever I try to watch “Home Improvement,” the wife is complaining about something and whining, “Tee-yum! Tee-yum!” (Oh, wait. That was every episode.)

JLeslie's avatar

@Samantha5355 Unnaturally grim? Pretentious? Why?

aprilsimnel's avatar

The actors cannot break the ”fourth wall”. You, the viewer, are looking in on a fake world where everything the actors say and do are guided by the show’s own internal logic, so the actors, in character, wouldn’t know you were there.

Now in real life, on TV, they have to stop the camera all the time because the actors will laugh at some jokes and break character.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

@gemiwing I have already seen that entire series & loved it. But thanks for the heads up… I can now trust any other recommendation you throw my way. :)

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