Sarah Palin's Great Laugh Track Debate
Last week, Sarah Palin took advantage of her appearance on the second night of the new Tonight Show with Jay Leno to test out that stand-up routine that she had (certainly not) been tinkering with for the past few years. A few nights later, Chelsea Handler told Jay Leno on-air that he had been "way too nice" to the former governor of Alaska, Megan Mullally dissed the routine to Movieline and Palin celebrated her controversial debut by wreaking havoc on an Oscar gifting suite. But it was another claim -- by studio audience members who had witnessed Palin's segments first-hand -- that got more media coverage and an official response from NBC.
The biggest bone of contention? The rich laughter that perfectly punctuated each of Palin's jokes -- an audible reaction that was noticeably missing from the live taping, claim a few audience members, the most vocal of whom is Michael Stinson, a Maryland man who describes himself as a sound engineer with 30 years' experience. (It is also worth noting that Stinson, who posted the following lengthy complaint on the liberal website Daily Kos, wrote a parody of Palin's autobiography called Going Rouge: The Sarah Palin Rogue Coloring & Activity Book.) Here's his side of the story:
They added laughter where there was none during uncomfortable portions. Well, there was some laughter. Mine, of derision. During those pregnant pauses in her performance I was laughing long and loud, couldn't help myself as much of what she was saying was utterly surreal, ridiculous, hypocritical - nonsense, spewed platitudes, pushed buttons. I was seriously thinking of leaving as it was getting hysterically unfunny.
After sitting through the taping of the show in the studio I can recount many portions where there was little or no laughter or response, but at the later broadcast they are smoothed over with applause and laughter that WERE NOT THERE at the taping. Groans, hoots, grumbling, or just dead silence - all missing.
They should bear some responsibilty (sic) for hawking a defective product. This is corporate shilling in the worst way, not only to raise Leno's ratings, but to push Palin on a crowd with fake laughter and applause.
A rep from NBC finally responded to the accusations, saying "Neither the audio nor the laughs were enhanced for Sarah Palin's segments on The Tonight Show," but the post-production practice of smoothing out the sound or using "patches of laughter" to fill in a spotty audio track would not be anything unusual for a comedy show -- especially a stand-up routine performed in late night.
So what does this all add up to? More questions. Should viewers at home start calling into question every stand-up routine that is followed by a chorus of eager laughter? Or was Megan Mullally right, and the Tonight Show is going after red states so shamelessly that it is willing to pack its political guests into jeans and pad their segments with synthetic reactions?