How these brutal edits are ruining comedy

Richard Sandling rails against heavy-handed post-production techniques

I was fortunate enough to get to do some of the studio warm-up for The Persuasionists. Unsure what to expect from a show about advertising executives, originally titled The Scum Also Rises, I was bracing myself for standard BBC Three fare – equal parts poorly written script, nasty characters, spiteful dialogue and lame situations.

Having got to see the dress rehearsal I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that it was a BBC Two show and that everything was, mostly, very funny. It really was.

From what I saw filmed, I was sure the BBC had the potential to have a minor hit on their hands. All my friends who came to see the shows being recorded agreed that this could be the BBC’s answer to the IT Crowd. And I emphasise that because having watched the first one go out on the BBC, it just didn’t work as well as it should have done. Why? Because the producers had once again decided to ‘fix’ a show in post-production.

The same thing happened with the We Are Klang episode I saw being recorded. I am a fan of Klang and I know the show had its faults but what I saw being filmed was definitely a lot funnier than the final product as broadcast.

Both the shows had all the pauses and pacing edited out them. It is one of the oldest maxims that comedy is about timing and the casts of both would have spent all week rehearsing and blocking the scenes so that their timing was as good as it could be. If you then undermine this by editing out all of the pauses and silences you have ruined the timing, delivery, impetus and impact of the scene and it won’t – and can’t – work as well as it should. It makes performers look bad when they were actually doing a fine job at the recording.

Another thing that the post-production people do is add additional laughter over the piece, which completely ruins and undermines the show. Putting aside the professional/purist argument that this is false or cheating, it is actually just detrimental.

Very few shows can claim to have a 100 per cent success rate for gags and some jokes are not intended to be belly laughs. Some things are just nice turns of phrase or sarcastic glances which are all part and parcel of the overall vibe of the piece. Some lines are designed to raise smiles and not laughs and that should not be considered a problem that needs ‘fixing in post’.

When you spread laughter over the show to bolster bits that you feel are not strong it invalidates any genuine laughs for bits that are good because we, as an audience, subconsciously assume all the jokes are weak – that’s what fake laughter means, even if it is used on the good jokes.

I still laughed out loud at certain bits of The Persuasionists despite having seen them do each scene about six times at the shoot, but the audience laughed exactly the same at all the jokes, whether good or bad. I was watching something I really thought was funny and was being antagonised into disliking it by the post-production techniques.

It ended up like watching the Sixties Scooby-Doo episodes where they put canned laughter over anything a character says.

Fake laughter is something you could just about get away with except that the person in charge of putting the laughter on both Klang and The Persuasionists (and others) clearly has no idea of what comedy is, as they put laughs after feed lines, set ups and exposition which, coupled with the stripped down editing, results in show that’s very hard to follow.

The inappropriate and misplaced laughter often bleeds over dialogue and, more damagingly, punchlines, making it hard to work out what is being said, what is a genuine laugh and what is being bolstered with additional laughter. It is completely disorientating for the viewer and makes you not trust any jokes as they all get the same reaction. The jokes are often barely audible anyway as they are drowned out by the unnecessary guffaws resulting from the previous line.

This terrible tampering makes audiences think that the show was written, performed and recorded to a poor standard in the first instance and it is frustrating when you actually know that this is not the case but that the show has been, essentially, hijacked and undermined. I was half expecting rapturous rounds of applause to be added in whenever a character first appeared, that was practically the only awful audience effect they didn’t throw in.

Sadly, this is all seemingly standard practice now, and it absolutely ruins programmes. If the BBC are still keen to do live studio sitcoms rather than comedies free of laughter tracks, they need to take the whole process a lot more seriously and not ruin shows by their amateur knowledge of post production enhancement and their lack of faith in the product they commissioned.

The continual insincere laughter track over unnecessarily edited down comedy is ruining shows. It must be stopped.

Published: 15 Jan 2010

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