Laughing on the Radio

I love listening to Jad and Robert laugh on the radio, because it brings out the smiley, laughey part of myself, and I like that part of myself. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Consider Car Talk. It’s a nonstop laugh-a-thon, masquerading as a car repair show. And for a while it’s been the most popular show on NPR. It feels good to laugh with the people on the radio.

If there’s one lesson radio producers can take from this, it’s this: apply generous portions of laughter, especially when engaging in some kind of back-and-forth. Now, to discuss this further, let’s look at the “Laughter” episode of Radiolab.

In this episode, Jad and Robert playfully tackle one of the most pleasant enigmas of humanity (or is it one of the most pleasant enigmas of creatures?), and it’s great.

Jad and Robert laugh on the show – a lot. In fact, they laugh on every show — Jad’s giggles, Robert’s guffaws, gasps of surprise morphing into dumbfounded, what-else-can-we-do-but? laughter. It made me wonder. Why are they laughing so much?

I think we can find part of the answer by listening to the story they tell about Fran, called “How Does Laughter Affect Us.” In the story, the sit-com “The Nanny” hires people to laugh during the live tapings of the show. Other sit-coms follow suit, hiring professional laughers on their shows too.

The professional laughters have a profound effect on the performers, who express their appreciation directly to the laughers. The laughers LOVE this, and it encourages them to continue doing their jobs. They love laughing. They are good at it.

Jad and Robert, in a way, are also professional laughers – I feel like their laughter keeps things light in the recording studio while they repeatedly take opposing sides on issues, and I feel like they consciously include that laughter in the final versions of the show because it keeps things light for the listening audience as well. They’re exporting happiness, which is super important in a program that tends to cover weighty subjects.

It’s equally important for Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi; they talk about cars to a listening audience that probably doesn’t self-identify as “car lovers”. I like Car Talk because I like listening to how they engage people while also keep the mood up during the show. We all need people in our lives who can engage while keeping the mood up, like Click and Clack can.

It’s no coincidence that Car Talk is both NPR’s most popular program and also full of laughter, and it’s no surprise that distributors want to keep it on the air after Click and Clack stop producing live shows. They teach people about cars and they make people happy – what’s not to like?

Well, there’s actually some controversy over whether it’s a good idea to play Car Talk re-runs… our hope, in the midst of all of this, is that producers will find creative ways to incorporate laughter into their work.

All storytellers can become professional laughers by laughing with/at the people they’re playing off of. Collaborators will appreciate it; listeners will appreciate it, and most importantly, the storyteller will appreciate it.

Just like the professional laughers in the Radiolab story, you’ll feel your mood lift as you incorporate laughter into your work. Go ahead, try it. Laugh on the radio.

Laughter” [1 hr] Especially the piece called “How Does Laughing Affect Us
Produced by Radiolab in 2008