Thursday, March 03, 2016

Inappropriate laughter -- yes, there is such a thing

Interesting article recently in the Boston Globe about the seemingly growing trend of people laughing at inappropriate moments during dramatic plays. I can imagine how disconcerting that would be for actors. There they are baring their souls and some idiots are chortling.

As a comedy playwright my first thought was: A big joke I killed myself over got nothing while Blanche DuBois’s gut wrenching speech describing all the deaths in her family got monster laughs? What the fuck?

But in a sense, that’s the unpredictability of live theater – you never really know what kind of reaction you’re going to receive. It was always puzzling when I had my play last year at the Falcon Theatre that certain lines got huge laughs one night and tepid the next, while other lines that in some performances got meh suddenly got screams. But at least those were all intended laughs.

The article goes on to speculate the reason for this new trend of uncalled-for mirth, and I don’t think it’s possible to arrive at a definitive answer. Is there a detachment from Millennial audiences? Is the laughter a defense against being too vulnerable? Are we desensitized because of all the digital viewing we now do? Is the material so intense we need to somehow break the tension?

Two points the article omitted, in my opinion:

People are ruder now. They just are.  You see it in movie theaters all the time. They’ll talk, they’ll text, they don’t give a shit that they’re bothering everyone around them. So you think they’re going to have respect for live actors?

And two, gotta be real – maybe at times people are laughing because the lines are so terrible or the performance is so bad. Although, if you’re yucking it up at a Tennessee Williams play it’s probably not the words.

The article does point out there are a growing number of comedy-dramas like BAD JEWS, which I saw a couple of months ago. So the audience might not recognize whether a line is meant to get a laugh or a punch in the gut.

I’ve mentioned this before (in the ten years I’ve done this I’ve now probably mentioned everything before), but in the first season of CHEERS we had an episode called “the Coach’s Daughter.” She was insecure about her looks and the Coach, in an attempt to comfort her says she looks just like her mother. His point was that he thought her mother was beautiful and so was she. But the audience exploded in laughter. It was maybe the biggest laugh of the episode. They thought we were going for a joke. We ended up removing the laugh because it hurt the integrity of the scene and undermined the story. But we had that luxury because the show was on film.

My heart goes out to actors who are understandably thrown by misplaced laughter. I don’t know how you prevent it. People come to the theater, you want them to have emotional reactions, but how do you tell them to contain any inappropriate emotions?

I would just ask theatergoers to remember that real people are performing these plays for you. It’s not like watching your flatscreens. The actors will hear you when you goof on them. Remember they have rehearsed for weeks, probably are not making much money, and are giving of their time and talent to entertain YOU. The least you could do is be respectful.

And if you find Blanch DuBois' pain funny, you're sick.  


Rinaldo said...

This isn't all that new a phenomenon. I remember attending a production, of A Streetcar Named Desire in fact, in the mid 1970s. It was a good university theater production, in its summer venue (a rural playhouse that was something of a local attraction), with apparently a busful of high school students attending. And they thought Blanche's anguish was just the funniest thing ever. They also apparently loved the show (standing ovation at the end, before this was a standard thing). I felt outrage then, and I remain puzzled. Maybe they had no experience of such tragic emotion except in parodistic contexts, and it took them most of the play to adjust to new premises. But I'm only guessing.

blinky said...

Plan 9 from Outer Space was a drama that has more laughs than most network sitcoms today.
But I have to admit I laughed at Burton and Taylor in Who's afraid of Virginia Wolfe because the they were so over the top mean to each other. I guess that was inappropriate. But I did see it originally in a drive-in so nobody was bothered.

decal1028 said...

Hi Ken, love the blog, I'm here everyday.

You finish by imploring us to respect the actors, as if the only explanation for me laughing (at the "wrong" time) is that I'm rude...what if I just didn't get it? Whatever was said struck me as funny, I'm not trying to be an asshole.

Andrew said...

Ken, was that scene in Cheers added back in the DVD? I could swear that I remember hearing that line. Not only that, but I thought it was funny too. I think because it broke the tension of the scene, and it seemed Coach was clueless that he was saying his wife was unattractive. (Of course, as always with Coach, it was touching at the same time.)

Point being, I remember that line, and it was genuinely funny, but not in a disrespectful way.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I have a thought on this...
1) Maybe the audience laughed because EVERYthing Coach said tended to be for a laugh. Same with Woody.
Almost before they open their mouths you expect something humorous to flow out.
To hear something deep from them, at the time it was filmed would be unexpected.

In order for the audience to shift their expectations without knowing they are supposed to, maybe too much.

Perhaps that's from creating too good of a character and too good of acting.

I'd think other actors would have the same issue with the audience.

An audience coming to see [Bob Newhart Or Art Carney, or Christopher Lloyd, or Ted Knight or Sean Hayes or Lucille Ball] in a sitcom maybe be caught off guard if they were delivering a dramatic scene.

Philip said...

There was an article posted on the CBC (yes, I'm a Canadian... I'm sorry) about the kinds of laughter. One of them was "uncomfortable" – perhaps your thinking that millennials are uncomfortable being vulnerable is on to something.

I know lots of people who laugh after making comments that are not funny nor intended to be so: "My boyfriend told me I was stupid (haha)" is the kind of thing I hear on the bus all the time.

I saw a show a few years back that was so awful people laughed at the actors delivering dramatic and suspenseful lines and then about 2/3 of the audience left at intermission. I felt really bad for the actors, but the acting was mediocre and the play was worse so I also felt bad that I had to pay for it Рunfortunate situational fallout that is part of live theatre i guess. The theatre that put it on is usually great and I've loved everything else I've seen there; I guess there's a couple of 0-for-4 with 3 Ks on Mickey Mantle's resum̩ too.

dgwphotography said...

That scene in "Coach's Daughter" is my favorite from the entire run of Cheers. That moment when Lisa realized she would be hurting her father's feelings, and changed course was just a beautiful moment.

J Lee said...

What happened with Cheers sounds similar to what happened when United Productions of America, the cartoon studio that pioneered the more abstract designs in animation, decided to make a cartoon of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" in the early 1950s. They pulled out all the stops -- 3-D, elaborate background design and staging, and even hired James Mason as the narrator.

Didn't matter. Theatrical audiences of the day were conditioned by 1953 to assume that a cartoon was going to be about funny stuff, and they were laughing at "The Tell-Tale Heart", to the point Columbia and UPA had to put a notice at the start of the cartoon that dagnabbit this wasn't one of those funny cartoon pictures, so stop laughing inappropriately.

The audience at the Cheers filming probably was informed by the same assumptions coming in -- they were going to see a sitcom that deals with funny one-liners, so Coach's comment to his daughter must be another one of those funny one-liners.

Chris said...

I remember that moment with the daughter and I remember being so moved by it. I was a young writer on a soap opera and--honestly not trying to kiss up here--it taught me so much about just how to create vulnerable, real moments. And boy, did those two actors make it work.

Pat Reeder said...

I saw that "Cheers" rerun just last week, and was reminded of what a beautiful, touching scene it was, and how the actors conveyed so much just with pauses, expressions and their tone of voice. How anyone could laugh at it is beyond me.

When my wife does her live shows that combine music and comedy, I sometimes introduce them. I tell the audience, "A reminder: the show you're about to see is taking place live. It's not on television. As happy as we are that you find it stimulates conversation, please wait to hold that conversation until it is over."

Mark Dundas Wood said...

This is a topic that I've thought a lot about over the years. I remember, indeed, hearing much audience laughter during "Streetcar" when I saw it performed in DC several years ago, with Patricia Clarkson as Blanche. I kind of understood it, because there is an over-the-top quality to Blanche's vanity, self-dramatization, and delusion. And she is somehow able to laugh at herself at points. Still, I wouldn't say Clarkson was exactly clowning up there. I can't imagine that Jessica Tandy's original performance ever got that kind of response (though I've read that Tallulah Bankhead got howls of laughter when she camped it up in a revival at NY's City Center).

I do think there is some heavy-duty desensitization going on these days. You know that catch phrase "too soon?" when a topical joke about a tragic news story fails because it seems to be in bad taste? I sometimes wonder if ANYTIME is "too soon" any longer, especially on political comedy shows. Sometimes on "The Daily Show" there'll be a period of a day or two following some sort of violent and/or deadly incident when jokes are off limit, but before long the story will be fair game, and audiences have grown comfortable about laughing when the gags start coming. Also, I was truly surprised that so many people laughed openly (instead of groaning disapprovingly) when Chris Rock made his "lynched grandmother" joke at the Oscars this year. (Which is not to say he wasn't making a valuable point.) There's always been dark and scathing comedy, but now people seem much more comfortable with it. We seem to be oceans apart from the time when Lenny Bruce shocked by (allegedly) bringing up JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader's bad luck, right after the Kennedy assassination. For good or for bad (and the issue of political correctness notwithstanding), we're certainly not as buttoned down as we were a generation or two ago.

Have we been liberated or have we gone completely uncouth?

Michael said...

Has there ever been a better television show about when it's appropriate to laugh than the episode Ken's friend David Lloyd wrote, "Chuckles Bites the Dust"?

Diane D. said...

I loved that moment with Coach and his daughter, and laughter would have ruined it. But it makes me wonder why other inappropriate laughter wasn't removed. There are several dramatic moments between Sam and Diane in which audience laughter is very distracting and almost ruins the scene.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

This actually came up elsewhere the other day, but I gotta share this: twelve years ago on my first day of performing (and on live TV, mind you), I got the absolute biggest laugh I have ever gotten from people . . . and it wasn't even anything funny.

tavm said...

Having read about the audiences' reaction to Coach's line about his daughter looking just like her late mother after reading about some male audiences' reaction to when the costume designer of Mad Max walking down the aisle after her name was announced as the winner at the Oscars (indifferent stares is possibly the most polite way to describe it) makes me wonder of we're ever gonna know what the suitable way to react to certain situations is. Certainly the possibility that Donald Trump may become the Republican presidential nominee doesn't give me any hope for this year's election...

Chester said...

I think the Bumble Bee Pendant is on to something. It's sometimes difficult for an audience who is expecting the actor to be funny NOT to laugh at things that are unexpectedly serious.

A few years back Jerry Seinfeld was on Letterman explaining what had recently happened with Michael Richards. Richards, as you will remember, imploded during one of his stand-up routines. He had uttered inappropriate and racist remarks during the improvised bit. The press had crucified him for it. Seinfeld apparently invited Richards to atone during a live link-up during his interview with Letterman. While Seinfeld clearly felt bad for Richards, the audience couldn't stop laughing and chortling through the whole thing. When Richards joined the conversation, people continued to laugh because they felt it was a set-up to something else.

Overall it was really uncomfortable, but totally understandable. People just didn't expect Seinfeld or Richards to be serious. Especially on a late night talk show.

Mike Doran said...

If I read the sentence correctly, you kept the line, but edited out the laugh - skillful editing would take care of it.

What I'm wondering:
What was the reaction to the audience's response by the actors?
Your live audience, recruited from shopping malls and parking lots, would only have known the addled Coach; unless they were TV GUIDE devotees, they would most likely have little if any awareness of Nicholas Colasanto's lengthy resume as a versatile actor (and skilled director).
I wondered how Colasanto and Allyce Beasley handled the inappropriate laugh when it happened - did it throw their performances off (I'm guessing not), or did they express irritation or disappointment afterward?

That people are ruder nowadays - actually, they passed that point quite a while back.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

David G. Whitford: Unless your mother is dead and you are mourning her loss, damn few young women want to be told they look just like her, IMO. "You look just like your daughter", sure. A lot of women in their teens and 20s, being *at all* like their mothers, particularly the 1970s generation (born mid-late 1950s) is the very last thing in the world they want. If you're not sensitive to the context, therefore, your first reaction might well be to think it was a joke showing Coach's utter clumsiness.


BA said...

There must have been a time when burial urn humor was "too soon", like toilet humor. Now we've got both, ashes and flooded toilet gags. Have to admit The Big Bang Theory's "Clogzilla" joke really reached the Porky's side of me.

Peter said...

Talking of laughter, I watched the trailer for the Ghostbusters remake and I didn't laugh once. And you have to bear in mind they supposedly put all the best jokes into trailers to sell a movie. If that's the best they've got, it's gonna stink worse than a hobo's sock.

It was a stupid idea to remake a classic in the first place.

Walt said...

Stifle that involuntary laugh I don't know I'm about to give?
Got it.

Anonymous said...

Chester Said:

"When Richards joined the conversation, people continued to laugh because they felt it was a set-up to something else."

Why do you recount this as if you're the grand historian of television comedy? Who do you think you are? I laughed at Richards because he was a pretentious, presumptuous idiot acting like a pretentious, presumptuous idiot, apologizing for being a pretentious, presumptuous idiot.

I didn't expect him to be funny. I expected him to be rich, clueless, and pathetic, and he didn't disappoint.

"I called some dumbass the "N" word, numerous times! I got mad because he was talking and ignoring me while I was trying to perform my bad standup! I'm Michael Richards! I just got back from Bora Bora! I went there alone to try and figure it all out! I.. I still don't know what came over me! I'm Michael Richards! Maybe the Letterman Show on a satellite feed, with Jerry Seinfeld running defense for me is the wrong venue, but I'm Michael Richards, and I'm sorry I got filmed on a cell phone using the "N" word!"



Brian Phillips said...

Not that the filmmakers heard it, but I remember an unwanted reaction to a trailer. The movie was actually quite good, it just had an inappropriate title, because it referenced a song/album title.

The trailer wound down and the voiceover said, "Bonnie Shirley "Cha Cha"

"Heart Like a Wheel!"

It is the only time i've heard an audience go, "Ohhhhh!", as if they heard a dreadful pun.

Friday question: There are any number of stories of secretaries at Motown asked to sing on records, actors that end up working behind the camera, heck, there's even this urban legend about a DJ becoming a writer, but I'll Google that later.

Do you have any stories of people that you worked with that went from a ______ to a ________ that was pleasantly unexpected?

Chris said...

Technical friday question:

Is VINYL a premise pilot? Because usually, in comedies at least, the premise pilot is clearly defined: the protagonist's life is going along just fine and then something very sudden and unexpected happens that determines the course of the entire series.

In VINYL, Richie Finestra's life and career were already going down the toilet before the series started, but some pretty dramatic stuff goes down in the pilot that determines the course of the entire series. But everything he does in the pilot was already predetermined before the first episode.

Bum said...

I remember the first time I ever saw the "Cheers" scene in question, and when I heard the line ["Oh my God! You look just like your mother"], I thought it was a funny line myself and waited for the audience laughter to follow, which it never did. I remember saying to myself, "That was FUNNY, how did the audience collectively know NOT to laugh?". It's interesting to finally find out what really happened there! I actually think if you separate that line from the show it still sounds funny on it's own, which is perhaps why, coming out of Coach's mouth, it seemed REALLY funny [in an otherwise touching scene]. And to Andrew, who earlier posted that you SWEAR you remember saying you saw that scene on your "Cheers" DVD... you DID see it. Ken said they removed the audience LAUGHTER from the broadcast scene, not the scene itself.

Todd Everett said...

Re: Virginia Woolf -- I saw a production in London directed by Albee, and he mounted it as a comedy. Very dark, but (and he was saying so in interview at the time) a comedy. Stars, incidentally, were David Suchet and Diana Rigg.

Closer to the Ken's point, I remember seeing "Being There" first run, and people in the audience were laughing from the beginning, even though the first several minutes are non-comedic set-up. Maybe because when Peter Sellers shows up, people automatically guffaw? Hell if I know.

Mickey said...

My best friend and I laughed in the theater while watching the "penis tuck" scene in The Silence of the Lambs.

H Johnson said...

I agree that people are ruder. They are also stupider. There are a couple generations running around now that never read anything longer than the click-bait on the internet. So subtlety or irony will fly over their heads. But at least they're IN the theater. And audience behavior in a live setting is always unpredictable.

Using 'A Streetcar Named Desire' as an example nowadays is a little tough. Although the heart of the story is still valid, the setting is impossibly dated because it is usually done verbatim as written. The south is no longer looked upon as strange and charming but just strange and... well you know. So young audiences will probably get stuck on the presentation opposed to the story.

That Cheers episode is one of my favorites. I understood the misunderstanding between Coach and his daughter the first time I watched it. It was beautifully written and acted. Especially when the daughter suddenly decides not to hurt her father's memory of her mom by saying that her mother was not "comfortable with her beauty". Still brings a lump to my throat just remembering it. Well done.

Great post.


MikeN said...

Friend of mine said the whole theater was laughing hysterically during Return of the Jedi after one guy started it. Lots of lines can be taken the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

I get annoyed with the applause at talk shows, that I think I would applaud at inappropriate times. 'Person robbed at gunpoint today.' YEA!

normadesmond said...

i'm laughing now.

Bruce Hannigan said...

The solution to unintentional laughs is authentic moments. No one laughed when Walter White suffered through Hank's assassination or David Lee digested Will's Gardner's death.

Anonymous said...

I also loved the Coach/Daughter scene. Thought it was very touching, especially since Coach was such a lovable goofball and that line was not typical Coach. He clearly loved and missed his wife and saw her beauty in his daughter. Plus that was the "Pond Scum" episode with Phillip Charles Mackenzie. Great writing.Janice B.

thirteen said...

Back in high school, my best friend was cast as one of the villagers, an old man, in Teahouse of the August Moon. He had a sad line about having been forced to sell a handicraft to an American sailor who'd told him "Take nickel or jump in lake." The line got a huge laugh, but it wasn't supposed to. My friend was still complaining about it at our class's 25th reunion.

Gary said...

I remember reading that audiences sometimes laughed during the original run of Hitchcock's Psycho. Had to be nervous laughter, I assume.

DwWashburn said...

When I first dated my wife, we went to the '90s movie version of Little Women. It's my wife's favorite book. There is a scene where the main character cuts her hair and sells it. One of her sisters says "Oh, Jo. Your hair. Your only beauty." The audience laughed and my wife was livid. At dinner after the movie she tried to explain to me what that line meant and why it was not funny. But twenty five years later, the line still sounds like the sister is saying "Without your hair, you am butt ugly." So a lot of "laughter at the wrong spots" is not the fault of the audience but the fault of poorly constructed lines or scenes.

VP81955 said...

To Brian Phillips: Are you referring to Roger Christian, the KFWB jock who wrote songs for the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean? (Speaking of KFWB, it's changed formets once again, to a Southeast Asian station, though it will continue to carry Clippers games through the end of this season. Between formats, the station ran a 5-minute loop on its history -- it went on the air 91 years ago tomorrow, owned by the Warners studios on Sunset Boulevard -- and we learned it became LA's first full-time rock'n'roll station on Jan. 2, 1958, and was the first station anywhere to play the Beach Boys in December 1961.)

Both of the "Mom" eps I've attended have been relatively light, but I'm sure Chuck Lorre, Nick Bakay et al always enter somo of their "heavier" eps with some trepidation of whether those attending will get it. By now, though, I think most of the studio audience is aware the series is more than Anna Faris and Allison Janney cracking one-liners and doing physical comedy; if that's all you want, better go next door to see (shudder) "2 Broke Girls." (Now that they're back-to-back on Thursday nights, it's a perfect example of sublime-to-ridiculous.)

Myles said...

Agreed. I'll take it one step further and say male or female not at any age under 35 do you want to be told you look or act like you're parents unless they've passed away. Especially by your other parent who of course would think they are beautiful no matter what because they were together.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@H Johnson Is "stupider" a word?

@DwWashburn The only thing I know about women and hair is that a woman can say anything they want about a man's hair and think nothing of it, but if a man says anything about a woman's hair, you might as well have just signed your own death warrant.

Mark Murphy said...

Ken: Your post reminds me of how, a few weeks ago, I saw "The Maltese Falcon" in a theater and Sam Spade's line to Brigid O'Shaughnessy at the end -- "If they hang you, I'll always remember you" -- actually got a few laughs.

stephen catron said...

Having done live theatre for 30 years, laughter can indeed come at any time. It's not new. Some nights are dead (we say those audiences wanted to listen) and some are filled with laughter. You never know and to try and figure out why is pointless. Occasionally the most hearfelt scene will have laughter and I think it's just a release of emotion, other night the funniest lines get nothing. It's the nature of the beast.

Unknown said...

Inappropriate laughter can certainly be annoying, and from my own experience one can easily be taken out of the drama by it, but I think it's existed for a while. Who knows, maybe in ancient Greece some dipstick started guffawing during a performance of Oedipus.

Although not a play, probably one of the most notorious examples was at the first preview of the Orson Welles film "The Magnificent Ambersons" where the sporadic laughing degenerated into jeering.

It's funny that you mentioned Tennessee Williams. Sometime ago I was listening to an old radio adaption of "The Glass Menagerie" with Helen Hayes and Montgomery Clift that's a good example where the audience starts laughing at dramatic moments, almost turning parts of the play into a sitcom:


Craig Gustafson said...

Friday Question:

Years ago, I attended a taping of "Anything But Love" with Jamie Lee Curtis, Richard Lewis, Ann Magnuson and John Ritter. It was like watching a live play that occasionally stopped for retakes or to move to a different set. It was highly enjoyable.

Last week, my wife and I went to a taping of "Mom" with Anna Faris and Allison Janney. I *love* Allison Janney. This "live" taping had the actors performing behind screens -- that is, when the scene hadn't been pre-taped. We only ever saw the actors on the monitors. Even when there was a curtain call, people were standing in front of me and I never got to see Allison Janney live at all. It was four and a half hours of my life I'll never get back.

We had been excited to read in the program that Richard Schiff was guest starring. YAY! CJ and Toby together again. Except that his bit was pre-taped. Meanwhile, 90% of the time we were in the hands of the warm up guy, Mark Sweet. "I want to FEEL THE LOVE!" He does his job very well, but it's a horrible job. We weren't there to be an audience, connecting with the actors and having them feed off our reactions. We were herded in to provide an uncanned laugh track, whether the show was funny or not. It kind of WAS, but I was so pissed off at the bait-and-switch that I rarely laughed, especially because I kept being told that I HAD to. Sweet was *relentless* and wearying. At one point, he exhorted us all to make our favorite farm animal noise. Mine was, "I want to FEEL THE LOVE!"

So - how long has this trend been going on? Or is it *just* "Mom"?
They really should pay the audience for providing them with a service, since they were providing us with nothing but a four and a half hour life-sucking experience.

Carl Reiner is on record as saying, "It makes me crazy. The joke should get what it deserves, not what the laugh-meister tells you to give it." Exactly. I can't imagine "Mork and Mindy" becoming a hit without the adrenaline pipe-line between the audience and Robin Williams.

cadavra said...

VIRGINIA WOOLF as a play is tonally different than the movie. We did it in college and I mentioned to the lighting designer (I was her assistant in the booth) that it's really a comedy. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was nuts. Opening night, the audience laughed constantly--right where they were supposed to. At intermission, she turned to me and said, "I owe you an apology." (I saw an Albee-directed revival in the '80s with John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson that had the audience in stitches.) For whatever reason, Nichols and Lehmann turned the movie into a melodrama, even though the dialogue was mostly verbatim from the play, and that is the image most people have of it.

One reason there's a lot of unwarranted laughter these days is those damn millennials. They have this hipper-than-thou attitude that is completely unearned, and they feel the need to express their condescension to what they're watching whenever they can. This is one reason why I don't see movies until they've been in theatre for three weeks or so. (Heck, I didn't even see DEADPOOL till today.)

Anonymous said...

Mine too. Possibly my favorite moment in television. "Was not comfortable in her beauty"? So heartbreaking real.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken and Chester ,

Ken once said that on the set of Cheers near the end, the audience would laugh even at the set up of the joke, or when someone walked in. I think Ken said it was too "easy to make them laugh".

Because the actors and writers have programmed the audience to laugh. i think

yes, Michael Richards, as Kramer was always a laugh, even with just facial expressions.

Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy... even when you saw them on Johnny Carson or Letterman or Leno... YOU expected to be laughing. And it wasn't always the case.

Johnny Walker said...

I hope there isn't a growing trend of this. If it's true, I do wonder if it's nihilism born out of what we're ingesting through the Internet. An Isis execution is just as easy to view as a cute cat video (if you were disturbed enough to seek one out). It's very frightening in a way.

It really worries me when parents don't limit their child's access to the Internet. Never mind hideous gore, there's also sickening porn. And there's plenty of news stories that have grown from children watching such things.

Of course it's a bit of a leap from that to laughing in the theatre, so I hope I'm completely wrong, and we're not seeing the result of a generation who have had their formative years warped by exposure to inhumane things. It's probably just the beginning of my inevitable decline into saying things like, "in my day..."

Unknown said...

And - one's perception of a character can be influenced by other performances by the same actor.
I still have difficulty watching Leslie Nielsen in Forbidden Planet. I start chuckling at any of his really serious lines because I have too many memories of his deadpan but hilariously funny line deliveries in so many of his much later film comedies.

Kiri Blakeley said...

Ken, there's an entire obsessive Cheers fandom out here (we write fan fic! we make fan vids!), and we binge-watch and endlessly analyze the shows - yeah, kinda sad I guess? Ha. Anyway, we are always noticing inappropriate laughter - and this is 30 years ago. One that bothers us tremendously is in Cheerio Cheers when Diane drops her purse and runs back to Sam for an embrace before she's supposed to be leaving for Italy. As soon as they clinch, the audience cracks up. I think it's just nervous laughter - like you said, people uncomfortable being vulnerable - especially while sitting next to strangers. But I wish more of that had been edited out. (On a side note, I'm fascinated with whomever came up with the hugging scene, and all of the escalating 'friend' names they call each other - was it Sam Simon? When Sam says 'Yeah, chum?' it kills me.

Unknown said...

Oh please, don't guilt-trip me over some out of place laughter with that line about the underpaid, underappreciated live actors. The audience works hard at their jobs too, and despite many also being underpaid have decided to part with some of their hard-earned dough to be entertained - part of which is getting to laugh at whatever you find funny. This isn't a church, it's theater, and we're customers, not congregants. Sure, prolonged disruptive laughter is a no-no. but an out of place chuckle? Sorry, not buying it. Most of us paid money we got from working at jobs we hate so we could be entertained by someone working at a job they love - which outside of the entertainment industry is a rarity.

And yes, this is now me guilt-tripping you!