I have a rule about my TV watching. It’s not a particularly strict rule because I break it every week on Mondays at 8pm to watch How I Met Your Mother. But as a general rule, I do not watch television shows with laugh tracks.
There are a few comedy shows that I enjoy. I watch Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, The Office, Community, and have indulged in several Arrested Development marathons in the past.
One common element among those shows is that none of them feature a laugh track. There are two main reasons why I generally can’t handle watching shows with canned laughter.
1. I think I’m smart enough to know when to laugh, and when not to laugh. If a joke’s not funny, I’m not going to laugh at it. If something happens that wasn’t meant to be funny and I think it’s hilarious, I’m going to laugh at it. I don’t need prerecorded laughter to help me along and I’d rather not deal with it, see below.
2. It really takes away from the real comedy of the show. I willingly watch How I Met Your Mother because I think it’s genuinely funny and intelligent (most of the time), but also because the performances aren’t affected by laugh tracks. In other shows, oh let’s say The Big Bang Theory, I find that the laughter is often overwhelming, louder than HIMYM, and lasts longer than necessary. It’s become a part of the show, part of the viewing experience. With HIMYM, I can ignore the laughter pretty easily; it’s in the background. On BBT, it really affects what’s happening on screen.
If you want to see what I’m talking about, watch this clip from Big Bang Theory, with the laugh track removed.
If a show can’t deliver funny comedy without a laugh track to guide the audience, I’m just not interested.
Check out the history of laugh tracks in this Wikipedia article. Did you know that in 2009, of the seven shows nominated for Best Comedy, How I Met Your Mother was the only one that featured a laugh track?
The moral of this story: Neil Patrick Harris really does make everything better.