A decade or two ago, almost all TV comedy shows had a canned laughter track. This was, in some cases, due to the fact they were filmed in front of a live audience, but it also seemed to be telling audiences when to laugh. A new Kickstarter project thinks comedy should work differently.
The Kill the Cann ‘Laugh Track Suppression Device’ allows viewers to remove canned laughter from comedy shows, giving them the opportunity to avoid what some comedy fans see as unnecessary, and even perceive as an insult to their intelligence.
This is especially the case when laughter is not natural and was simply edited in later.
Users of the device could even experiment to see how classic shows are changed when bursts of laughter are replaced with the clattering, strategic silences preferred by innovative comedy shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Arrested Development.
A serious Kickstarter project
“For some of us, (canned laughter) is really annoying!” says the project’s Kickstarter page.
“For viewers, canned laughter can distort the dialogue, make it hard to hear clearly or understand, or simply insert laughs in places that you don’t think are funny.”
As a team with sound engineering expertise, the staff behind the project decided they could make a difference. The page explains that:
“As scientists with expertise in image and audio signal processing, as well as speech and vocalization analysis, we were all intrigued.”
“Undesirable canned laughter is definitely a “sound” issue – which is right up our alley. A survey of others revealed this was a common issue. Over 80% of our survey audience replied that laugh tracks on television shows annoyed them.”
“Armed with that insight, we decided to design a simple do-it-yourself solution that anyone could use with his/her own TV.”
How sitcom sound is put together
Their prototype, if backed, will turn into a device that uses an “advanced signal processing algorithm.”
It works in conjunction with current HDMI streaming devices such as DVR and Chromecast, with the HDMI cable of the DVR being connected to the device and then to a TV.
Then, says the team, you can, “just turn on the switch to suppress laughter in any show you are watching.”
While you’re enjoying the show with the sound no longer feeling like it’s the 1980s, the device is detecting available audio tracks of a multi-track television program to process, remove or reduce certain components, particularly audience sounds.
“This applies to any program which is supplied with several audio channels, whether provided by cable, DVD, Internet streaming, or otherwise,” says the Kickstarter page.
The device’s mechanics rely on a knowledge of how audio engineers assemble the sounds of a sitcom.
“Generally, music/special effects get a left and right channel, the left and right sides of the audience get left and right channels and one channel is dedicated to low-frequency sounds (bass),” says the Kickstarter page.
“Finally, the performers get one channel – which they share with the middle of the audience.
“In our processing, each of the audience tracks and the performance track get special attention.
TV is always evolving, and the rejection of a laughter track by makers of comedy has been a choice most have taken. There are still decades’ worth of sitcoms with laughter tracks, though, which some may wish to give a 21st-century makeover with an innovative device.