‘Key & Peele’ Director Recalls Winning a Battle with the Network Over Audience Laughter
Peter Atencio, a director/producer for Comedy Central’s sketch show Key & Peele wrote a nice Tumblr post about resisting network executives’ attempts to add audience laughter over filmed sketches to the show’s second season. The Comedy Central folks were insistent on adding laughs (not a laughtrack, but recorded laughter from an audience watching the sketches), but Atencio and the rest of the creative staff made their case:
We pushed hard for the show to be laugh-free, so that the viewers could watch the sketches and decide for themselves where the funny parts were. Having the laughter mixed in felt old-fashioned, and because I am very particular about the sound design and mix, was like a garish wash of LAUGH AT THIS smeared all over the finished product. It removed all traces of subtlety… A lot of our sketches rely on setting up a believable world in often very serious genres and then subverting them, and so having that laughter cut in during an action movie or sci-fi style opening was like pouring ice-water on the viewer.
Despite all the resistance from the show’s creative team, Comedy Central decided to add audience laughter to Key & Peele anyway, causing the folks who work on the show to lose hope – until the network changed its minds last minute and let the show stay laugh-free, the same way it was during the first season. As Peter Atencio explains, he didn’t write his post to besmirch the Comedy Central executives but rather to applaud them for coming around and doing the right thing by letting the creative team make the show they wanted to make:
Working on this show has been the most fulfilling experience of my life, and I’m grateful to both our amazing executive producers who fought the good fight and our very understanding and intelligent execs at Comedy Central who were willing to listen to us and respect our position. That’s rare enough as it is in this industry.