Tuesday, September 10, 2013

HAVE A (CANNED) LAUGH WITH THE MUNSTERS


WHEN WE LAUGHED at the corny jokes while watching episodes of THE MUNSTERS, and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, we were also laughing along with an odd bit of technology used by the television industry that was already 15 years old. The singularly bizarre phenomenon was dubbed "canned laughter".

Along with the reconstituted sounds called Muzak that was heard on elevators and supermarkets of the day, the laugh track shares with it the distinction of being adopted as an instrument of the unconscious. It could also be considered to be a precursor to the sampler/looper used by today's modern electronic musicians.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the first time canned laughter was used on a TV program. The show was a sitcom called The Hank McCune Show (anybody remember that one?) and it debuted on September 9, 1950. It would be used on an endless number of shows, including two other Monster Kid favorites, BEWITCHED and MY FAVORITE MARTIAN.

The Laff Box, looking every bit like a typewriter with its cover off.


Invented by a fellow named Charles Rolland Douglass, the "Laff Box" as it is was officially called, is a machine that plays back various "field recordings"  made of audience laughter, and was used to prompt a stronger laugh response from viewers (no matter how bad the jokes were). It could also take the place of live audience laughter, which enabled television production to become mobile and move off the sound stage to outdoor and location shooting.

Commonly compared to a cross between a typewriter and a piano, the laff box became so ubiquitous that TV viewers barely noticed its chuckles, chortles, and guffaws going on in the background.


The internal components of the Laff Box.

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