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Are TV Shows Really Funny?

  1. Jun 3, 2005 #1
    Are TV Shows Really "Funny"?

    Have you noticed that humans can't completely decide on their own if a tv show is funny and that they only think a certain event is funny when the producer of the show cues the live audience to laugh? We hear the fake laughter in the background, and only then we laugh. Now, what if shows like Seinfield and Friends removed the scripted laughter, would we still laugh on our own?

    Is there an evolutionary explanation for this? Humans evolved in small warring tribal groups, and conformity was selected for because less cohesive groups were killed off by more cohesive groups. So, as part of this cohesiveness, perhaps empathy was selected for: before someone laughed at a situation that can be considered a misfortune for a tribal member, they had to look at the faces of the other tribe members to see if they can laugh about it as well. If everyone can laugh, no individual is targeted for extermination for being insensitive.

    So going back to the tv show, a person sees something on tv that is abnormal, but he has no inclination to laugh, unless he hears the fake audience laughter, cueing the viewer that it is okey to laugh without being terminated for being insensitive. All this though I presume would take place unconsciously: the viewer has no conscious awareness of the humor dynamics going on in his brain.

    Finally, is it possible that Hollywood CEOs are aware of this human behavior I am making a hypothesis for, and are dishonestly manipulating it?
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 3, 2005 #2
    I wouldn't say this was decisive, but there does seem to be a groupthink. I remember in Jr. High school english class we were watching a movie, ummm 'The Outsiders' and there was a point were Matt Dillon was shot by the police and he was running away and went to this telephone booth. The class was quiet, but I laughed because I thought Matt was walking funny and perhaps overacting. The second I began to laugh the rest of the class joined in. Later I discovered that the teacher was upset but could not pinpoint who laughed first. She had no sense of humor anyway.

    Peer pressure is a strong force, and not just for teenagers. In this case I'm assuming that the others in the class had already observed what I had perceived as funny, but were unsure of how appropriate it would be to laugh.
  4. Jun 3, 2005 #3
    The Simpsons doesn't have a laugh track, but believe me, I laugh my butt off at that show! If I'm by myself, or with people, either way I laugh out loud. Even if they don't laugh, I don't care. If I'm the only one to laugh, maybe they just didn't get the joke.

    What makes me mad is with the sitcoms that have a live audience or a laugh track, and the laughter is after something that is not funny AT ALL. It's not that I don't get the joke, I can see why the producer thought it might be mildly amusing, I'm just like "YOU SHEEP!! THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" If you pay attention, in real life there is NO WAY people could laugh THAT HARD at some of these jokes, I just don't understand. If I'm sitting in the audience and the light flashes to laugh, I'll just look around and be like "What? Where's the joke?" I wonder if they will kick me out if I don't play along and become an actor myself. It's disturbing that the producers can't make something actually funny, that they have to fabricate the laughter instead. Truly funny material doesn't need a laugh track.
  5. Jun 3, 2005 #4
    I believe laugh tracks were first used in radio back in the early 1940's for shows that were not taped in front a live audience.
    The first sitcoms {I Love Lucy} were also not taped in front of live audiences, so I can see how the cross over happened.
    I have seen some very bad stand up comics, but if one person in the audience laughs, it becomes infectious.
    If you want people to think its funny, que the laughter.
  6. Jun 3, 2005 #5


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    Doesnt work on me much. I can watch friends and probably half of the funny moment (indicated by fake laughter on the sound track) dont even make me grin.
  7. Jun 3, 2005 #6


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    Although "laughter is contagious", just like seeing someone yawn can make you feel like also yawning, hearing laughter does not make me laugh if I do not find it funny and I will laugh if I do find it funny, without a laugh track. I believe this holds true for the majority of people.
  8. Jun 6, 2005 #7
    I highly recommend reading Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Excellent, fascinating book. It looks like there's a summary of some of the book here:


    I don't think the book goes into evolutionary origins of psychology though.

    But anyhow - in answer to one of your questions - given that Cialdini's book is a bestseller, a good number of CEO's, marketers, salespersons, and other business types are aware of the psychology of persuasion, and do indeed take advantage of it.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2005
  9. Jun 7, 2005 #8
    Doesn't work for me, but there definately has to be something to it, otherwise they would get rid of the laugh track. If it didn't influence your opinion then it wouldn't be there. Interesting how I find shows without the laugh track to be funnier than those without. To me anyway the track works opposite to its intent. If the show is trying to make me think something is funny, it probably isn't that funny. If it doesn't need the laugh track I can determine on my own whether it is or isn't.
  10. Jun 19, 2005 #9
    I was closely associated with the TV industry for decades and found that the comedy shows did not use canned laughter as is supposed so much as "canned audiences." What the producers did and do is get people into the studio and watch the episode for free. People would line up hours ahead of time for this. Well before the actors showed up and were ready, they would bring out an audience expert who was a real "live wire." He would come before the audience and get it to clap and laugh on cue with his confidence and evervescence. He animated the audience. When he was through, they would laugh at anything!

    When I see those shows, I cannot laugh. I see these weak-willed men lie, cheat and deceive all the time just to save face when caught lying, cheating or whatever. These "characters" on the shows are sub-humans and the whole concept is to feel better because you, the observer, are not quite that self-degrading. Unfortunately for me, I don't see humor in that and cannot laugh. I just feel contempt and ashamed to be part of the same society!

    When I lived for several years in southeast Asia, I found that people would smile and even laugh when telling about some tragedy. It was cultural, but not really very strange. People who have a hostile undercurrent in their nature actually feel elated inside when the area is hit by a serious storm, or a fire burns down a landmark, or a celebrity dies. This has something to do with why some people are pyromaniacs. Also, it helps explain the popularity of films which deal with the end of the world or the distruction of NewYork and the Statue of Literty and all.

    The reason Asians will laugh as they tell you that, for example, the father just died, is that they want to show they have it under control, that you do not have to take it too seriously, that there is no need for you to express pity (this way, they save face) and that is all also a courtesy to you. After all, just what can one say when one's wife just died. When people offered simpathy in my case, I felt like shooting them because it made me break down. I did not want sympathy. Yet, because of our different culture, I could not laugh as I talked about it. As often, the Asian culture has an advantage.

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