Friday 26 March 2010

The Sound of Laughter

My friend Dan alerted me to yet another ill-conceived piece of journalism about comedy, this time on the Guardian blog here. Why a decent publication like the Guardian sees fit to give e-space to a poorly argued piece of opinion (which amounts to "I hate the sound of human laughter") is rather bewildering.

The blogger somewhat shows his hand when he describes one of the most successful and acclaimed comedies of all time, Friends, as a "a production-line comedy". Friends was not as overtly quirky as Seinfeld, but to imply Friends was merely churned out is a serious misjudgment. He suggests that Blackadder and Frasier would be better with the laugh-track taken off. Richard Curtis must be kicking himself as it seems so obvious where he went wrong. Thanks blogger, we'll re-call and re-cut all the DVDs.

The comments underneath the article are, as you would hope, better informed and less prejudiced. Newmediamark helpfully guides us to David Baddiel's more thoughtful piece in The Times from Nov 09 here quoting this bit:

The reason critics don't like sitcoms shot in front of audiences is that it takes away their power. A theatre critic who hates a play that the rest of the audience loved can always tell you it bombed; but a TV critic cannot say that about a sitcom that is storming it. Which leaves him or her with two choices - be sneering about the response of the audience (always a trifle unlovely) or assume it's canned. Which - have I said this before? - it won't be.

I would add to this that reviewing TV is a lonely business, and attracts people who are happy to spend lots of time alone watching television. An audience laughter track implies that a whole bunch of people are having a good time, which some people find alienating or annoying, especially if they are all laughing at jokes that don't seem all that funny. Audience comedy has a 'togetherness' to it that some find irritating, tacky, corny or naff, and are therefore predisposed to like the so-called laugh track.

One can only commend the likes of AA Gill who is at least honest about the prejudice behind his loathing of audience laughter - and laughing out loud in general. I shall never forget his review of Jack Dee's Lead Balloon in the Sunday Times in October 2006, which said this:

This series is part of a new trend of comedy shows that don't make you laugh; you just nod your head and mutter, "That's really funny." It's a Darwinian improvement on the tyranny of the set-up-gag guffaw, and I approve of it. Laughter is ugly and common.

Given his hatred of the physical act of laughing, turning to him for fair criticism of comedy is rather like asking a vicar for reviews of pornography - don't bother asking because he thinks the whole thing is disgusting.

Some comedy/tv critics could simply not be any further away from the sentiments of their readers. Some are merely interested in demonstrating that they would write a much better, wittier, cleverer a comedy if only they had the time and the opportunity. It's all rather sad - a form of bullying, in essence - and it makes the job of producing decent, popular comedy even harder than it already is. Still we continue to try.

1 comment:

  1. I do think it is a bit tacky BUT I love it, it adds a social togetherness (as u said) and I think makes the sitcom get more laughs (or is it bigger laughs) than without.