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FROM THIS EPISODE

Fake Laugh

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Let me try something out on you. It's a fake laugh I've been working on:

[laughs]

Does that sound real? See, here's my old one:

[laughs]

But that isn't as-rich sounding, I think. For small things I have this one:

[laughs]

And that still mostly works. See, when you write comedy for a living, you need to be able to laugh falsely but convincingly, because after the third run-through of a television episode, you've pretty much seen and heard the jokes fifty times -- they aren't really funny to you anymore, but to the actors who have to perform them in front of an audience the next day, it's important that they feel confident in the material and in their performance.

[laughs]

I also use that one, but it sometimes gives me a sore throat.

The trouble is, of course, that there's something desperate and undignified about this kind of fake laughter -- it's creepy and shameful, really, to force yourself to laugh at material that you wrote -- I mean, it's either funny or it's not, right? -- but in the crush and fever pace of television production, sometimes a fake laugh is the easiest way to get through the week. This material works, I have confidence in this wonderful line, the fake laugh telegraphs to the actors and the production staff. I know what works, the hollow, empty chuckles communicate, and this will work.

Because if the actors -- or worse, if the writers -- lose confidence in their material, then the worse possible thing happens: we have to come up with new material. And that's hard, and scary, and usually means eating takeout dinner. And if you've spent all week coughing out false chuckles, it's sometimes hard to remember what, if anything, really makes you laugh. Once, a writer on our staff pitched a very funny joke -- really, a scene-saving joke. I laughed in appreciation.

"What was that?" he asked.

"I was laughing."

"That's your fake laugh."

"It is? Really? What does my real laugh sound like?"

You can hear it, sometimes, on the track of a TV comedy -- the writers and producers are usually on the floor of the set, and our laughter often "makes the track" -- that is, it often gets picked up by the microphones on the set. Certain legendary figures in this town have incredibly idiosyncratic laughs. I can always tell when a show has been directed by a certain director because I hear his joyful -- and usually totally un-fake -- giggle all over the track.

But if you can tune your ears to hear desperation and panic, what you mostly hear is laughter that sounds like this: [laughter] I really need this job. [laughter] This show has got to work. [Crossroads tuition is 25k next year. [laughter]

But to hear that, you have to listen really, really closely.

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