One function of not watching much television as a kid, or perhaps just my general weirdness, is that I’ve never particularly liked watching comedies that are taped before a live studio audience. For me, trying to figure out if what I think is funny is the same as what that audience thinks is funny (or what the laugh track is telling me I should think is funny) has always made me feel more alienated than at home. But Todd VanDerWerff, who I would like to be when I grow up, has an interesting defense of the form centered around a taping of 2 Broke Girls (about which more to come):
But in comedy especially, the need to suggest that a community is watching the show has become less and less important. In some respects, this is an outgrowth of our growing sophistication as an audience. My generation is only the second to grow up with television always present in the home; we’ve been raised on setup-punchline humor, so it’s essentially impossible for us to be surprised by it anymore…It might also have something to do with the fact that the Internet provides an instant community for viewers. A relatively small audience may watch Community every week, but the Internet makes it easy for fans to find each other. We don’t need ghost voices to laugh with us when we have our friends online spitting out LOLs…
I couldn’t honestly tell you if the episode I saw being filmed was funnier than the pilot, simply because the atmosphere of the event had me primed to laugh at every little thing that happened. The comedian was an expert at getting the audience just revved up enough to be ready to laugh uproariously without exhausting us. The DJ was great at picking just the right song (or sound clip) for just the right moment. And down on the floor, the people making the show worked diligently to pull the whole thing together, tweaking lines we weren’t laughing at quite as hard as other lines, and figuring out ways to zip the performances along even better.
I think the bit about the Internet is exactly it; instead of checking to see if I’m in synch with an anonymous community, I can find out for sure with a clearly defined community that I’m invested in. Watching True Blood this season, checking in with my Twitter pal BabylonSista helped me confirm that I wasn’t losing my mind with rage. I check in with folks about quotations and nuances as I watch Thursday night’s NBC comedy block. In an age of niche television, the whole point is that you aren’t part of an ephemeral, but low-engagement community; it’s that you can find a concrete, high-engagement one who loves the things you love.