The column in which I ask award-winning writer-producer Mark O’Toole the questions that have always bugged me.
Adam Zwar: Dear Mark, how important is it to have a believable fake laugh if you want to work in comedy?
Mark O’Toole: Great question Adam. I know for a fact that if I had a better fake laugh I’d live in a much bigger house, but trust me, that house would need to be much bigger just to accommodate all the self-loathing that fake laughter had generated.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking - who am I hurting with the occasional fake laugh? I’ll tell you who Adam, all of us. You’re hurting ALL OF US. In any other line of work a laugh is just a laugh, a spontaneous involuntary expression of amusement. But in our business the laugh is everything, it’s the oil we drill for, the gold we we pan for, the crumpled dollar bills we bump and grind for… so who are you to give ‘em away for free, especially if they’re not even real?
When a pile of counterfeit money gets dumped into an economy it devalues the currency… in the exact same way that your ersatz guffaws devalue the laughs in our comic economy. Because Adam, believe it or not, your laugh has value. It is a gauge of amusement, a measurement others use to calibrate and refine their humour. Do you really want to mess with that? When you laugh at something someone says in the writers’ room that laugh accords that something of value, in the same way your stoney faced silence does. That’s how it works.
AZ: So I should never fake laugh, ever?
MOT: As a general rule, fake laughs should only ever be used on talent when they crack a joke, directors when they pitch a line, and producers when they pitch a fee. No one else deserves one, not your friends, not your family and especially not your fellow scribes. Honesty is important amongst writers, and so is a real laugh - besides which, they’ll know it’s fake anyway, so why bother.
Your fake laugh may fool the actor, the agent and the producer, and maybe even occasionally your partner, but never a fellow writer, so don't even try Adam, they’ll hate you for it.
Mark O'Toole is an award winning writer-producer whose credits include Full Frontal, Totally Full Frontal, Eric, John Safran's Music Jamboree, John Safran Versus God, Spicks and Specks, and Black Comedy.