9 Sep: Laughter, Uncanned

‘The Hank McCune Show’ – an otherwise unremarkable footnote in American TV history – became the first single-camera sitcom to deploy a pre-recorded laugh track (aka ‘canned laughter’) on 9th September, 1950.

The giggles and applause came courtesy of Charlie Douglass, who made a career of capturing audience reaction in his ‘laff box’, and then expertly sprinkling it across other shows, including Bewitched, The Munsters and The Flintstones. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly look back at Red Skelton’s ‘pantomimes’, the origin of much of Douglass’ recorded laughter; explain why live studio audiences are sometimes even more enthusiastic clappers than pre-recorded ones; and reveal how the Bolshoi Ballet STILL employ professional audience reactionaries…

Further Reading: 

• ‘The invention of laughter: Charley Douglass and the laff box’ (The Verge, 2013): https://www.theverge.com/2013/12/13/5207136/Charley-Douglass-laff-box-laugh-track

• ‘How we fell in and out of love with the Laff Box, the laugh track machine that changed sitcoms forever’ (ABC, 2020): https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-16/history-of-the-laugh-track-laff-box-charles-douglass/12117866

• ‘How Do Laugh Tracks Work?’ (How Stuff Works, 2014):