Laugh, laugh, I thought I’d die…
Neatorama tell us all about the history of canned laughter, and a man named Charley Douglass who built ‘The Laff’ Machine.’.
In the late 1940s, CBS sound engineer Charley Douglass came up with the solution for the problem of underwhelming audience responses: artificial laughter. Making fake laughter was fairly simple: create tape loops of ideal audience responses, then insert them wherever they were needed.
Charley Douglass started collecting audiotapes of shows from the CBS archive. He listened carefully to them, analyzing why one laugh worked and another didn’t. Douglass soon noticed that laughter came in many varieties: An audience could titter slightly, chuckle, or roar. And then there was the timing: the instant laugh, the surprised laugh, the delayed one, and, with a particularly intelligent or obscure joke, the rolling laugh as members of the audience got the joke at different times. Douglass realized that dozens of taped laughs would be required.
Ideally, Douglass thought, the canned laughter should be hearty but not too loud, enthusiastic but not disruptive, and just long enough to not throw off the performers’ delivery. He aimed to make it consistent and reproducible, and realistic enough to augment and even replace an actual audience.
Pretty cool story, especially that part about how closely Douglass guarded his invention.