Service of Fakes: Phony Laughter Doesn’t Cheer

July 20th, 2020

Categories: Entertainment, Fake, Laughter, Radio

The first “fakes” post in 2016 was about food. A bunch of others followed on various aspects of fakery mostly published in 2019.

Laughter has been a most welcome part of my life. If I’m at a restaurant and see people at an adjacent table doubling over in hysterics I enjoy the scene even if I don’t know what’s tickling them. However just as I don’t like the aftertaste of faux sugar–I’d rather not have any diet ice cream, cookie, yogurt or soda–I don’t react well to pretend laughter.

Since the pandemic started, the weekday morning talk show hosts I listen to on a commercial NYC radio station increasingly roar at nothing hoping to achieve a cheery atmosphere. I realize they are trying to mitigate these calamitous times but their mirth is phony and the triggers childish–often mean-spirited–hardly worth a mild chuckle. NPR isn’t exempt. On one of its Saturday morning programs involving a host and a few participants the grating, forced mirth of one of them, shrieking at every sentence uttered by the others, pierces my eardrums and annoys me in equal measure.

I laugh all the time without being prompted by soundtracks while watching programs on Netflix such as “West Wing,” “Call My Agent,” or “The Gibson Girls;” favorite vintage movies like “Auntie Mame” on Turner Classic Movies or while reading a book–The Gentleman from Moscow these days.

An exception may be the late night show host-comedians Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Jimmy Kimmel. They might need an audience soundtrack as their pandemic format suffers without the jollity of a live audience.

Does hearing someone laugh–even if the person is faking it–cheer you? What makes you laugh these days? Is there anything that you should like or appreciate that you don’t because it’s ersatz or fake?

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19 Responses to “Service of Fakes: Phony Laughter Doesn’t Cheer”

  1. Jim Gordon Said:

    Hey, even my Amazon Bluefront parrot Gracie knows a fake laugh from a real one. You can’t just start laughing and expect her to join in. It has to be real.

  2. Hank Goldman Said:

    Some of the late night and cable comedians are using fake laugh tracks to excess, purposefully, to make a joke out of even using them!

    Funniest thing for me is the new baseball games! They play with cardboard cut outs in the grandstand. And a continuous soundtrack of crowd noise. They change the soundtrack at exciting moments, when a hitter gets a triple or higher. And they crank it up. The saving grace is that, at least for now, the announcers make fun of the fact that it’s fake!

    To me the worst use of soundtrack laughter is on sitcom’s of the 60s and 70s. Every other word gets a laugh! Even if it was not intended to be funny! That’s really Stupid and annoying and unwatchable.

  3. Jim Gordon Said:

    Good for Gracie! Smart oiseau! Glad to hear she agrees with me.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The early sitcom laughter WAS distracting and irritating and especially to our 2020 ears. I wonder if it would be possible for someone to eliminate that sound from the shows.

    I listen to the radio when I’m in the kitchen and while flipping stations I heard the baseball game and I swear, it sounded real. I thought, “WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!???” Give it a try for the next game, at least for a minute or two. I don’t follow sports but clearly remember that sound from when my grandfather and one of my uncles listened to the Yankees on the radio back in the day.

    You caught me: I heard a few of the late night comedians at the start of the pandemic but didn’t cotton on so I hadn’t watched since. I should have! Blush.

  5. ASK Said:

    The late-night talk-show hosts are terrible…even the fake laughs sound insipid. I’m still watching Johnny Carson reruns on cable when I can find them. Who can resist laughing at Aunt Blabby or Karnak the Magnificent? (OK, so I’m ageing myself, I don’t care.) Even watching Jay Leno tinker with his cars on Leno’s Garage is funnier than most of these self-important “woke” comedians, who don’t seem to realize all politics all the time is a turn-off.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It’s clear that humor is important to you as it is to most. Do you find it odd to hear yourself laugh heartily when nobody else is home?

    Seinfeld has a fairly new standup show on Netflix that was done before the pandemic as there’s an audience. His observations of human reactions can be very funny. I’ve seen clever political cartoons that make me smirk not laugh because politics today is too tragic and the targets are so obvious there’s little cleverness required to poke fun. To break from day to night I often watch MASH. Alan Alda is a favorite of mine.

  7. ASK Said:

    Alan Alda is also a staple of mine…I love MASH reruns…And so are some Seinfeld reruns. But Seinfeld is one of the few comedians today who does stand-up that I find funny.

    When I was a kid, I used to freak out my mother…occasionally she would hear me laughing when I was studying alone in my room. She always came in and demanded to know what was so funny…of course, when I told her…sometimes a play on words, sometimes an expression that struck the funny bone…she would give me an odd look, not laugh, and leave me to my books. A close friend still finds my sudden unexplained laughter unnerving.

  8. Amanda Ripanykhazova Said:

    You just hit the nail right on the thumb! THAT was what was so wrong with “Friends”

    Nothing was particularly funny but the different levels of electronic supposed laughter at the conclusion of every sentence were so annoying that they actually got in the way of the whole program!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am so happy I too can roar alone.

    My mother and I often found the same situations hilarious and we would laugh so hard–sometimes without having to say one word–that both of us looked as though we’d been crying our faces became red and tear-stained.

    She took me to my first Woody Allen play–“Don’t Drink the Water.” When the curtain went up nobody had said a word and we were already giggling. The woman character on stage was clearly an American tourist traveling abroad. She was ironing with her giant purse hanging from her ironing arm and she wore the ugly American black walking shoes of the day with thick rubber soles. [European women wouldn’t have been caught dead in them].

    We would try not to laugh out of control in public but so often we’d be struck so deeply by a situation we’d embarrass ourselves but what fun we had! My husband and Mom also shared a funny bone and teased one another about some of their goofy adventures–like the time Homer had a flat tire on the Willis Avenue Bridge with Mom as his sidekick.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    When I wrote this I thought “Folks will think I’ve lost it, gone over the edge.” I am so relieved that the subject struck a chord with you and others.

    I will check out “Friends” that I notice is on Channel 11 to refresh my memory. I liked the clothing and hairstyles and relationships of the friends and forgot about the piped in hilarity. But that it got on your nerves illustrates my point and reaction beautifully.

  11. TC Said:

    Alas, fake laughter, like fake flowers, has been with us too long. Only the former is a good deal more obvious and obnoxious than the latter. Eventually, we take it all for granted and don’t give a damn. Like fake “character”–whatever that word stands for.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I also dislike fake flowers unless used to adorn a gift package. Fake character is often hard to detect but once I have, that’s it for me with that person.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David on Facebook: A live audience laughing for real helps comedians, in terms of pacing, timing etc. But I don’t like it if it’s added in to a sitcom.

    Bill Maher uses a canned audience for pacing, but he does it in a tongue-in-cheek way by showing clips of audiences that are obviously not there live…it adds to the humor.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment and those on my post are so far unanimous in disliking piped in laughter for sitcoms. Curious that show producers did it for so long. I hadn’t thought about how critical audience reaction helps a comedian pace–only remember that sinking feeling I have had for a live standup who hears silence at the end of a joke. This may be why some TV studios direct audiences to laugh at opportune times.

  15. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie on Facebook: Sometimes I like it other times not so much. I recall when my sister and I used to look at my dad for his reaction..if he thought it was funny we usually did too! I sometimes find my boys doing the same thing with me.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I checked out my mother’s reaction to humor more than my dad’s. Humor doesn’t translate that well between cultures and further my mom and I had a similar sense of humor. I have been to movies or plays where I’d think a line was funny and nobody else did and vice versa. A laughing soundtrack–just like a bad or rave review–doesn’t change my mind.

  17. Lucrezia Said:

    Some, not all late night hosts are awful, though Leno’s replacement is a fright. Can’t imagine what those “geniuses” at NBC could have been thinking when removing Leno. CBS’s Colbert is ok for the most part, but side-kick Jean Baptiste often eclipses. Heard him, as a guest, host a Saturday afternoon NPR show a while back, and this multi-talented person might walk off with tons of awards were he to host full time.

    Since most of my radio listening is QXR, no one is trying to inject false humor. As for the newscasts, there’s little or nothing to laugh about. Perhaps this just isn’t the right time to look for laughs.

  18. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t compare late night comedians as I no longer watch them.

    It makes me sad that you posit that it “just isn’t the right time to look for laughs.” It may be more important now than at other times though I don’t seek them out. Laughs find me and when they work their magic it’s such a relief. But I don’t smile or chuckle because an entertainer roars at nothing–or because a soundtrack captures the sound of an audience doubled over with glee.

    And yet producers and on-air personalities and hosts wouldn’t do it if some weren’t convinced and cheered by the false sound of hilarity.

  19. MarthaTakayama Said:

    Right now “Call My Agent” and Randy Rainbow make me laugh endlessly. I can’t resist Andy Borowitz and most New Yorker cartoons. I was hysterical from Sarah Cooper whom I just discovered this week. Her lip synching performances of the Orange baboon’s stream of baboon are side-splitting.

    I don’t pay attention to fake laughter. I also get a supply of wacky videos from my Brazilian niece including mercilessly funny political satires even of our fuhrer. I also always remember to be able to laugh at myself.

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