How I Met Your Mother Without Laugh Track (Literally) -

How I Met Your Mother Without Laugh Track (Literally)


Because canned laughter is mostly a thing of the past, most “without laugh track” clips are really nothing of the kind (just audience laughter muted). But this extended scene from last night’s How I Met Your Mother actually is without the laugh track, provided by an audience watching the finished episode. So here’s what it’s like.

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The actors on How I Met Your Mother don’t pause for laughter, which is why the show gets fewer “laugh track” accusations than shows that don’t have post-dubbed laughter: the audience laughter has to be dubbed in at a low level so as not to drown out the lines, so many people don’t notice it. Still, even in one unedited shot with no “coverage,” you can sort of see why the show still uses the track: it’s not that it’s not funny without it, just that the camera format and lighting has a somewhat spooky empty-studio feel without the presence of the laughter. On a single-camera show, the director and cinematographer use the lighting and camera angles to create atmosphere and avoid the feeling that the characters are just on a studio set. But on HIMYM, a set just looks like a set, and the laughter provides the sense of atmosphere that the mise-en-scène cannot.

Also, since I won’t get another chance to use this: Ben Vereen was last night’s HIMYM guest. An hour later, Charlie Sheen was on the same network. That’s right, Charlie Sheen and Ben Vereen on the same network on the same night. Pinky and the Brain fans will know why this is is significant. For the rest, just google “Charlie Sheen, Ben Vereen, shrink to the size of a lima bean.”


How I Met Your Mother Without Laugh Track (Literally)

  1. Why don't more multi-camera sitcoms make the audience response similarly soft? I don't know about most people, but for me audience laughter is usually only distracting when it's loud, or when there's applause for a character showing up (like with Kramer on Seinfeld) or the loud "WOOOOOOO" for characters getting romantic (which happened on Friends all the time).

    • The thing is that people laugh more, and louder, when they're watching something live. When you watch Monty Python or The Daily Show, note that the laughter is much louder in the in-studio segments than the out-of-studio segments (which are shown to the audience for their reactions). It's not just because of the mixing, but because people laugh harder and longer when it's right in front of them.

      Some shows do try to tone down audience reaction — most famously, Seinfeld ordered the audience to stop applauding Kramer's entrances. (Another example I remember is on WKRP when Loni Anderson appeared in a bathing suit, there was hardly any audience reaction except a stray whistle: MTM didn't believe in raucous audience reaction so they gave them what amounted to a gag order.) But other producers like the reaction and consider it part of the show — like Married With Children, which turned the out-of-control audience into almost a character — while in other cases it would mean replacing the real audience reactions with fake ones.

      • Agreed on Married with Children. You can almost hear the audience jumping around and throwing things in their excitement. Welcome Back Kotter is the only other show I can think of where the crowd contributed that much to the tone.

      • I feel like HIMYM had the laughter a little louder in its first season – or maybe the director and editors were honing the pace and left in some lulls after jokes specifically for the later audience to laugh during (I remember a lot of shots in the first season, especially the initial 13, where characters laughed or smiled at each other's jokes. Without an audience, those moments would be quiet and creepy). Before anyone really cared enough about the show to learn it had a newfangled tape-first, audience-later format, it even got a whole Onion editorial devoted to its supposed overuse of the laugh track:

  2. Who needs a laugh track when you have Neil Patrick Harris?? He is amazing!!

  3. Just read an article ripping on HIMYM because of the laugh track… But I think it could be the only sitcom where I no longer notice the track because it’s so quiet and the actors don’t pause for laughter