Canned laughter should be kept there- in the can

Canned Laughter Should Be Kept There- In The Can. Skilbey Blogs

…then placed in a sack weighed down with the heaviest shit you can find then dropped at sea…

Trouble is…canned products are reputed to be- quality wise- as good as they were when they first went in…

Only after reading the compelling book  Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B Cialdini many, many years ago, did I understand how important canned laughter was and still is (Urgh!) in comedy shows. So I am making this plea on deaf ears, I know.

Leave it out.

Can we please, just stop right now? There are enough very splendid comedy programmes where in the same way canned laughter drives people to find even the most unfunny, funny, conversely, these splendid programmes – sans laughter- drive unsolicited funny moments into becoming their finest and into their own. Big viewing ratings and honest positive feedback from would-be  assassination friendly critics reflect this.

Viewers or listeners are able to judge for themselves (phew!) how funny it is; how mildly amusing, or if it’s chuckling funny, rib-tickling with laughter funny, funny peculiar, residually witty funny and so on. Modern British comedy- though not all- has moved away from canned laughter with huge sighs from many.

In The Thick Of It  Peep Show,  The Office 

And a very fine comedy called Episodes

No social proof is required, unlike in the canned laughter comedies with the objective set that if some find it funny, it will encourage others to respond in a non-thinking , reflexive manner, and think it funny too, regardless.

As the book points out, everyone hates the canned stuff. Actors and industry people often beg for it to be removed but it’s met with a ‘no’ from the top. It achieves what it sets out to do, encouraging social proof behaviour with resounding positive ratings for the shows.

And we all fall into the beguiling mist of social proof at some point. It works so well. We see a long queue outside a restaurant; we think it must be rated highly. If we hear of a product that is selling fast or has even sold out, we assume it must be a quality, must have product. A thumbnail photo liking your website or some other endorsement liking your product tells others you are worth checking out. Ditto for Facebook and Twitter.

But canned laughter to persuade me that a show is funny? Please don’t cue me when to laugh, when not to laugh. Likewise, promoting a show as a laugh out loud, hilarious, you’ll die of laughter, the funniest thing this year, all those extremities smacks of something trying too hard.


If it is funny, honestly, it will speak for itself. It is best left to the viewer or listener to grace one with a deserved compliment.

However, canned laughter does work. They know it’s tripe but they’ve done the maths. And canned laughter does, in fact, reside in one of my all time American comedy favourites, Fraiser though I am not consciously aware of the laughter- I’m admiring the writing.

The proof of the social proof pudding is that it drives up viewing ratings.

The proof of the social proof pudding is blinking out from its enveloping mist, and genuinely asking, ‘What bits did I actually find funny?’

Unless it’s Fraiser.

Many thanks for reading. Your thoughts are always welcomed.

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