Although they don’t like to admit it, even hit TV shows will crank up the response to a so-so joke with an extra chuckle here, a war whoop there. Notes Walter Barnett, former producer of the ABC sitcom Spin City, “People don’t seem to think sitcoms are as funny if they don’t have a laugh track. This is purely anecdoted. I can’t give you any science.” Ah, but scientists can: Ever since the first laugh track appeared on a television sitcom in 1950, social scientists have confirmed that canned laughs (today available on CD) encourage laughter and actually make people feel as though the material is funnier. Weirder still–but good news to sitcom producers–laughter by itself, even in the absence of a funny remark, can elicit laughter. Remember those little boxes with the tape of maniacal laughter that were so popular 20 years ago? It’s no joke:Laughter really is contagious.
Which certainly pleases Karin Kelly. Kelly, a Hollywood actress and voice-over artist, is also a professional laughter: She gets hired to come to rehearsal of shows and yuk it up. But, she swears, her laughter is not forced: “A group of us come in to laugh so the actor can work on his timing, and the writes can see where jokes work, and where they need to punch things up before the taping.” (These days, Kelly has a regular laughing gig on The Nanny.) The fee for professional howling: about $100 per day.
Kelly has a lovely, rich, infectious laugh–but DeeDee Rescher has the laugh. Rescher, also a voice-over artist and actress who’s appeared on dozens of sitcoms, is hired for her evil yet sensual cackle. Although she’s in her early 40s, she sounds like she has a lifetime of bourbon and cigarettes behind her, Recently she’s growled her way through ads for 7Up and Peter pan peanut butter, and she has even played a part in a movie (Skin Deep, starring John Ritter and directed by Blake Edwards) “where all I do is laugh.
“One thing about my laugh that I love,” Rescher continues, “is that it’s so infectious, it gives me power. I can go to a party that’s really dying, and I can just start up, and suddenly people start laughing. It’s really fun.”
And quite lucrative. Rescher has been paid as much as $1,000 a day for her signature vocals. “I’ve been known to just go in and do nothing but laugh on a commercial–fifteen minutes’ work for three hundred and fifty bucks. Just go in and go, Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-then leave. They call and say, `DeeDee, we need your laugh’ And I think, ca-ching!”