‘Canned laughter’, my least favourite urban myth

October 7, 2008

From a review of ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’ by Leo Benedictus in today’s Guardian: “Mitchell and Webb’s self-doubting Nazis were much improved by the subtraction of canned laughter.”

Let me repeat that. The self-doubting Nazis sketch was improved by the subtraction of canned laughter.

I’m hoping, Leo, you’ve found this page after Googling your name. If so, please pay attention because I am about to let you in on the best-kept secret in town: Like ‘The IT Crowd’, and every other show where you can hear a studio audience laughing, ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ is filmed in front of a real-live studio audience who are actually laughing. Full details here, if you can be arsed clicking the link.

So, to be clear, the laughter you hear is real. Not canned. Real.

The laughter you heard at the Amnesty gig was also real. But you seem to believe that there was something somehow more real about the real laughter at the Amnesty gig than the real laughter on ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’. In fact, you actually thought the sketch was improved by the subtraction of the fake (actually real) laughter and the addition of real laughter (also real).

In other words, the effect was more or less the same (both audiences being real and all), but you thought it really gave that sketch an extra special something, listening to the laughter that was real instead of the laughter that was also real.

Leo, the reason you believe in canned laughter is because you, like many of the people who feel qualified to write about television comedy, have never had the curiosity to actually find out how a comedy show is made. If you had, you would know what everyone in comedy knows, and what everyone who has sat in a studio audience knows…that outside of old Scooby Doo cartoons and the like, there is no such fucking thing as canned laughter.

(P.S And Leo, you are very welcome to come along to the next studio recording of The IT Crowd on Friday night to clear up any confusion you still may have. These people have the full details.)


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