Laugh tracks are contemptible
Canned laughter is dispiriting. I don’t get angry when I hear it, I just sort of retreat into my head, exhausted by the world. And I’m not exactly sure why.
I could argue it’s insulting to the viewers’ intelligence to remind us when to laugh, or that it allows lazy writers to avoid crafting good jokes, or that it means we’re reminded the show isn’t real after every joke, or that mimicking human joy responses with a machine is creepy. All of those play some part in my thinking, but I feel like these are post-hoc justifications for a gut feeling.
I think maybe it reminds me of the unthreatening lowest-common-denominator sitcoms of the fifties and sixties. Whatever the reason, I’m happy the smartest TV comedies today (Arrested Development, Parks & Recreation, The Office, Peep Show) have abandoned it.
Edit: “In Defense of the Laugh Track” is worth reading, including the comment by Scotto. Single-camera shows (like all the ones I named) are basically short movies, but multi-camera shows are more like televised plays where audience laughter is appropriate. This view doesn’t invalidate my criticisms though: I would feel uncomfortable if theaters planted paid agents gin up laughs.