Don’t Laugh if it’s Funny

Filed Under Sitcom

I’m not a Will & Grace viewer, but my lady is. But the computer is within DVR range for me to get curious enough about this year’s premiere stunt - the live broadcast. I agree with others - the screwups were the best part. Seeing actors restrain laughter can be pretty damn entertaining. But the thing that struck me the most is for a form that’s all about artificial laughter, the sitcom seems to have some sort of iron clad rule against actors making any themselves.

You have characters often times saying things that are trying to get a laugh, it’s incredible that the other characters don’t respond in kind. I don’t really remember any of the other Friends laughing once at a joke Chandler made, even though he was supposedly the funny one among them. I’m sure I’ve seen characters laugh before, but it’s usually a plot point (“Promise you won’t laugh!” “I won’t. I swear!” Character reveals costume/hair/disfiguring injury. “Bwa-Ha-ha!”) or so intensely artificial that it’s cheesy (as satirized at the end of every episode of Police Squad).

My hardest - and I believe viewers’ hardest (since I am egotistical enough to think everyone is exactly like me) - problem with sitcom is their absence of connection to any sort of reality - where supposed friends can say mean things without consequences, obstacles are solved in a half hour, and everything glides in the predictable rhythm of setup-punch-punch. Keeping characters from appearing to enjoy one another’s jokes might just be another sign of the sitcom needing a little reality.

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Posted by Jesse Thorn on 10/04  at  12:05 PM

I was just thinking of something on the other side of the spectrum… what a wonderful straight man Jason Bateman is.  He gets a lot of little punchlines, and handles them so well, hitting them without ever breaking.

Posted by Steve the wonder boy on 10/11  at  12:04 PM

They did in Seinfeld

Elanie would laugh at Jerry and vice versa

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 10/13  at  12:31 AM

I’m not so much talking about the actor breaking character when something’s funny, but rather the actor’s character acknowledging that a character is trying to make a joke. In Seinfeld, they did do that, because Seinfeld was a stand-up and naturally, when he’s trying to be funny, he’s getting laughs.

Larry King had Roseanne and John Goodman on recently. They acknowledged they would often be laughing because they argued that people that people did laugh when they yell. I think that sense ultimately added to the show and make it funnier. We weren’t distanced from what was happening because the characters weren’t. They would laugh to.

Posted by Brian on 10/17  at  02:40 PM

I’ve noticed that Larry David laughs a lot on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Or at least smiles at the fucked-up situations into which he falls, often when it goes against the reality of the scene. Whether or not it’s the character or the actor Larry David laughing, it does lend a certain versamilitude to the show.

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