After “Taxi” came up in conversation (due to Jeff Conaway’s death) asked me for an example of James L. Brooks’ laugh. His loud laugh, sometimes dubbed “the honk” by insiders, can be heard on a lot of his shows – though not, for obvious reasons, The Simpsons – sometimes at places where not much of anyone else is laughing. Here’s an example where Brooks’ laugh is sort of “isolated”; it’s an early episode and he is beside himself at hearing Andy Kaufman talk in his made-up language.
Brooks’ laugh is very easy to hear once you’re used to it, though usually the sound mixers will try to hide it or drown it out or something. There are other individual laughs that you can hear on shows, but most of them belong to people whose voices I haven’t heard, so it’s hard to know who they are. (Now that Larry David is famous, I think I can sometimes hear him on Seinfeld, and of course there’s that guy on Night Court whose laugh occurs throughout the show and over the closing logo.) Maybe some insider should go through old clips of TV shows and create a guide to who possesses which annoying, loud laugh.
What the crew members are laughing at is sometimes open to question. Sometimes, particularly with Brooks, it seems like they’re laughing not at the jokes but at the performers – either they’re pleasantly surprised by what the performers are doing, or they’re laughing to give them encouragement. (You have to wonder if Brooks was laughing extra hard at Andy Kaufman because this early in the series, there might have been reason to worry that the audience wouldn’t.) Sometimes they may be laughing for the benefit of the network, or to egg on their own jokes, or simply to try and encourage the audience to join in. Or who knows, maybe they want to go home and tell the kids that they may not be on the screen, but that’s them on the soundtrack.