The Big Bang Theory's Laugh Track

i don’t usually notice laugh tracks. i did notice though, that TBBT is often mentioned as having a laugh track and someone would chime in that it is filmed in front of a live audience.

now it would not be surprising that there would be some editing involved, but i happened to watch some bloopers after a regular episode and it hit me how different the laughter was. the ones in the episode were kinda homogeneous and controlled, while the ones in the bloopers were less so. either way, they were both less organic as the ones in the Late, Late Show for example.

i can’t be sure, but i think most of TBBT’s laughter are the same, live or not. on the other hand, maybe all audience laughter will sound the same after a while, or something. what do you think?

eta: someone compiled Sheldon’s knock knock knocks on youtube and you can compare the laughter from different episodes -

What you hear and what the audience does are two very different things.

E.g., Mrs. FtG was walking thru the room while I was watching and right away noticed that they used the same burst of laughter 3 times in a row. I rewound and checked, she was right. And she doesn’t notice much of anything like that. It is just that obvious.

An even better tale of how very different real laughter is from what they add on is the Call Me Maybe stunt. Notice how uneven and scattered the audience reaction is. Not a lot of that classic rapid build up and fade out of what they dub in.

Lot’s of things to notice in the show:

E.g., when Sheldon saw himself as Gollum in the mirror. The audience didn’t start laughing until the camera pulled out. Then big laughter. The audience would have seen him walking around the set in the get up.

Lot’s of stuff like that. The camera pulling back when Sheldon turns off the light and his goldfish is glowing. Raj was sitting on the floor with someone, the camera pulls back and shows that the other person is gone, leaving Raj alone and surprised. (They have done something like this several times.) A real audience would have laughed as the person was leaving.

While audience views are crappy at tapings, and watching the monitors is a good idea, you can tell if someone is coming or going and what they look like.

Also, once in a while a scene is taped outside the studio. E.g., Sheldon on the back of Howard’s motorcycle and other street scenes. Somehow there’s an audience around to laugh at those live.

Plus they shift stuff around during transitions. E.g., there is only one stairwell set. When they do the walking up stairs scenes, they tape one floor, change the setup, tape the next floor, etc. But you routinely get parts where a joke is told, the audience starts laughing, they actors disappear around the corner, continue talking, laughter continues, they reappear. That laughter could have only been from one take, not both.

But all of this doesn’t matter. The real problem is that it is just plain annoying and then some. Fake or real, it is awful. It would be a much more enjoyable show without it.

We were in the audience once, a few years ago. There was one particularly hilarious bit, and the audience howled. Then the did a retake, and the in-charge-guy said that we should try to pretend it was the first time we were seeing. Somewhere around the fourth retake, the laughter could not possibly have been as spontaneous as it was the first time… and would have sounded pretty forced. Yet the gag was a stitch, and deserved the first-take laughter. I have no idea what they did, of course, because it was many weeks (months?) before we saw the episode aired.

Quite. Something else that makes the faked up laughs even more pronounced is that some broadcasts are censored. I guess if they’re shown during the day they are much more prudish about language and joke content. I’m in the UK I suppose it’s the same elsewhere. Consequently you get huge laughs (which might even have been genuine, or mostly so) where the actual gag has been removed. I can think of a few examples but a really obvious one is where Raj counters Sheldon’s complaint that his desk is inappropriately sized for its purpose. They cut “Since its main purpose was to piss you off…” leaving just “I’d say it was just right” the crowd goes wild WTF?

For those shows that say, “Filmed before a live audience,” it is slightly different than just a generic laugh track.

If you go to a live taping, first of all, they have a comedian warm up the audience, then they usually bring out the cast for some applause (and occasionally a few words) and then they start taping the show. They want you in a good mood, and eager to please.

Above the audience, scattered every couple of rows or so, are many microphones that capture the laughter, giggles, groans and other audio reactions of the audience.

So, for instance, the first time they tape a segment and there is a particularly funny scene or line, they capture that (huge) laughter and will use it - even if that scene has to have 4 or 5 retakes, for various reasons. So while technically you could say they were “cheating”, as the laughter was not for that particular 4th re-take, the laughter was at least genuine for the first time the audience watched the scene.

However, they also like to “sweeten” the laugh track. I am sure you all know somebody who has a loud or strange or odd sounding laugh…sitcoms love to have people like that in the audience, and they will zero in on that microphone to capture that person’s laugh.

Also, you can well imagine that the writers, producers and crew - plus their closest family and friends - are in that audience, yukking it up far beyond normal laughter. Sitting in those audiences, you begin to think you are surrounded by lunatics who will laugh at anything.

BTW, if there are scenes that are taped off site - perhaps in a car or a live shot at a beach or whatever, they will show that scene on the monitors and try to capture audience laughter for that as well.

Once everyone leaves the set, the audio people will then have multiple tracks of laughter and audience reactions to work with, and by the time the show is aired on TV, it has been added, sweetened and enhanced, but technically, they really are using the laughs from the real live audience.

To add to what** DMark **said about sweetening:
My lovely wife and I attended a taping of TBBT as well. Before we saw the episode they were going to tape, they showed a previously-completed-but-not-yet-aired episode. I have no doubt that they captured our reactions and used them to augment the audience from the live taping as well. (Which, I have been given to understand, they do with “How I Met Your Mother,” showing a completed episode to an audience for reaction.)

And we also had the experience where an initial take was re-done until we just couldn’t muster much laughter at it, but the original responses were used–which it deserved.

Correct. They do too many scene changes to film in front of a live audience so they record an audience watching the episode and use that.

FWIW More than once Chuck Lorre has used one of his Production Cards* at the end to defend the laugh track as real but I agree it sounds fake often.

*For those unaware, Chuck Lorre uses the half second display of his production credit at the end of his shows to write a little blurb. You can find them on his web site.

Here’s what Mayim Bialik had to say about it (#4).

Some people like to think that the best laughter you hear on laugh tracks has been used over and over for decades.

Brilliant and haunting. Typical Ellison.