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Interactively Ahead of My Time?

For nearly twenty years, I thought I was a complete idiot when I tried to laugh into my old television speaker as a very young child. Little did I know, I was combining what little knowledge I had in para-social interaction with one of my earliest forms of interactive communication.

Listening to the audio lecture and Krulwich”s “The Quest to Design the Perfect Yawn,” I will admit I yawned after hearing of all the repeated yawns (it was Monday morning, give me a break). Something else I want to touch on that can also be contagious which was briefly mentioned was laughter.

After listening about para-social communication, I realize that this type of relationship I have with television goes back long before I began to watch sports. When I was growing up, nearly every live action sitcom would have one of its stars would let the audience know that it was filmed before a live studio audience at the start of the show. For example, Woody Harrelson would say, “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.” I took that heart. While they say laughter is contagious, I wanted to make sure I did my part in the sitcom world. In the audio lecture, Alex mentions how people came to know soap opera actors and others in television with a “one-sided” relationship. As a four or five year old, I understood this in a very primitive way. I knew that people loved the show Cheers and my uncles would talk about the characters as if they knew them personally.

Contributing To The Laugh Track

As a small child, our old Sylvania television had two small speakers on the side (which my imagination thought worked like a walkie-talkie). I vividly remember making my family watch Cheers and laughing very loudly into the speaker, barely waiting for any punch lines. I wanted my voice to be heard. I figured my loud laugh would stand out and I could say my voice was on television. I was probably laughing at an adult situation between Sam and Diane that I was too young to understand and my parents knew this, telling me to keep it down. I was only four or five, but I never spoke of this again, until now.

Reading Chuck Klosterman’s book, Eating The Dinosaur, he went through a similar experience as a child,

“When I watched Laverne and Shirley or WKRP in Cincinnati and heard the canned laughter, my hypothesis was that this was the sound of thousands of other TV viewers in random locations, laughing at the program in their own individual living rooms.” He continues, “As a consequence, I would sometimes sit very close to the television and laugh as hard as I could, directly into the TV’s speaker. I would laugh into my own television.”

When he says that last statement, I naturally feel a little stupid, but I am glad I was not the only kid with an over-active imagination for television. I like to think I was about twenty years ahead of my time before I even thought of enrolling into the ICM program.

Where Has All of The Laughter Gone?

As I use feeds to give me the information I want and have technology to now my bidding (and thinking at times) for me, it is interesting how comedy has gone in a different direction. Not having a laugh track forces the audience to pay attention and “get” the joke as opposed to the laugh tracks we grew accustomed to the past few decades. Even my favorite shows of the last ten years (Arrested Development, The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm) do not contain any laugh tracks. As Bush states, “For years inventions have extended man’s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind.” To me, the laugh is that sort of invention. It dictated what folks should be laughing at, so it is ironic that non-laugh track sitcoms do the opposite, in an age where technology guides a lot of what we do.

Are we just comedy snobs with nerdy sensibilities? Sure, but it is always nice to find people that want to seek something out (in this case laughter) in an era where everything finds us (even if we still think of the characters as if they really exist).

-Jon

  1. Robert Krulwich, “The Quest to Design the Perfect Yawn,” Krulwich on Science, NPR.org
  2. IMDb page for Cheers
  3. Klosterman, Chuck (2009).” Eating the Dinosaur.” Scribner, NY
  4. Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think.”Theatlantic.com, July 1945