Comedian Whitney Cummings — who has two, count ‘em, two shows coming out this fall — has taken to Tumblr to defend Whitney, her upcoming NBC sitcom. (We weren’t impressed with the trailer.) “Basically some people seem really stressed out about the fact that the show is multi-camera with a live studio audience. People think it has a ‘laugh track’ which is fucking wrong,” she writes. “We shot it with a live in-studio audience so what you are hearing is real laughs from real people in the real audience.” She cites classics like Cheers, Roseanne, and Seinfeld, which all used a mutli-camera format, and says that “watching my show will basically feel like watching or seeing stand up.”
Cummings is totally right, to an extent: Live-audience laughter works as punctuation for stand-up. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the multi-camera format, and plenty of stand-up-based humor might even work best in that structure. Humor often relies on intimacy (“you had to be there”), and we laugh more in groups than we do when we’re alone. That’s what a laugh track or audience laughter is for: creating a nexus between the at-home audience, the studio audience, and the performance itself. Multi-camera shows can feel really remote and removed — as opposed to a single-camera comedy, where direction and camerawork put a viewer right in the action — and audience laughter ostensibly facilitates a sense of belonging. Sometimes it works! Sometimes it just sounds strange and forced.
Like it does in the clips we’ve seen from Whitney, which is the real reason the show has been ragged on. Cummings defends the series by writing that Whitney is “much edgier than the shows without an audience … All we do is talk about sex and vaginas and vejazzling about how the Kardashians are sluts and I’m in a freaking nurse costume trying to have sex with my boyfriend and he’s getting a concussion.” But if Jennifer Love Hewitt is talking about something on Lopez Tonight, it’s not edgy anymore. Maybe Whitney’s edginess will emerge in the full episodes in a way in didn’t in the promo clips and the show will turn out to be hilarious. Until then, Cummings has a point — the clips aren’t lackluster because they have laughs in them — but she’s also missing one: They’re lackluster because those promo jokes just aren’t that funny.
“Damn It” [Whitney Cummings]