More on The Office! With a laugh track!

In reading the Sitcom Reader chapter about the conventions and innovations of classic 80s sitcoms like The Bill Cosby Show, and through rewatching several episodes of The Office this weekend, I found this clip (it’s only two minutes and you should seriously watch it, especially if you love The Office and have run out of things to watch that pertain to it, like me).

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-8-24-12-pm

(Still from above-mentioned clip)

It is amazing to me how the 40 seconds of an actual opening scene of The Office feels completely different with a laugh track! The opening scene before the each episode’s familiar theme are some of my favorite moments in the series (such as this one, where Jim pranks Dwight early one morning while some of the office is staying in a hotel in Tallahassee), and I’ve seen this Christmas one tons of times before. And yet, with only the addition of a laugh track, it seemed like a completely new show.

When you watch classic 80s sitcoms like The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, etc., how much of your personal laughter do you think is invited by the sound of the studio audience’s laughter? It’s like when you go to the movies with a group of people versus one other person or going alone (which if you haven’t done, I highly recommend – it’s actually pretty awesome) – you sometimes feel a natural pressure to laugh because the people around you are. When sitcoms without laugh tracks, like The Office, came out, do you think there’s a higher standard in the comedic writing to invite laughter from audiences at home instead of at a studio? I know some people who cannot stand to watch The Office because they are uncomfortable watching other people be uncomfortable, as the show (so beautifully, in my opinion) does quite often; it seems as though there would not be an opportunity for ambiguity like that in studio sitcoms in the 80s.

Kristina Kokkonos

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11 Responses to More on The Office! With a laugh track!

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I know that many people I’ve encountered either love the office or hate the office. There’s no in between. I happen to love the office and really enjoy the fact that there is no laugh track needed. It’s shocking to see such a striking contrast between having a laugh track and excluding it. I actually feel less pressure to laugh at the Office compared to the sitcom the Big Bang Theory, who always uses the laugh track. The visual example really helped noticing the difference as well. I felt like I was watching an entirely different show!

    -Shelby Halliman

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve alway felt like a laugh track is sort of a cheap tool to try and convince an audience “Hey, this is funny!” rather than actually just being funny. It comes across as sort of inauthentic and makes me less likely to laugh. All the funniest sitcoms to me do not use a laugh track. A filmed before a live studio office kind of laugh track is slightly better (because it feels more natural), but a post-production added laugh track usually kinda turns me off of a show. The clip you posted from The Office with the added laugh track changed the entire comedic rhythm of the series. As someone who has seen the entirety of The Office about four or five times, I found the clip funny precisely because of its juxtaposition with how the show actually plays out. But if The Office actually was a laugh track type of show, I don’t think I would find it as humorous. Part of why it’s so good is the awkward, uncomfortable squirminess (which is usually what makes people love or hate it), and a laugh track, in addition to cheapening the humor, would only ease the tension of that discomfort. The Office has a very specific and unique comedic voice, and to me laugh track shows (like Big Bang Theory) more often seem to have a broader sense of humor in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. I find the niche humor much funnier than the generic humor.

    Also, I can vouch that going to the movies alone can indeed be pretty awesome — on the condition that it’s not that commercially popular and almost no one else is in the theater (Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping). Seeing a highly-anticipated movie alone on opening weekend when the theater is completely full and you are crammed in between two large middle-aged men with their entire extended families (Finding Dory)…is not as fun.

    –Kevin Pabst

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I know that there are mixed sentiments regarding the laugh track but I absolutely love it! I feel that I often do not pay the closest attention when watching a sitcom, and the laugh track often keeps me tuned in and reminds me about the humor in the show that I am watching.

    Stephanie Rubin

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I think the laugh track has its time and place, but watching that clip the laugh track did not work. I think in sitcoms where the jokes and humor is very obvious, the laugh track work. In shows like The Office, however, I think the humor is more subtle and the laugh track makes it feel inauthentic. Awesome clip! – Sarah King

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I LOVE THE OFFICE. Yes, yes, yes! This is so interesting. Surprisingly, I’ve never really thought about the laugh track, but since you mentioned the “awkwardness” of the Office, I almost think that’s part of it: putting the audience in an awkward state rather than encouraging them to laugh or providing them some sort of virtual support for laughing: i.e., the laugh track. This is awesome! – Corey

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I think that this is such an interesting point that you make about laugh tracks verses real laughter. I never really thought about how audience laughter encourages others to laugh also. I think that for this reason there is definitely more of a pressure in more recent shows without laugh tracks for witty remarks and comedic language. Although I always used to think that laugh tracks were a weird thing to put into shows because they are not real, I know see why they might be useful. I am still much more inclined to like shows without laugh tracks though, and maybe that is because they are innately funnier in content.
    Nicolette McCann

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I hate watching television characters be uncomfortable because i strongly empathize with that, yet I made it through The Office and i love the show. Laugh tracks do inspire the audience to laugh because it shows them what jokes they are supposed to laugh at. Of course, if I dont find a joke to be funny I dont laugh, laugh track or no. Without having a laugh track, I feel it may put more pressure on the writers to be funny, but it may not. A laugh track may just help stimulate laughter at certain points, not causing laughter in and of itself.

    -turner arrington

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I completely agree that much of my laughter is prompted by a laugh track. There are some situations where you are not sure if a character is being serious or joking/being sarcastic, and the laugh track makes that distinction for us! I think it definitely adds a different dynamic to shows!
    – Kelsey Sierra

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I think laugh tracks take away from a shows humor. It forces the audience to re-examine the joke and then I find myself thinking, “Well, I didn’t really think that was funny so…” Laugh tracks are a no-no for me in terms of some shows. I prefer to watch shows and laugh at my own pace and when I actually find it humorous. It is interesting to think of shows in terms of how they are written. Do they add laugh tracks at all jokes or leave it up to interpretation? Food for thought.

    -Meg Murphy

  10. mediaphiles says:

    This is so interesting! I sometimes think about certain shows like The Office and Parks and Rec and picture them with a laugh track then when I actually watch I remember that they don’t. The laugh track completely changes the show and guides the viewer more directly to what is funny. Thanks for sharing that clip!

    Arianna Gershon

  11. mediaphiles says:

    I think one of the things that I like most about The Office it that it caters to multiple tastes in humor. It was weird for me to watch it with a laugh track! It felt like there were laughs where they weren’t supposed to be and no laughs where (I thought) they were. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not currently watching a single show that uses a laugh track. It seems so manufactured and not fun!

    -Callie Sartain

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