Because canned laughter is mostly a thing of the past, most “without laugh track” clips are really nothing of the kind (just audience laughter muted). But this extended scene from last night’s How I Met Your Mother actually is without the laugh track, provided by an audience watching the finished episode. So here’s what it’s like.
The actors on How I Met Your Mother don’t pause for laughter, which is why the show gets fewer “laugh track” accusations than shows that don’t have post-dubbed laughter: the audience laughter has to be dubbed in at a low level so as not to drown out the lines, so many people don’t notice it. Still, even in one unedited shot with no “coverage,” you can sort of see why the show still uses the track: it’s not that it’s not funny without it, just that the camera format and lighting has a somewhat spooky empty-studio feel without the presence of the laughter. On a single-camera show, the director and cinematographer use the lighting and camera angles to create atmosphere and avoid the feeling that the characters are just on a studio set. But on HIMYM, a set just looks like a set, and the laughter provides the sense of atmosphere that the mise-en-scène cannot.
Also, since I won’t get another chance to use this: Ben Vereen was last night’s HIMYM guest. An hour later, Charlie Sheen was on the same network. That’s right, Charlie Sheen and Ben Vereen on the same network on the same night. Pinky and the Brain fans will know why this is is significant. For the rest, just google “Charlie Sheen, Ben Vereen, shrink to the size of a lima bean.”