What’s up with laugh tracks?

Ever since MASH popularized the laugh track on major television comedies TV audiences have been divided. Some find the canned laughter obnoxious, an insulting way to lubricate the audience at home into cracking up at jokes they might not otherwise find funny. Shows from Cheers and Frasier have used the method and TV behemoths like Two and a Half Men still do.

Seinfeld audience numbers were exploding by the fourth season of the show. One of the most popular bits was (and still is) Kramer’s famous entrance into Jerry’s apartment. During the “Inside Look” interviews released on the Seinfeld DVDs years later the cast said they had to eventually request the audience no burst into applause every time came through the door. Here’s an example why, from The Virgin.

The question in 2012 is whether the laugh track is necessary anymore. Modern Family, The Office and others have risen to the top of TV Guide by letting awkward dialog simmer. Sometimes the jokes aren’t even funny until later. But why fix what isn’t broken? The Big Bang Theory, in particular, has been criticized as a generally bland show that needs a laugh track to get audiences laughing. Here it is without a laugh track, awkward silences and all.

Then, just because YouTube is such an awesome wormhole, there are fans that have applied laugh track to serious shows like The Wire.

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