“Where is that laughing coming from?”
Canned laughter, also known as a laugh track, also known as those strange voices I hear in my head repeatedly telling me to burn things is the most clever invention ever in comedy. With its invention in 1867, comedians and comedy writers were free of the terrible burden of having to come up with jokes that were actually funny. But, sometimes, the jokes were punny!
"Why bother coming up with something funny, when you can just tell your audience its funny?" said Thomas Edison when pitching it to comedians in 1866. Audiences also appreciated it because it freed them of the burden of having to actually pay attention. They could now tell it was time to laugh by the mere fact that everyone else in the room was laughing. This is an example of a use of patronising which benefits all concerned. Isn't that lovely? It is, isn't it?
For the purposes of testing the new concept, Edison decided to hire a trained team that consisted of chucklers, gigglers and belly laughers. He then sat them down for a performance of Romeo & Juliet along with a random selection of subjects whom were unaware of the professional laughers spread amongst the audience. Edison found that by cuing the laughing at carefully selected moments which included the murder of Mercutio and the suicide of the leads, the normally depressing show was met with thunderous laughter from everyone in the audience, including the general public.
With this success an entire industry of canned laughter was born, and TV networks especially opted to replace their skilled but expensive comedy writers with these relatively cheap laughing teams.
The laugh track was reinvented in 1950 by Chevy Chase to annoy the TV audiences. He and several other fake actors of the day decided to send away studio audiences, because they feared the audiences would not laugh. And so they created laughter in a can that would last for three decades. They mixed hyena-like, individual, and even cheesy laughs. One contains an old woman cackle, a "wah" laugh, a crab's laugh, and much much more. In the 1970s, the already-annoyed audiences decided to attend televised tapings again because were tired of the shrieking canned laughter, and so they thought Chevy Chase was funny again.
Laughter in cans
Despite the popular belief, "laughter in cans" didn't prove to provide comedians the audience reactions they hoped to get. In contrary, many unwanted sideeffects of "Laughter in cans" were bad for house and dog, so the production and distribution had to be stopped after a short period of trial. In modern times, no further attempts to store laughter in cans were made after this disastrous failure. For future endeavours we suggest that you go in the basement if you have to laugh.