The Birth of the Canned Laughter Machine


So, question: on which show did canned laughter first appear?

TV historian Ben Glenn II answers that question, and many more in a delightful interview with the Paris Review's Mike Sacks. (Answer: The Hank McCune Show, a short-lived NBC situation comedy.) The trivia most apropos to our topic here, though, is that the canned laughter machine actually has a name and a creation story.

"Actually, its official name is the Laff Box, and it was invented by a man named Charles Rolland Douglass," Sacks said. He goes on to describe the reasons for its creation, which aren't quite what you think maybe, its prototyping, and Douglass' legendary secrecy regarding his work.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the Laff Box to our modern eyes is that it is actually a machine with honest-to-god buttons. Check out the video of it working above. You can even think of it as a type of instrument, an unholy combination of a typewriter, piano, and your extended families' larynxes. Apparently, Douglass was even treated as a very specific kind of maestro. Producers would call Douglass in to "laugh" a show, custom creating the score of joy associated with a bunch of bad jokes.

Presented by

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Technology

Just In