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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Laugh Track - I want one!

I was pondering the "laugh track" the other day. The laugh track, also known as "canned laughter", is, pre-recorded snickers, titters, guffaws, groans and applause that for decades accompanied most every television show that graced our living room screens. So, I Googled "Laugh Track" and was amazed at how much information is on the World Wide Web about canned laughter. I was intrigued, so I began clicking... At left, you can see the original "Laff Box" invented in the late 40's by an early television sound engineer from CBS by the name of Charley Douglass. And yes, friends - there was only one Laff Box, which Charley would transport from studio to studio to plug in to their editing consoles and begin his sorcerer's magic. Douglass would sweeten a show's soundtrack by hitting any number of typewriter-like keys to invoke above-mentioned titters, guffaws, applause and the like from a number of interchangeable tape-loops inside the box. And like a concert violinist, Charley would combine tee-hees with chuckles and moderate the ebb and flow of each laugh and with a volume pedal he worked with his feet. A Laugh-Virtuoso, was Charley Douglass and his Laff Box was the only game in town for the next four decades. It's funny to think that the laughter we hear in episodes of "Cheers" may have included some of the same yuks from Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows"...
While I found all this very intriguing, I am not writing today to relay the fascinating history of the laugh track.
With all the polarizing presidential election character assassination, mud-slinging and shit-smearing that has been monopolizing the airwaves, social media and news outlets for the past few months, I began to think that the entire process might have been a whole lot more palatable had we perhaps utilized Charley Douglass's Laff Box to accompany the knee-deep, unconscionable cutthroat prattle. I, for one could have used a matronly groan from the soundtrack of "The Beverly Hillbillies" to dull the edge on the idea that someone could so viciously attack the character of the President of the United States in a public forum... Andy Jackson wouldn't have tolerated it, but might have loosened up a bit with one of Charley Douglass's titter tracks accompanying the attack. Duel averted. 
This led me to wonder where else the Laff Box might be utilized to make an aggressively bloodthirsty world a bit lighter:

Hitler - There is no doubt that Der Fuhrer's frenzied speeches might have been softened a bit by Charley Douglass's masterful manipulation of the volume pedal over a solid titter-track.
"I've got some bad news..." - This could always use a laugh track.
This windbag is a poster-child for the use of a laugh track. Could probably make this happen now that he's deaf.
"Hi, we met six to eight weeks ago at a party..." - Definitely in need of a laugh-track...
(A side-note: NEVER Google images of "Pregnant Wife" at work or around children - yikes.)
The Lord's Laugh Track
The possibilities are endless. And since I narrowly lost out in my bid for King in this election, I would like to humbly offer my services to be life's laugh track. I will purchase Charley Douglass's Laff Box and personally hire myself out (at an outrageously exorbitant fee) to come to your home, doctor's office, house of worship, Boy Scout Jamboree, Marriage Counselor, Attorney's office, National Disaster Area, hair salon, comedy club (sadly), political fund-raiser, free-clinic, pet-shelter, wedding, divorce, Hall of Fame induction, funeral or rehab to lighten up the proceedings.
You're welcome.
(Cue laugh track)


1 comment:

  1. Or, you can do what some of us have done, and recreate Charley Douglass' library by isolating laughs from these classic shows, and utilizing them in your own work.

    Check out YouTube. A user by the handle of daffylatke is an expert on Douglass and the Laff Box, and has painstakingly restored laughter on various Pink Panther, and related cartoons, that had otherwise had the laughs removed. I, myself, have also recorded a number of classic Douglass laughs and have used them in my work as well.

    But I agree, I think almost every laugh track nerd would love to own the original Laff Box.