Does Craig Ferguson really have a live studio audience?
August 17, 2009 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Is Craig Ferguson's talk show real? I mean, like, is the audience real?

I was falling asleep Friday night and watching this and it was insane, like an insane laugh track, laughter at every other word he said, but nothing was funny. It was totally bizarre. And then his guest Liza Manelli came on, and of course she's a car accident, and the whole thing got weirder and I knew I was going to have bad dreams from it all and NEVER A SHOT OF THE CROWD. Surely regular, sane, live, real people could not be laughing at this? What's the deal?
posted by xmutex to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
Some discussion in this thread about that.
posted by brandman at 11:35 AM on August 17, 2009

I wonder if they pipe in some kind of laugh-inducing gas into the theater?
posted by xmutex at 11:36 AM on August 17, 2009

Maybe some people don't share your tastes?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:37 AM on August 17, 2009

I thought ferguson was hilarious. Not so much now. I liked it better when I thought he was way overdoing the laugh track.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2009

I've been to the studio taping of a couple of other shows with live audiences (Colbert Report, Letterman, and Carson Daly but only because Bowie was the guest), and they spend a lot of time prepping the crowd. They make you practice laughing, they give you cues of when to laugh, etc. It's not exactly genuine emotion.
posted by kimdog at 11:45 AM on August 17, 2009

He addresses this misconception all the time. It's a running joke on the show, and occasionally he does show the audience. One thing about the show that is true (or, uh, untrue) is that he pretapes the show and tapes it out of order - so when he says "It's Monday, August 17", half the time, it's not).

And for the record, Craig Ferguson and Liza Minnelli are two of my favorite people EVER and I loved that show. I thought it was hilarious and laughed out loud constantly while watching it. Now as to my "regularity" and "sanity" I can't confirm or deny anything, but there you go.
posted by lesli212 at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2009

The Laughter episode of RadioLab talks about professional laughers hired for "The Nanny" with Fran Drescher. Segment starts at about 22:30. Not saying that Ferguson does this, but interesting just the same.
posted by sambosambo at 11:47 AM on August 17, 2009

It's definitely filmed in front of a live studio audience. Amazingly, I was in the studio audience the same afternoon that this thread appeared.

Here's a clip of the show from the night I was there -- and yes, I can be briefly seen in it -- in which Craig comes out shaking his fist at the audience, and in which the entire scope of the (fairly small) studio is shown. Completely real. Those clips don't seem to be "sweetened" with an additional laugh track as far as I can tell -- there's lots of real laughter from the audience.

I think it's just that Ferguson has the most aggressive, hardest-working audience prep people in the business. When you're waiting in the waiting area to be escorted up to the studio, one of the producers comes down, and gives a spiel that goes kind of like this:

"I don't want you here if you're in a bad mood. If you had a rough day, now's the time to forget about it. If you had trouble getting here, you need to let it go. Whatever the deal is, you are not allowed to take your bad mood into the studio. We're a comedy show, we're here to make you laugh, and in order for Craig to be at his best, we need *you* to laugh. So if you're in a bad mood, you absolutely have to let it go or leave now."

They also talk about how hard it is to do no-holds-bars comedy if there isn't audience response, and how Craig's performance depends on folks laughing out loud. "You may like the joke, but if you're a smiler or a chuckler," they say, "Craig doesn't know it. You've got to be a laugher, not a smiler, not a chuckler."

And I think their tack is surprisingly effective. The audience handlers aren't rude, or unkind, or unfunny, even while they're pretty aggressive about laying down the ground rules of being the studio audience -- they just make it absolutely clear that you shouldn't be there if you're not in the mood for comedy, and that it's the audiences *job* to laugh.

Once you're in the studio, "Chunky D" comes in to warm up the audience. Chunky D bills himself as a "mediocre comedian with mediocre jokes." He takes the audience through the process of "laughing on command", and how he'll signal to the audience to laugh, and then goes through a series of those mediocre jokes to get the audience laughing -- even though his timing and rapport as a comedian is really pretty good. They show a Craig Ferguson highlights reel with a bunch of genuinely funny moments. Chunky D throws candy at the audience.

So, by the time Craig Ferguson comes out, the audience is in the mood to laugh. They've put their bad moods aside, laughed at some mediocre jokes, been hit in the head with Hershey's Nuggest, and are enjoying the process of watching the crew set up the show -- so when Craig comes on, and he's a funny guy, it's absolutely *hilarious* to the studio audience.

It's a good time. If you're going to be in LA, go here to see if tickets are available for a taping. It's a blast.
posted by eschatfische at 11:55 AM on August 17, 2009 [24 favorites]

See also the MetaTalk thread on the same "is Craig's audience fake" issue.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2009

Surely regular, sane, live, real people could not be laughing at this? What's the deal?

Im not a fan of his show, but I am of Conan's old Late Night. I saw a live episode of Conan's show year or two ago and I really over-did it with the laughing. First off, the audience are not random bored teenagers. They are usually people motivated to watch the show because they think its funny. They also are excited to be there and watching a live show is very different than watching the show on television. Everyone was wearing a smile and in a good mood.

So yes, its possible to get an audience to laugh at everything. Its also possible to turn the mix up on the audience mics to make the laughs more prominent.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:57 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

People should probably take into account that *A LOT* of people watching TV that late (at least on the East Coast) are probably on something. Probably makes the puppets routine a lot funnier. Flip over to Cartoon Network or Comedy Central at the same time...lots of programing for the stoned/drunk.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:26 PM on August 17, 2009

I went to a taping when the Sex Pistols were on so the mixture of people in the audience was probably a bit different than usual. The warm up comedian was even good natured when one of my friends threw the candy back at him. We sat outside in our rows and were told what was expected of us. We were getting free tickets to see the Pistols in a tiny studio; we understood the bargain of being the studio audience. everyone joined in . We were there to have fun and if providing atmosphere was all they wanted from us then so be it. Admittedly they sat some of the older punks towards the back. The band also played first, which made sure the energy level was high for the rest of the show .
posted by stuartmm at 3:33 PM on August 17, 2009

[few comments removed - this is really not about your opinions about Craig's suggestions for his audiences, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:37 PM on August 17, 2009

He has an audience. Do not call them his applause machine. He hates that.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:19 PM on August 17, 2009

I've been to the studio taping of a couple of other shows with live audiences (Colbert Report, Letterman, and Carson Daly but only because Bowie was the guest), and they spend a lot of time prepping the crowd. They make you practice laughing, they give you cues of when to laugh, etc. It's not exactly genuine emotion.

kimdog, I've been to a Colbert Report show. We got a very brief set of instructions on "laugh it up, we're a comedy show, audience response is important", and then were given a standup monologue by one of the writers as the warmup.

Not what I'd call "a lot of time prepping the crowd", unless that's how you refer to opening acts. No "practice laughing". Our responses were completely genuine.

Wow. Is one of us from Bizarro World Colbert Report?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2009

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