Big Bang Theory: Live Audience or Laugh Track?

Here’s everything about Big Bang Theory using live audience or a laugh track:

For its entire run, The Big Bang Theory was filmed before a live audience, so with very few exceptions, laughter heard in final recordings is not a laugh track.

This was done because the production believed that the live audience added value to the process.

The show was known for the quality of its live productions.

So if you want to learn all about Big Bang Theory’s live audience or laugh track usage, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started!

Big Bang Theory: Live Audience or Laugh Track? (All Info)

What Is The Big Bang Theory?

Let’s start this off with some background.

The fact that you’re here suggests that you might already be familiar with one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.

For those who aren’t so informed, let’s talk about The Big Bang Theory for a moment.

This is a theory in physics that tries to explain the origin of the universe.

The theory suggests that before the universe as we know it came into existence, all matter and energy were condensed into a single point in space.

There was an explosion (called “the big bang”), and this moment constituted the origin of the universe.

According to theoretical physics… ok. I’ve carried that gag long enough.

We’re really talking about the TV show of the same name.

It’s a situational comedy that centers on a handful of physics researchers at CalTech and the young aspiring actress who moves in next door.

The Big Bang Theory aired its first episode in September of 2007.

Twelve seasons later, it concluded in May of 2019.

Over the course of its run, it was the most popular TV show in the world for multiple years.

Even when it wasn’t the most popular show in the world, it was among the most popular for virtually its entire run.

The Big Bang Theory really set the bar for network television and sitcoms for more than a decade, and it was known for its live studio audiences and audience reactions.

Does Big Bang Theory Have a Live Audience or a Laugh Track?

If you’ve ever watched an episode, you’re familiar with the format.

The characters have a conversation, and there are frequent pauses in dialogue after a joke is delivered.

You can hear laughter in the TV recording, and the characters wait until it subsided before continuing.

The laughter is so frequent and consistent that many people have asked this question.

Is that real laughter, or is it just a recorded laugh track that is inserted in post-production?

In the vast majority of cases, it’s real laughter.

The Big Bang Theory was filmed in front of a live studio audience throughout its run.

So, when you hear laughter, it’s the real deal, but there are two things that will expand on what you’re wondering.

First, there were occasional scenes in the show that could not be shot in front of an audience.

Whether they were filmed on location or couldn’t be in the traditional studio for other reasons, those scenes still tend to have laughter.

In those cases, the laughter is made from recordings of the live audience and inserted into the film after shooting.

The other thing to know is that The Big Bang Theory, like many shows, used a process known as “sweetening.”

The show was recorded with the live audience.

The live audience frequently provided real laughter, but sometimes, the volume or timing wouldn’t work well for the recording that was actually aired on CBS.

In any of those cases, the post-production crew could adjust the timing and volume as needed.

This is part of the reason why the show has such a consistent cadence across 12 seasons, despite the fact that live audiences don’t always react as predicted.

Sweetening makes the show run more smoothly in the final recording.

Why Does Big Bang Theory Use Live Audience? (5 Reasons)

Ok. Now we know that the show had a live audience, and by and large, what you’re hearing when you watch it is not a laugh track.

The next question is pretty obvious: Why?

Why would the show choose to do live audience shoots when that limits when and how you can film episodes?

Traditionally, live filming is a lot harder to do.

You have less freedom to shoot scenes on location.

It’s harder to use a lot of different special effects.

You also severely limit camera angles and filming options.

Does a live audience add value that makes all of this worthwhile?

That’s a subjective question, but many directors and productions have decided that the live audience does in fact add value.

I’ll explain the most common and compelling justifications for that in the sections below.

#1 Traditional Reasons

Comedies have been using laugh tracks and live studio audiences for a long time, and the primary motivation for both is the same.

The showrunners want to make it clear to the audience when a joke has been made.

Without the pause for laughter, jokes can fire off too fast and might be easy to miss—especially when people are watching at home with plenty around to distract them.

On top of that, laughter can be contagious.

If you hear a joke, you might smile or find it amusing, but that doesn’t mean you will laugh.

You can hear that same joke in a comedy club, surrounded by raucous laughter, and you’ll be more likely to join in.

It’s psychological, and showrunners have been capitalizing on it for a very long time.

The laughter is there so that you, the watcher, will hear it.

It will signal to you that this is a joke and a moment for levity.

On top of that, the social impact of hearing laughter will loosen you up and make it more likely that you laugh at the joke too.

#2 Production

In the case of The Big Bang Theory, the studio audience was always an important part of production.

The show was always filmed that way, and filming days were more of a production than you might get from other shows.

Filming The Big Bang Theory was about more than having a bunch of actors on set going through scenes.

The show’s actors would warm up the audience before taping began to expand on the experience.

They would often meet and hang out with members of the audience, take selfies, and do all of that stuff.

The purpose was always to make The Big Bang Theory a show about fan service, which fits with many of the themes.

The principal characters in the show are super fans of many pop culture icons and media.

The showrunners tried to treat fans of The Big Bang Theory the same way that the characters in the show would want to be treated.

Considering all of that, filming in front of a live audience is a natural production choice, and it seemed to work to great success.

#3 Energy

Generalizing about TV shows a little more, a live audience is often chosen over a laugh track of the energy in the room.

Live audience laughter is organic and less predictable.

Their reactions directly interact with the actors and the crew, and they can influence the feelings that permeate the set during a scene.

On top of that, live laughter creates a more organized cadence in the show.

The actors often have to pause for laughter, and they don’t really know how long it will last.

Because of that, the actors have to pay more attention to the live audience, as opposed to a laugh track where they would deliver the lines and the post crew would insert the laugh as needed.

All of this can create scenes that come across as sharper, more fun, more energetic, and more natural, when it all comes together.

Of course, this comes at the risk of a live audience that doesn’t respond the way the crew expects, but in the case of The Big Bang Theory, the risks seemed more than worth it.

#4 Feedback

Then again, it can prove invaluable when the audience reacts in ways the crew doesn’t expect.

The live audience provides immediate feedback during taping.

If a joke doesn’t land, everyone knows right away, and it might get cut from the final version.

Similarly, if something lands much harder than expected, the crew can steer into the audience’s reaction.

This allows for on-the-fly adjustments that can ultimately lead to a funnier, more entertaining show.

#5 Sequencing

The last major reason to use a live audience is to film scenes in order.

Imagine an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

There are probably scenes in Leonard’s apartment.

There might be scenes that take place at CalTech, the comic book store, or anyone else’s home.

In many cases, the show will start at the apartment, move somewhere else, and then come back to the apartment.

If the show is shot on a closed set, they can film all of the apartment scenes first.

Then, they can set up another scene and film it.

They film out of order, but it doesn’t matter because it will all be in the right order when it airs.

But, if you film in front of a live audience, that doesn’t work.

If you film scenes out of order, a lot of the dialogue and jokes won’t make sense.

So, production in front of a live audience has to be filmed in order.

That might seem like extra work, but some production groups prefer to film in order.

When that is the case, it makes sense to have a live audience and reap the benefits that come with it.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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