If you are anything like me, you’ve found yourself laughing less than usual at the jokes on late-night talk shows. Yes, the quarantine is forcing the shows to be filmed from the confines of the hosts’ homes. And yes, the altered format can be a little unsettling. But the jokes are still good.
The jokes are funny, well-written, and delivered with the same impeccable timing. They’re just not eliciting the same laugh out loud outbursts that they previously did.
At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason. But then I happened to catch a replay of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David encounters a “professional crier”—someone theatres hire to sit in the audience and cry out loud during dramatic scenes, thus prompting other audience members to cry.
Even though crying was the opposite emotion, it occurred to me that I wasn’t laughing at the late-night talk show jokes because the quarantine shows were missing their professional laughers—laugh tracks. The shows were void of the accompanying canned laughter that I’d grown accustomed to hearing.
Entertainers have long been aware of the influence the sound of laughter can have on an audience. The phenomenon is known as emotional contagion and happens whenever one’s person’s emotions trigger similar emotions or behaviors in others. We feel compelled to laugh whenever we hear others laugh.
Emotional contagion is why we start to chuckle before we ask someone who’s already laughing: “What’s so funny?”
A sound engineer named Charley Douglas invented laugh tracks in the 1950s. As the entertainment industry transitioned to television, the need to utilize the emotional contagion brought on by a live audience remained evident.
But live audiences were unpredictable and problematic for television. Sometimes they didn’t laugh on cue. Sometimes they laughed too loud. And sometimes they laughed too long, which caused programs to exceed their time allotment. So Douglas began adding a soundtrack of pre-recorded laughter and applause to the television shows he produced.
As he predicted, his shows drew more laughs and had higher ratings. Inserting laugh tracks soon became the industry standard.
Good teammates are like laugh tracks in that we don’t realize how influential they are until they are gone. Good teammates are also like laugh tracks in that they compel an emotional response from us. When a good teammate demonstrates enthusiasm, we feel and act enthusiastic. When a good teammate demonstrates optimism, we feel and act hopeful.
The influence they have over our emotions and our actions shouldn’t be underestimated. Good teammates are as infectious as any virus. Only their infectiousness won’t lead to your demise; it will lead to your triumph.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.