Yes, we do add laughs to stand-up on TV | Producer confesses to meddling with the soundtrack

Yes, we do add laughs to stand-up on TV

Producer confesses to meddling with the soundtrack

It is a dark art, widely practised but rarely admitted to.

But now a leading producer has admitted that laughs are often added to stand-ups’ sets when they perform on TV.

Jason Dawson, a freelancer who produces The Russell Howard Hour, has defended the practice of artificially ‘boosting’ the laugh tracks in the edit because it makes the comedians look good.

Dawson, who also worked on Russell Howard's Good News, said his first responsibility is to the comics rather than faithfully capturing the reaction on the night.

'You never know what's going to happen on the night and it's my job to protect them in the edit, in whatever way you can. And sometimes, if you're savvy with the edit, adding in laughs and whatnot when there wasn't on the night,’ he told comedian Simon Caine on his Ask The Industry podcast.

'I try to know the [comedian's] set inside-out. So I know where the laughs are. If they haven't happened on the night, you boost them in the edit. As long as the person's performed it to a decent-to-great standard, it should look great and be a representation of what they do.’

Fake laughs blighted TV production in the 1960s, to the extent that most American sitcoms were recorded without an audience and ‘canned’ laughs dubbed on later, often feeling very invasive for viewers at home. But by the 1970s broadcasters again used studio audiences, while other shows ran without laugh tracks at all.

However, stand-up is a different prospect as the audience is such an integral part of the performance. Other producers have spoken about increasing the volume of laughter in the mix. And as Caine told Dawson, there is some controversy about the legitimacy of adding laughter from elsewhere in the set.

Dawson responded: 'For a stand-up, if you know where the laughs should be or normally are, and the comedian's left space for them, then you [as a producer] absolutely should do it to do service to the set they do.'

‘To not do it based on how an audience reacted one night for whatever reason, sometimes that's not within the comic's control. It may have been that there was a technical issue where it just killed the live audience for 20 minutes and then someone had to come out and the audience just don't respond … I think it would be unfair not to help the comic.

'So I see it as helpful. You're not pulling out canned laughter from a 1970s sitcom, you're taking it from the live track of the audience that night. So hopefully it sounds natural and isn't noticeable. The only person it might be noticeable to is the comic really.

'I don't see the problem with it. If the comics left space for it. You have to be careful with it, obviously. And not use it where it's not needed and not over-do it.' 

Dawson's collaborations with Howard, also including Stand-Up Central, have provided breakthrough television exposure for many upcoming acts. 

Nick Helm has previously told how editing saved his skin following his 2015 Live at the Apollo recording, which was characterised by mass walkouts and heckles, and which he called 'the worst gig of my life'.

Attributing the bad response to 'a room of people that didn't get' his faux-arrogant stage persona, Helm marvelled that the negative reception was absent from the episode when it aired.

'I've seen the edit, it's brilliant' he said. 'The thing is, it's a good performance. I can't believe watching it back that I actually gave a performance as good as I gave. Because I watch it and I can barely tell. I don't think you can really tell. It just looks like a good gig.'

- by Jay Richardson

Published: 29 Jan 2020

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