One Guy Did The Laugh Track On All Of Your Favorite Shows

By | September 23, 2019

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'The Bob Newhart Show; was one of many that used the Laff Box. Pictured in 1975: Marcia Wallace as Carol Kester, Bob Newhart as Bob Hartley, Peter Bonerz as dentist Jerry Robinson, Suzanne Pleshette as Emily Hartley. Photo by CBS via Getty Images

You have one man to thank, or curse, for the laugh track you hear on old TV sitcoms: Charles "Charley" Douglass, a CBS sound engineer and keeper of the "Laff Box." For decades, Douglass had a monopoly on laugh tracks, it was as if he had the secret recipe for creating the perfect kind of laughter for each show. Classic programs like Hogan’s Heroes, The Munsters, and I Dream of Jeannie were echoing with sounds from his mysterious Laff Box. It’s safe to say that many of these laughs are embedded in your brain from years of sitting criss cross applesauce in front of the TV. 

Why use canned laughter?

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source: pinterest

The most common train of thought is that sitcoms need laugh sweetening or to have a laugh track in order to provide a rubric for where the home audience should laugh in a TV show, and while that’s one reason to use them it’s not the only one. In many cases in the ‘50s and ‘60s the studio audience for a show would either give the “wrong” kind of laugh, or they simply wouldn’t laugh because they saw the same joke over the course of multiple takes. 

In the instance of an episode of I Love Lucy from March 1957, Lucy Does the Tango,” the laughs were so heavy when Lucy shoved raw eggs into her shirt that they covered the lines that followed. In that instance the laughs actually had to be cut down.