I was recently reminded how much I hate laugh tracks when I downloaded the free pilot of Big Bang Theory from iTunes, on a tip from Pop Candy. I should have listened to Whitney's advice, though -- the show is awful, and what makes it so much worse is the constant canned laughter. It's like an insult to the viewer: unfunny joke? LAUGH TRACK! Vaguely offensive sexual innuendo? OOHING and AAHING! Ugh. In the wake of my completely laugh-free viewing, I came across a lovely history of the laugh track from Slate magazine. (Be sure to click the little 'launch' thing to actually view the core of the article -- a slideshow.)
Slate's history is engaging, and discusses a current trend away from laugh tracks on TV -- which I applaud (with my real hands, not a recording of them). Though I was a bit surprised that Slate didn't mention A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 Elia Kazan film in which Andy Griffith's character (a comedian) builds a "reaction machine" which can play back canned laughs, applause, and more -- and eventually goes a bit nuts using the machine as a form of instant validation. Although I didn't know this when I saw the film, Slate convinced me that this machine is a reference to Charley Douglass's Laff Box -- a similar reference appears in Annie Hall, shown in a video clip closing Slate's piece. Read the full article from Slate for more, or consult the surprisingly detailed laugh track page from Wikipedia.
(Obligatory LOL Cat courtesy of I Can Has Cheezburger.)