Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • October 31, 2011
  • minute read

Leading with a laugh track 

Most of us grew up to the sound of a laugh track – the ubiquitous canned laughter with which producers have been overdubbing TV comedies since the 1950’s.The idea of a laugh track is simple – to give the audience at home a cue that this is indeed a joke (however lame), and that it’s OK to chuckle, guffaw or cackle appropriately. Even shows filmed in front of a live audience sometimes have the audience laughter ‘sweetened’ to make sure we at home think the script is funny (even if the live audience didn’t quite).

Of course shows like Modern Family, The Office and most anything HBO produces prove that laugh tracks aren’t necessary to produce great TV comedy. In fact, no amount of overdubbed hilarity will compensate for a dreadful script, poor acting, or both.

Equally so, the presence of a canned laugh track often drowns in an oleaginous aural goo what might be not just a funny performance, but one with comedic bathos as well. (For a couple of examples, try this scene from the Big Bang Theory which has had the laugh track removed, and this one of The Office – famously performed without a laugh track – with canned laughter dubbed on top.)

Here’s the thing: I see leaders perform with a laugh track all the time. Lacking confidence in their own acting skills (read: leadership ability) and unsure of the script (read: strategy), they construct the leadership equivalent of canned laughter – hints, cues and pointers that say: “I’m a leader and I’m leading now, so listen up“, or “This thing here – this is strategic – so it’s important and you better pay attention.

In the next post, I’ll share the most common forms those cues take – what the leadership equivalent of a laugh track looks and sounds like, but in the interest of self-awareness, before then I’d encourage you to ponder the question:

“Do I lead with a laugh track? And what would happen if I stopped?”

Okay, so that was two questions. Sorry. A-Hahahahaha.


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