Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Laugher Curve: Why do dumbest sitcoms get more chortles?

My wife and I were watching Three’s Company on TV Land the other night.

Let me start over: Three’s Company came on TV Land the other night and I made a move to turn it off, but my wife said, “You’re not turning that off, are you?”

So, of course, I did not.

My wife has a fascination with the ‘70s that I do not share. I see it as the decade of ugly clothes, ugly hair and idiotic sitcom writing. Some of the music was good, but I’d rather not actually look at the people making it. It’s kind of like how you don’t want to watch sausage being made.

But to preserve marital harmony I watched the episode even though laughter was not calling for me. Jack’s brother was coming for a visit and Jack was none too pleased. His brother was a show-off and constantly talked down to Jack.

In the course of things, Jack’s brother wrangles a date with Chrissy and as she arrives home very late, Jack opens the door to find her and his brother in a steamy goodnight kiss.

The audience reacts, but you can hear one guy exclaim, “Oh, no!”

“Did you hear that?” I asked my wife.

I rewound the DVR, and there he was. He actually sounded like someone from the ‘40s –- Edward G. Robinson, to be specific. “Oh, no! See!” (Think Clancy Wiggum from The Simpsons if you’re too young to know who Edward G. Robinson is.)

I paused it, rewound it, and listened again and again. Then we’d repeat the line ourselves. We got the giggles so bad we could hardly breathe.

Later it hit me: This show had no canned laughter. The audience was genuinely reacting. And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, because it was a really stupid show.

Pay attention to a program, however, that is truly funny and you’ll notice that they have to juice up the laughter by resurrecting dead people who were originally splitting their sides at Lucy Ricardo’s latest caper. Cosmo Kramer, you’ve got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!

Have we lost our sense of humor? And, if so, when and how did it happen?

Was it Watergate? Or 1968?

Whatever it was, it was no laughing matter.

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