Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rant #378: Not a Laughing Matter

And once again, we visit the obituary column, to bring to you a death that might be overlooked by some, but not here. This guy touched us all, sometimes in the wrong place, and it is time to honor him as he has passed from this earth.

The name Carroll Pratt probably doesn't mean much to anybody but the guy himself and his family, but this fellow is well-known to all of us due to his participation in the creation of something that we have all heard:

The laugh track.

For those few of us who don't have any idea what I am talking about, the laugh track is the background snickering and laughter you hear when you watch countless TV sitcoms. When the joke comes from the mouths of the actors, laughter follows, pretty much on cue, even when the joke isn't funny.

Pratt, his brother John, and Charles Rolland Douglass created the Laff Box, which was basically a series of audiotape loops of different types of laughing. This laughing was used either to stand alone or to augment the reaction from a studio audience.

It really has become ubiquitous with the sitcom, the half-hour comedic episodes that we are all so fond of. Shows from about the mid-1950s to the current time use a laugh track. It almost is a cue for us at home to laugh, too.

Sure, there have been backlashes to the laugh track. Certain shows have bypassed one, often either forgoing any canned reaction or mixing two tapings of the same show into one, and thus having the reactions of two audiences to one situation. "All in the Family" did this, and nobody knew the difference, because the show was not only topical, it was funny too.

But what about shows that simply aren't funny, although they are supposed to be? The laugh track was a necessity. It told us that at least "someone" was having a good time and finding this funny, even if it wasn't a human being per se.

Anyway, Pratt died at 89 years of age, and this Emmy Award winning sound engineer helped to create something that has been part of our lives even though we didn't know it.

I can hear the sound of one hand clapping for his achievement.

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