Laugh tracks are typically used during television sitcoms to emphasize jokes and elicit laughter from viewers. Although use of laugh tracks has fluctuated throughout television history, many of the most popular sitcoms in the 2010s still make use of pre-recorded laughter.
The laugh track originated during the 1940s as a method of replicating the traditionally communal experience of watching a live comedy performance. Radio programs used pre-recorded laughter to make content more familiar to viewers, who were used to watching comedy in theaters or other public venues. The laugh track transitioned to television in 1956, making its first appearance on “The Hank McCune Show” and quickly spreading to other comedies. Many artists were opposed to the use of laugh tracks, but those who rebelled against the practice, including Bill Cosby and The Monkees, soon found their shows cancelled.
The laugh track was dominant up through the 1990s, but many 2000s sitcoms, such as “The Office,” “Arrested Development” and “30 Rock,” subverted conventions, doing away with pre-recorded laughter. While many shows without laugh tracks have since achieved popularity and critical success, in the 2010s the laugh track is still a fixture of the most popular sitcoms. Shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” which relies on laugh tracks, attract dramatically more viewers than more experimental shows like “Louie” or “Parks and Recreation.”