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Q: Laugh Tracks on TV ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Laugh Tracks on TV
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Television
Asked by: sufer-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 11 Jul 2005 19:45 PDT
Expires: 10 Aug 2005 19:45 PDT
Question ID: 542436
I heard somewhere that all (or at least most) of the laugh tracks used
on television today came from one show several decades ago. Is this
true? If so, what show? $10 tip to the researcher who can answer this
one for me.
Subject: Re: Laugh Tracks on TV
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Jul 2005 20:17 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Much of the "canned laughter" used on the soundtracks of sitcoms is
said to have come from tapes that were originally recorded during
broadcasts of "The Red Skelton Show" in the late 1950s and early '60s.
It is eerie to realize that when we encounter a laugh track (or
"sweetening") in a recent show, some of the people we hear laughing
may have been dead for decades. Yet their guffaws go on forever.

"For half a century, TV sitcoms have been seasoned with artificial
bursts of laughter and applause. It all goes back to 1953 when the
Laff Box was invented to beef up anemic reactions from live audiences
or when a show was taped without a live audience. The inventor of the
Laff Box, Charles Douglass, recently passed away at the age of 93...

According to legend, much of the laughter in Charlie's Box came from
the Red Skelton Show. Since Red Skelton also did pantomimes, it was
easy for Charlie to get nice, clean recordings of laughter and
applause without disturbing dialogue."

On the Media: Laff Box Redux

"[Charlie] Douglass built the Laff Box, a machine that could mix
several tape loops of laughter into a single laugh track that sounded
real... The remarkable thing was that Douglass could use his Laff Box
to tailor the laughs to fit any mood: he could give you titters, male
laughs, female laughs, gasps. He could even throw in a lone 'wacky
laugh' here and there to make it sound spontaneous.

Douglass' Laff Box worked so well, he was able to start his own
company, Northridge Electronics, that has provided laugh tracks to the
networks for a half century.

Where did the laughs come from? TV history is fuzzy on that point, but
it is believed Douglass recorded his laugh tapes at Red Skelton mime
sketches so no dialogue would interfere with the laughter."

Cached copy from The Albuquerque Journal: Early TV Laughed on Cue

"Almost all of the laugh tracks... on TV situation comedies were
originally recorded in the late 1950's and early 1960's in the
audience of the Red Skelton Show. His famously hilarious 'Freddy the
Freeloader' pantomime sketches provided a perfect tape of laughs from
the audience without any other sounds; this tape has been used to
'sweeten' laugh tracks, even on shows with live audiences, ever

Worsley School Online: Strange Facts

"The dubious legacy of Charles Douglass, who has died in California
aged 93, was television's canned laughter, the artificial merriment
that greets even the lamest sallies on television sitcoms.

The device he called the Laff Box has been controversial during its
half-century of existence. Many a producer has blessed its ability to
pace the humour of a show where a studio audience would not laugh at
the right moment - or not laugh at all - while others have condemned
its falsity and removed it entirely.

But most accept that it changed comedy.

Douglass produced his device in 1953 while working as a sound engineer
for live TV shows. At first the Laff Box, essentially a series of
audio-tape loops controlled by a sound editor, was used only to fill
gaps in the sound of early TV shows in which scenes were reshot after
the studio audience had left.

The original laughter is said to have been taken from an episode of
the popular Red Skelton Show in which Skelton had been miming, so no
words got in the way. Soon Douglass had created an immense complexity
of laughter variations for producers to orchestrate." Real tears for the man who put laughter in a can

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "laugh track OR tracks" OR "canned laughter" "red skelton"

I hope this is helpful. If anything is unclear or incomplete, please
request clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance before
you rate my answer.

Best regards,
sufer-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
How interesting! Although I am still wondering whether we are hearing
the exact same laughter from the 1950s since technology has changed so
much. Anyways, your answer is very useful and worthy of your tip. By
the way, how long did it take you  to find all this information?

Subject: Re: Laugh Tracks on TV
From: platonist1-ga on 12 Jul 2005 06:09 PDT
Graham Linehan is one of the creators of Father Ted, a hugely
successful sitcom in the UK; and an active writer on comedy and TV In
this article:
he suggests laughter tracks are not used. I dunno, maybe that just
applies to the UK. Hope this useful.
Subject: Re: Laugh Tracks on TV
From: pinkfreud-ga on 12 Jul 2005 14:14 PDT
Thank you very much for the generous tip. 

Regarding the length of time it took me to locate this information, I
spent about 30 minutes finding online reference sources. I had a head
start, since I was aware that "The Red Skelton Show" was well-known as
a primary source for laugh tracks. I learned this many years ago from
a college chum who worked for a major television network.

There are rumors that highly processed digitally-synthesized laughter
is used in some of the "sweetening" being done today (even on shows
which have live audiences). Proving this would take some very
sophisticated audio analysis, and I doubt that such proof is
forthcoming, but it's an interesting rumor.

Subject: Re: Laugh Tracks on TV
From: teachernz2-ga on 16 Jul 2005 07:21 PDT
In the 70s MASH was shown in the UK (BBC2) without a laughter track.

"It seems that the original US transmission of this series went out
with a laughter track which BBC2 felt wasn?t required for UK
transmission. The non-laughter track is set as standard, which is just
as well as the laughter track just doesn?t sit very well in my
opinion. There is an urban legend that one night BBC2 forgot to remove
the laughter track and this led to an unprecedented number of

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