Laughter Tracks Can Trick You Into Thinking "The Big Bang Theory" Is Funny

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A study has found that canned laughter really does increase how funny we find jokes.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) took the lowest form of humor – the Dad Joke – as the main basis of their study. They took 40 of these jokes and rated them on a scale ranging from 1 (not funny) to 7 (hilarious). The jokes included – brace yourselves – these gems:

  • What state has the smallest drinks? Mini-soda
  • What does a dinosaur use to pay the bills? Tyrannosaurus cheques
  • What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot
  • What do you call a man with a spade on his head? Dug

The researchers, who published their work in the journal Current Biology, then got a professional comedian to record each of the jokes and created two audio versions – one with canned laughter (laughter captured on audio unrelated to the joke being told) and one with natural laughter, to play to participants.

The added laughter, whether it was canned or natural, significantly increased how funny the jokes were perceived to be, with natural laughter seeing a bigger increase than canned.

"What this study shows is that adding laughter to a joke increases the humor value, no matter how funny or unfunny the joke is," lead author Professor Sophie Scott, of UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in a statement.

"It also suggests we respond much better to spontaneous genuine laughter, rather than posed or canned laughter, showing the inherent human joy and value of a natural response."

Try watching the Big Bang Theory with no laughter track, see how you get on.

The jokes were played to neurotypical and autistic participants, and this increase in humor rating was seen in both groups.

"Our data suggest that laughter may also influence how funny the comedy is perceived to be, and that people with autism are equally sensitive to this effect," Scott added. "This might suggest that comedy and laughter are more accessible to people with autism than typically considered to be."

The only difference between the two groups was that the group with autism gave all 40 of the jokes a higher rating, suggesting that they were more open to "dad jokes" that the neurotypical participants may have considered "uncool".

The study adds scientific backing to what comedy producers have been doing for years. 

"Certain 'comedy' programmes, which weren't overtly funny wouldn't get a long laugh, so TV and radio producers increasingly added canned laughter to prompt an audience reaction," Scott said.

"This research shows that while canned laughter does elevate the humour of a comedy, adding real laughter would get a better response. This has been adopted in shows like Friends, which are recorded in front of an audience, with the real laughter amplified during editing for particular jokes that had been well received."

She's not kidding. Friends without the laughter track can turn really quite sinister. Check out this "whacky" clip that without the laughter track turns into a sinister episode that could easily be titled The One Where You Realize Ross Might Be A Borderline Psychopath Just Straight Up Asking Another Man How To Physically Attack Women.

Yeah, the canned laughter was doing a lot of heavy lifting there.


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