Friends did use a laughter track for some episodes, but the hit series predominantly utilised live studio audiences for a bulk of the 10 seasons.
Have you ever watched a sitcom and heard the same sound bite of people laughing for every comical moment? As a viewer, instances like this begin to make you wonder if the laughter is real or not. This is because the sitcom is most probably using a laugh track.
Though this is a common practice, for earlier sitcoms, especially sitcoms that had a big budget, the convention was to use a live studio audience in order to yield real laughter. One such sitcom to have used live studio audiences instead of a laugh track was Friends.
The difference between a laugh track and a live studio audience
In light of the “new normal” following the global pandemic, the use of a laugh track in sitcoms has become the convention. This is as the inclusion of a large live studio audience for production can become a logistical nightmare, as all members of the audience would need to be screened for COVID-19.
But before the pandemic, the convention for sitcoms was the use of a live studio audience which helped in gauging whether the comedic moments were actually funny or not. A shortfall with the use of a laughing track.
Does Friends have a laugh track?
A quick answer to the question would be, yes and no. Here’s the thing, for most of the episodes it shot during its 10-year run between 1994 and 2004, Friends did not use a laughing track.
The hit sitcom utilised a live studio audience to shoot most of the episodes. At the time of the show’s running, it would invite an audience of 300 people to be part of the live studio audience when shooting an episode.
However, Friends did not shoot all their episodes with a live studio audience present. Therefore, for episodes that did not have a live studio audience, the sitcom would use a laugh track.
That being said, the laughing track was mostly made up of previously recorded laughter from episodes when the live studio audience were present.
Which episodes of Friends used a laugh track?
The sitcom Friends used a live studio audience when shooting most of the episodes of the show. This meant that the public would know what was going on in the series before the actual airing of the show, as audience members were not sworn to secrecy.
As a result, for the season finales and the series finale, production did not invite a live studio audience, and thus, laugh tracks were used.
How did Friends treat its live studio audience?
Friends is said to have had a live studio audience of 300 people for most of the episodes it shot. Each episode would take on average six hours, which was inclusive of the multiple takes for a scene and the changing of sets.
The live studio audience would sit through the whole experience, and in return, production gifted the audience. This included a complimentary gift for each member of the live studio audience, and refreshments in the form of food and beverages, especially if production was running behind on schedule.
What is the disadvantage of a laugh track?
Creators of shows like Friends believed that the use of a live studio audience was key in producing a hit sitcom. This is in opposition to sitcoms that use a laugh track. A live studio audience is preferred, because the production team has the opportunity to know if the script is funny.
A laugh track omits this, as it is the editor’s prerogative to decide how to use laughter based on the script and what they feel is funny. The result can be that even when a moment is funny for viewers, it is not acknowledged by the edit or vice versa.
Laughing tracks are sometimes regarded as a cheat code in sitcoms. This is due its use being decided by an individual, the editor, based on the script and what they believe is a funny moment. A belief which can either be true for the viewing audience or not.
This is probably why sitcoms before the “new normal” preferred inviting a live studio audience to sit in when they were shooting episodes, as the show would use the actual laughter from the audience instead. A show that predominantly used a live studio audience to its advantage was Friends, instead of using a laugh track.