The laugh track is increasingly becoming a rarity on television these days, with CBS’ lineup keeping the once-usual TV tactic alive. But nearly a decade ago, the laugh track was much more common, with popular shows like Friends and Seinfeld cueing audience members on when to laugh. Friends, in particular, is built on jokes layered on other jokes, but what would the show be without its signature humor? The answer is explored in the video above, and it’s pretty strange.
Over at YouTube, one user decided to explore the concept of Friends without jokes, taking a look at “The One With the Apothecary Table,” a memorable episode from Season 6. During the episode, Joey and his gal pal go on a double date with Chandler and Monica and Rachel hides a secret about her not-so-vintage furniture pieces from Phoebe. The characters are all pretty zany when you see them having random conversations without the jokes, and the fact that they are often more caricatures than true characters does stand out.
Still, what’s most amazing is how many jokes must fill the pages of each and every one of the scripts from Friends. The video is only 2 minutes and 42 seconds long, yet it basically explains the entire episode from start to finish because it focuses solely on the plot. I know half-hour TV shows have to account for commercials, but that still means the writers must have cobbled together an extremely large amount of jokes each episode to keep audiences entertained. Even if you aren’t a fan of Friends, that should give you a healthy respect for its comedy writers.
Even though Friends went off the air in 2004, the above video still highlights how much of a cultural impact the comedy had on society. A good percentage of readers are no doubt pretty familiar with the episode in question, and those who aren't likely at least know the personalities of the lead characters well enough that the action will seem comfortable and familiar.
Many people like to equate the laugh track with a lack of quality. Maybe that's true of new shows. Maybe it's not. Either way, the laugh track should not be held against old shows because that's how almost every program operated. Laugh tracks and studio audiences were almost assumed when the basic format of shows were even put together. As a result, they were more products of a particular place and time rather than real artistic choices the creators were making.
If you feel like watching Friends, just channel surf long enough and you'll probably get there eventually. Unfortunately, I can't promise you "The One With The Apothecary Table" will be on.