Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tracking laughs - laughing tracks.

I was watching 'Friends' on Zee Cafe the other day when, I realized that it isn't that funny. Of course, I like Friends and, Friends is by far, one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Its screenplay and chemistry between the actors is unmatched. What i alluded to in the first sentence was, even though it is funny, it would not make one laugh/smile as frequently as it does, had it not been for the laughing tracks.

    Friends(among others) has laughing tracks all over the place! That day, as an experiment, i decided to consciously ignore the laughing track(LT from now onwards) and, take the joke(if there was one) at face value. Not to my surprise, most of the places where they've inserted the LTs, there is close to nothing to laugh about. At places where there is something, the LT was a bit long.
   
    I don't know who discovered(or should it be 'invented' ?) LTs, but its an extremely brilliant idea! The cost is close to nothing but, the results are appreciable. And not just that, most of us, most of the times, do not realize that we are being manipulated(or should it be 'forced' ?) to laugh. As far as i know, why a LT makes us laugh/smile is because of the fact that laughter is contagious. Not uncontrallably contagious, but contagious enough to be called contagious. We tend to laugh if, we see or hear others laughing. The important point is - even if we start laughing after looking at someone, we enjoy the laughter normally. What i mean to say is, there is no difference between 'imitated' laughter and original(for lack of a better word) laughter. So much is the effect that, one can start laughing against his/her will. This, I think, is the fact that is made use of, in playing a LT. I have experienced this while walking in a park where there was a laughter club. After hearing them laugh, i was about to start laughing(even though i did not want to) when finally, i changed my way. It takes quite a bit of will to stay away from laughter for long. That is why i was thinking of using 'forced' instead of 'manipulated'.

     Since the subject of contagiousness has come up, let me share a 'discovery' i made when i was probably in the 7th or 8th grade. The discovery was that - yawning is contagious. Sometimes, my mom/dad used to sit with me while i was studying; if i yawned, most of the times she/he yawned after me! I observed this many many times and later, i observed that i yawned if they did! I told my dad about my big discovery. Sadly, he already knew about it :(
    
    Many years later, i came to know that, this psycho-contagion is one of the effects of a certain neuronal assembly in the premotor cortex. This neuronal network is popularly known as 'mirror neurons'.


Very Offtopic PS: While i was reading the post before publishing it, i noticed that - in the second para, I had used 'place' to denote an instant of time! As if, to make the representation simpler, time was temporarily transformed into a continous strip of matter and, i could demarcate places(instants) on it. Of course, there is nothing great about that kind of usage, it is quite commonly used. To me, it seems analogous to Fourier and Z transforms which I tried to learn during my engineering days.

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6 comments:

Kedar Champhekar said...

This reminds me of another trick commonly used in horror movies, and that is loud background music. Very few scenes in horror movies are actually scary because of a twist in the tale or because of a scary situation. Most other scenes where we jump out of our chairs are made scary by playing very loud background music!! At such moments we are not actually scared but merely startled!

I had once watched 'Exorcist' in a movie hall, plugging my ears with my fingers, and I realized I hardly felt scared!

Pranav said...

Oh yes, that is a clever trick! What you say is true. I had experienced the same thing when i saw 'Raaz'. Half the 'scaring' is done by loud sound effects. In fact, after the recent Olympics games i read a scientific article stating the important role and effect of sound. According to them, in a running race, the player who is (relatively)nearest to the gun that is fired on start, hears max volume of the shot and, this positively affects his start. The writer was of the opinion that light can be use to signal the start rather than sound.

Kedar Champhekar said...

That's really amazing! I actually thought the gunshot would probably negatively affect the nearest player.

pushkaraj said...

A minor correction, Pranav- FRIENDS does not have laughing tracks, it has a studio audience. And I beg to differ regarding the 'funnyness' of the series. Most of the jokes are genuinely funny although a sizeable number of them are so stereotypically American so as to be extremely boring and mind-bogglingly dull, as so many things in popular American culture are. But that is true about any 'popular culture' anywhere, the term itself being somewhat of an oxymoron. The ones that are good though, don't require a studio audience to induce laughter. At times I have laughed on a single joke for almost five minutes at a stretch - long after the studio laughter had died down!

Pranav said...

Although Friends has a studio audience, all the laughter is not necessarily from the audience. The audio track is edited before airing. Sometimes, they have to reduce the laughter volume for the coming dialogues to be heard clearly and sometimes they have to introduce laughter if they did not get the expected response for a joke.
A clever audio editor won't simply use a pre-recorded laughing track. Its often built out of independent laughter components like say. a guy laughing, a girl laughing, a child giggling etc. These are then combined together, differently every time, to get a real audience laughter effect.
After reading your reply i searched for a laughtrack free version of Friends. Found it here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIKWWxTqA9o
Like you said, some jokes in there do not need LTs to make us laugh.
But, without the tracks the serial does seem a bit dull. Of course, I cannot guarantee that I am not unconsciously biased towards myself when i feel the episode to be a bit duller :-/ Ideally, we should involve a third person and do a blind test but, most probably I'm not :)

pushkaraj said...

That is new information for me - about the editing of the laughter - though I should have figured it out myself! (What an ass I am!) Thanks! And these edited 'genuine laughter tracks' are qualitatively so immensely different from those in our serials!!!
The essence of the series is the innocence of all it's characters and the fact that they are - in one way or another - such losers! That endears them to people. So, not only are the script writers genuine creative geniuses but also very clever in understanding the general psychological make-up and response of people everywhere!