Chuck Lorre, sans laugh track.

"If it's not funny in front of 200 human beings, it's probably not funny at home," says sitcom guru Chuck Lorre.

It’s official. Chuck Lorre doesn’t like laugh tracks.

The man behind Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and the upcoming Mike & Molly isn’t using them (and presumably no ‘sweetening’ either).

Lorre, whose work also includes Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Cybill, Dharma & Greg,  “I didn’t use one on Roseanne 20 years ago, and I’m not doing it now. I have a live audience that comes in to watch the show. If they don’t laugh, in the silence you can hear your career going by. We rewrite the material on the spot or cut it. If it’s not funny in front of 200 human beings, it’s probably not funny at home.”

Amongst his other tips on the key to sitcoms are:

Make the story small.
“Stories should be about these characters trying to make it through the day. The obstacles in [their] path — that’s where the comedy comes from. You can start any story with the seven deadly sins. We all fall prey to those.”

Humor is secondary.
“If you start with a joke, it never can rise above glib.”

No ad-libbing.
“We do 24 shows a year and actors are going to ad-lib their way to success? I don’t think so.”

Never pander.
“The job is about guessing and hoping you’re making the right guess. How the f*** do I know what the audience wants? Because I spoke to a guy on a train? Does that guy represent 15 million people? I doubt it.”

Get the rights props.
“You have to keep a ukulele on your desk when you write sitcoms. It’s important so people respect you.”

Source: Esquire.com

22 Responses

  1. All of Chuck Lorre’s shows aren’t funny, particularly because all of the jokes are lame hack jokes (2.5 men has sex jokes, BBT has overused nerd jokes and M&M has fat jokes). And don’t lie to me Lorre, it doesn’t matter if you air it in front of an audience, You are paying them to laugh. There’s no other way around it, no one on Earth would laugh at 90% of the jokes in BBT that the “audience” laughs at, and seeing how they supposedly don’t have any laugh track to go with it and the audience your catering to (the ones who are to lazy to laugh on their own) I can’t see them laughing much at all.

    And no ad-libbing? Seriously?
    “We do 24 shows a year and actors are going to ad-lib their way to success? I don’t think so.”
    Community does 24 or more shows a year and they ad-lib, and it’s the smartest and funniest show on TV. Maybe it’s because your actors just aren’t that funny, or that you put too much pride in your own work to ever think of your actors rising above it.

  2. @newtaste I worked on tv comedies which were funny and studio audiences did laugh, but the convention, was in the post production stage, to smooth out edits, and as our host described it as ‘sweeten’ the laughs, and mix the audience mics with the rest of the performance mics. It was part of creating the soundtrack for the program. I imagine that TAYG do it to deal wlith lots of edits. Light entertainment programs (like GNW that i worked on) invariably run long and to get them to duration some savage edits take place, and the sound gets badly chopped – laughs and applause helps to create a seamless (hopefully) soundscape.

  3. @Benno- I think you’re right, I don’t remember seeing the Uni set, it must have been somewhere else. We saw the main apartment, the stairwell outside the apt, and I’m thinking Penny’s apt aswell. If we were allowed I would have taken pics for sure!
    Cause it wasn’t filming season absolutely everything was covered in plastic. It was almost unrecognisable, lol.

  4. The out takes of TBYG on the Ten website are mostly devoid of laughs, which gives the impression that at least some laughs are added to TBYG. I find it a really funny show and wonder why they would have to add in laughs.

  5. @ Dave: Do you know if all the main sets are in the same studio building? i.e. the main apartment, entrance to their building, stairs, etc?

    I would assume the University set would be in a different studio building.

    (apologies for [likely] 3 comments in a row)

  6. I too can vouch that there are many seats for an audience to watch the show (although the show wasn’t filming when I visited the set).

    From memory, the seats stretch all the way from the front door to the other side of the set.

    When I was in the audience for Craig Ferguson, there was approximately 102 people watching live with me. No doubt that figure is higher for sitcoms.

  7. I just got back from the VIP Tour at WB, we got to check out the sound stage for Big Bang Theory where the tour lady told us they do indeed film infront of a live audience of 200 people, as evident by the rows of seats they had facing the sets.
    She also mentioned that as well as testing the responses from the audience, they record all the laughter and include it in that particular episode.
    That’s so cool! I wish they were fliming when I was there!

  8. @Ararat – not that tomothy needs me to speak for him, but there is a difference between fake laughs, taken from a generic audience recording and using the laughter from the actual taping of a sitcom and as tomothy suggested moving it where a hole in the soundtrack exists. It’s all a degree of embellishment, but that could be where Mr Lorre may be a little disingenuous about what he uses.

  9. @tomothy

    What you are describing is exactly what a laugh track is. He says he doesn’t use them. You, apparently think he’s lying because if he does what you say, then that would be using a laugh track.

  10. Having a live audience doesn’t necessarily mean filming in front of it. You can film the show, then show it to a live audience and get the laughter track from there (I think that’s actually the way The Big Bang Theory works). You can vaguely tell the difference if you look carefully – watch Red Dwarf Season 6 and 7. In the former it’s clear that they are pausing for the laughter and the actors may need to improvise slightly as they wait for particularly big laughs to pass. In Season 7 that never happened as the laugh gaps are planned.

  11. what happens to to the episodes of 2.5men earlier this year where they didn’t film in front of an audience because Jon Cryer thought his wife had hired a hit man and the eps after Charlie Sheen was arrested?

  12. Dharma & Greg had to have a laugh track, because it was just not funny.
    I’d say that in 2.5Men and TBBT, that the laughs are real, but the laugh may have been used for another joke and slotted in where necessary.

  13. Didn’t know he was behind Cybill and Grace Under Fire as well both were ok sitcoms though not as good as D&G and the more recent ones. Anyway being a fan of the traditional live audience multi cam sitcom I’m a big fan of Chuck L and looking forward to the new one.

  14. I went to a filming of TAAHM earlier this year and i can vouch for the microphones in the audience…. had one hanging right above my head (very low down too)
    also went to a taping on Ellen and there are microphones attached to the seat in front of you. I was really surprised how “miced up” the audience was.
    Ive been to australian taping and normally there are just a couple of microphones hanging from the roof.

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