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Comic Jay Leno: From Struggling to Comedian to "Tonight Show" Host

Leno is celebrating his 5th anniversary as host of The Tonight Show. In this archive interview, he talks with Terry about his life: growing up, his struggling years as a stand-up,taking over The Tonight Show, and his book "Leading with my Chin." (REBROADCAST from 10/21/96)

21:20

Other segments from the episode on May 16, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 16, 1997: Interview with Jay Leno; Interview with Mike Myers; Interview with George Carlin; Commentary on television laugh tracks.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 16, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Jay Leno
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Like just about every young comic of his generation, Jay Leno's early dream was a guest spot on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. A lot of Leno's friends got their chance before he did, but he's the only one who finally inherited the show.

Next Thursday, Leno celebrates his fifth anniversary as the host, with a special show featuring some of the funniest moment since he inherited the program.

Leno's memoir was published late last year, with lots of funny stories about his family and his years on the road playing bars, strip joints, and comedy clubs. His memoir, "Leading With My Chin," also came out in CD form, featuring Leno reading from his book.

Before we hear the interview we recorded last October, let's hear a reading from his CD.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAY LENO'S CD)

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: I'm a half-breed of the oddest sort -- one part Scottish, one part Italian. The combination makes no sense, because each side couldn't be more diametrically opposed. My mother, Katherine (ph), was born in Scotland and my dad, Angelo, was a first generation Italian-American.

And I seem to be divided right down the middle. My Scottish side -- practical, analytical, even a bit frugal; the Italian side -- loud, outgoing, ready to laugh and be laughed at. 'Course, my mother never really understood the Italian part of my behavior. When I was a boy, she'd always scold me: "there's a time to be serious, and a time to be funny."

But in truth, there was never time to be funny. We could be at Disneyland, my mom would say: "not now." "Not now, Ma -- when am I supposed to be funny? We're at Disneyland. Seems like it's always time to be serious."

She would later watch me do my standup comedy, make little notes. I'd ask her how she liked the show, and she would say: "why can't you -- why can't you sing a little song and do a little dance? Nobody likes jokes all the time. Nobody wants someone to be funny all the time."

The most entertaining spectacle of my youth was to watch both sides of my family try to interact. Each side, obviously, had totally different attitudes and approaches to life.

At the Italian functions on my father's side, there would be hundreds of meatballs for maybe eight people -- more food than anyone could possibly eat; huge pots, huge portions. My mother's sister Aunt Nettie (ph) would be incensed by this. "Look at the food, Jamie (ph) -- the food that's going to waste. The waste!"

If there were more than two lights burning in any room, she'd scream: "I can't believe it. All these lights. The waste of electricity, Jamie, the waste!"

GROSS: Jay Leno, welcome to FRESH AIR.

LENO: Thank you.

GROSS: The passage that we just heard had to do with your parents, and I really love the way you talk about your parents. Your -- you really express the frustration that you had with them, but you obviously loved them so much.

LENO: Well, yeah. I had great parents. I mean, most comics, you know -- again, I'm sorry they weren't incestuous or drinking or beat me or anything, so I don't have any excuse. Most comics that I've read about or met always seem to have these horrible childhoods, and the comedy came out of this horrible pain, which is legitimate, certainly.

It just didn't work that way for me. For me, the humor was always the fact that my parents were in their 40s when I was born, and besides my mom being an immigrant from Scotland -- my mom being Italian -- the differences were so horrific...

GROSS: Your dad being Italian.

LENO: ... yeah, were just hilarious to me. I mean, I'll never forget, you know, in that sort of teenage rebellion thing. I remember I was in the eighth grade when the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show, and, you know, I said: "hey dad, the Beatles are going to be on." "Hrmph ha hmm," you know, my father. "Ah, yeah, The Beatles, or whatever that is" you know.

And so anyway, the Beatles come on and their singing "yeah, yeah" whatever it is, "I want to hold your hand." And I see my dad with the newspaper in front of his face. You know, deliberately not watching, you know.

And I just said to him, I said: "you know, dad. You know the Beatles write all their own music." And my father just puts the paper down, and he says: "let me tell you something. You know, some manager gives these kids a couple of bucks to go out on a stage and act loony, and you kids all fall for it."

And you know, I couldn't even argue with that. It was so ridiculous. That was my father's whole explanation for the Beatles' career. Some guy gives them a couple of bucks and they go out and they act loony.

GROSS: When you were starting in comedy, there weren't comedy clubs yet -- not as we know them. Some of the venues that you played included retirement homes, prisons, mental hospitals -- this is through a state program in Massachusetts. I think you got, like, 10 bucks for a performance.

LENO: Yeah. We used to get ten bucks a show to do old peoples' birthday parties in the state. We used to do prisons. I did a show at, like, Walpole State Prison. And prisoners are not a good audience. You know, because comedy is based on a certain civility -- "Hi folks, how are you?"

You know. And when you've got a guy sitting in the front row, and he's got a little blond kid on a choke chain wearing underpants sitting on the floor next to him, that's not an ideal audience, you know?

GROSS: What material would you do in your prison...

LENO: You'd just do your regular act. I only had my act -- growing up, whatever. You know, I used to do these psychiatric homes, and they get like -- you know, this is not to make fun of psychiatric patients, but you know, you go there "hi everybody, how 'ya doing" and then, like, in the middle of your act, there'd be a guy in the corner going: "Arrrrrgh. Arrrrgh. Arrrgh."

And then orderlies would come in, and of course, this would just break the mood of the whole room, you know: "say, anybody here from Boston?" "Arrrgh. Arrrgh."

You know. "Hey, hey -- calm down there fella. How 'ya doin?" You know. Ohhh.

GROSS: Well, did this give you confidence performing in front of people who other...

LENO: Well, it was fascinating...

GROSS: Yeah?

LENO: ... you realized, it was 'til I performed at, like, this place called "Lenny's on the Turnpike" in Boston that I ever got a professional audience. You know, I could always say in my own mind: well, you know, the audience -- it's a psychiatric hospital. They didn't laugh because there's obviously something wrong with them.

GROSS: Right -- well you could say -- right. They don't laugh. They're crazy.

LENO: Yeah, it was like strip clubs. When I would play strip clubs, they wouldn't laugh or applaud or do anything, but it gave you the confidence just to stand on stage, because the people weren't paying any attention to me anyway.

I mean, there's a story in the book about playing the club called the "Mind Shaft," where it was in Minnesota. People would pay $5 to get in, and then for another $5 the customers would get a miner's hat with a light on it.

Now, there were no lights in the club. It was just a big, empty building. And the women would come out and dance, and of course, the guys had the lights on their heads, and they would look at whatever part of the woman they wanted to look at with the light. And I would just be standing in the darkness, telling jokes: hi, everybody. How 'ya doin?

Occasionally, somebody would look over at me, and I couldn't even look at them 'cause they had the bright light on their head, so if they looked at me, ow, it burned my eye. I had to look away. So most of the time, I -- for the whole week, I was just standing in darkness while guys looked at these women with those miner's hats on.

GROSS: When you moved to Los Angeles -- you moved there before you had a home; before you had any money, and you often ended up just like sleeping on the steps of the comedy club or sleeping in the alleys...

LENO: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: ... by the comedy clubs.

LENO: I used to get picked up in LA for vagrancy, and what the cops would do is they'd just put you in the back of the car, and you'd just drive around with them on their shift all night. And being a comic, you know, this worked, well, somewhat to my advantage, but actually no.

The first time I got picked up, you know, they'd say: "Ah, let's move along, Leno. Where do you live?" "I don't kind of live anywhere." "All right, get in the car." "What do you do?" "I'm a comedian." "Oh, yeah? Tell us a joke." You know?

So, then you'd sort of try and come up with every dirty joke you could think of to tell these cops all night, and har-har, that was la-la, and that worked pretty good, and, well, they let me go. But then two or three nights would go by, and the cops would go: "hey, are you that comedian guy our partners picked up the other night?" "Yeah." "Get in the car."

All those jokes you were telling, and so, you know, two or three nights a week, I have to ride around until dawn telling jokes to different cops 'cause they would say "hey, yeah, have you seen that kid on the street? Pick him up. He's got some funny jokes."

GROSS: You were probably one of the most hard-working comics in show business when you were getting started -- just performing anywhere and everywhere...

LENO: Yeah.

GROSS: ... to get experience. But sometimes, you'd get billed -- you'd get booked in really inappropriate places, and my favorite story about that is when you were booked, I guess it was in a Catskill resort at a Hasidic -- at an Orthodox Jewish resort.

LENO: Yeah, there was this...

GROSS: You were booked as, what: tonight, Jay Leno, Jewish storyteller.

LENO: I was billed as a Jewish storyteller.

GROSS: What did you do?

LENO: This agent in New York would come into the clubs, and he'd say: "I need a comic this Saturday. Pay's $50," you know. And I remember one time, before I get that, this guy sent me up to a job, and it paid $100 for the weekend. And I thought, well, that's pretty good -- $100 for the weekend.

And I remember afterwards, the owner of the hotel came over and said: "Boy, that was very good. You know, normally, we don't like to spend $1,200 on an act, but we really enjoyed you." And I realized the agent took, you know, $1,100 commission out of my $100.

LAUGHTER

LENO: You know, it's just a nightmare. Anyway, that was the last time I worked for him. The first time, he sends me up to the -- "yah Catskills at the La'chaiem (ph) Resort" or something like this. And I said what is it? "It's just a nightclub." I said, what kind of? I said, is it mostly? "Oh, no,, no. Go up there."

So I finally find this place, and it's all these cabins way back in the woods -- nice people, but it's a Hasidic resort. And I pull in there, and it says on one of these -- one of those bad signs that, you know, you pull on a trailer and it's got the flashing lights around it: "Tonight, Jay Leno, Jewish Storyteller."

And I go, geeze. So I get there, and I walk out on stage, and it's all Hasidic, you know, and I don't even speak Hebrew. You know? And I said, there's been a big mistake. You know, I'm not really a storyteller. I'm not even Jewish. The guy made a mistake. A lot of "hmm, howww, wowwww."

And then this guy says: "oh, do your act. Let's hear what you do," you know. So, I did my -- and they were very nice. I mean, they were polite. You know, he just -- I felt bad for them, and they felt bad for me. And they were nice people. It just wasn't what they had bought, you know. You know, it was a horrible job.

GROSS: Well, I think it's funny -- in your book you talk about how when you were getting started in comedy, or maybe this was even before you got started, when you were growing up, that comics meant adult guys, usually from New York, usually Jewish, who spoke more to your father then they spoke to you.

LENO: That's true. When I was a kid, you had Alan King. You had Rodney Dangerfield. And these guys were always funny, but they always came from the point of view, at least to me, was: "hey, these kids today, with the long hair -- you can't tell the boys from the girls. I tell 'ya" -- you know. And all of that was funny. My father would laugh at that.

And then I remember seeing Robert Klein and George Carlin and David Brenner and Steinberg -- and these guys would come out, and suddenly, I noticed I was laughing more than my dad, because their humor was coming more from my point of view, especially Robert Klein.

He was a guy who was -- I felt like me: Middle class; normal parents -- not crazy, not rich, not poor -- just normal. You know, watched the same TV shows as a kid that I watched. Joked about the same kind of things that I watched. And that was a big change in comedy, at least for me.

GROSS: So how did you figure out where your material was going to be?

LENO: I figured it out from watching those guys. You know, I said to myself: boy, these guys make fun of the same kind of things that I think are funny. These are the same things I talk about with my friends. I mean, prior to them, I don't think you would have seen Alan King come on the Ed Sullivan Show and do jokes about Jimi Hendrix. You know, it just didn't happen. You know, it didn't happen.

GROSS: No, it would be about Jimi Hendrix mowing his lawn.

LENO: Right. Right. "Jimi Hendrix -- with the hair like that," you know. But I mean, suddenly here were guys on mainstream television talking about things only kids -- you know, now adults buy Rolling Stone albums, you know what I'm saying? But back in the '70s, there were adult records, you know, where you had Henry Mancini and Frank Sinatra. And then you had, for the kids, you know, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, whatever.

And nobody ever did jokes about the Beatles on mainstream television. These were the first comedians to sort of parody younger people's lifestyles.

GROSS: My guest is Jay Leno. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: Back with Jay Leno. Like most young comics, your ambition when you were starting out was to eventually get on to the Tonight Show.

LENO: Yeah.

GROSS: What was the most memorable part of your first shot on the Tonight Show?

LENO: Most memorable would be -- well, I got heckled my first shot, which was a horrible experience, but luckily I'd worked a lot of clubs, so I could deal with that, and Johnny seemed to like that. But our producer, who is still with NBC and the Tonight Show to this day, Fred DeCordova (ph), you know, he would say to you: "OK, here's the deal." He would come over and he would say -- and Fred was somewhat of a legendary figure, having, you know, directed Jack Benny and all these people.

He would say: "after you do your standup routine, if I go like this, waving my hands towards me, that means come over and sit down to Johnny. If I put my hand up like this, stay on your mark. If I wave you away, go behind the curtain. But whatever you do, don't move until you get my signal."

I said: "yes sir."

I walk out. I do my routine -- thank you, good night. Big laughs -- la da -- thank you -- thank you very much. I look over, and I see Fred about to signal me, and his phone rings. And I see him -- hello? -- now he's talking, and I don't know what to do. And the audience is now getting into that...

SOUND OF SLOW CLAPPING

... you know, down to the odd one or two claps. And I'm still standing there, so it -- the applause picks up a little bit more, as if people are going "oh, all right.

Just get lost, will ya," you know. And I'm going -- "hi, ah" --- and he's talking away, you know, da da da da da. Now, the applause has all but stopped. Fred puts the phone down. He looks over -- completely forgetting -- oh, come here -- come on -- oh, thank you.

I realize it was only maybe six, seven seconds, but of course, to me, I might as well as been out there an hour and a half, at this point -- just hanging, waiting to get Fred's signal to come over and sit down next to Johnny. So, that was pretty scary.

GROSS: On your first shot on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, did he laugh at your jokes?

LENO: Yeah, he was very good actually. He was a terrific audience. I mean, that's what the Tonight Show is. It's not trying to get the audience to laugh; it's trying to get Johnny to laugh.

GROSS: Right.

LENO: But you know, the audience gets the cue from the host.

GROSS: Right.

LENO: And if Johnny is laughing, they're enjoying it more.

GROSS: Did Johnny Carson give you advice about your standup act, or later on, about guest-hosting or hosting when you took over?

LENO: Not so much about hosting, but he did about the -- you know, the first time I did the Tonight Show, well, actually, I was the guy that was sort of the last of my graduating class to do the Tonight Show.

My graduating class, I mean, all the guys I sort of started with -- Robin Williams and -- well, not Robin, I mean the -- Letterman and oh, guys like George Miller and then -- so many of the comics. They all did it before me, and you know, Johnny came in one night at the Improv to see me. Harvey Korman brought him in.

And you know, there are two kind of comedians. There are comedians that have a lot of attitude and not many jokes. There are comedians that have a lot of jokes, but not much stage persona.

By attitude, I mean those kind of comics that can get on stage and go: "hey, pal, nice hat. All right -- what, did you win -- somebody guess your weight?" -- you know, that kind of thing. And they're loud and they're boisterous and they're just funny in their nature, but there are no jokes.

And then there are other comedians, like, well, you take a guy like Steven Wright (ph), who are just natural joke writers, you know, very monotone. They tell the joke a certain way. And to me, the best comedians are the ones that combine both those elements. You have a joke and you have an attitude.

I remember Johnny came to see me, and he said, you know, he thought I was funny, but I wasn't ready for the show because my jokes were too far apart. You know, I didn't quite understand what he meant, but I listened, then I started watching his monologue, and I realized, you know, he was doing 15 or 20 jokes in a space where I was doing five.

I mean, I could get on stage and being sort of physically big and loud and imposing -- I could get a laugh where there wasn't any. But that really -- that was great for a nightclub, but not for TV. You know, the idea being on television, if the joke doesn't work, your funny attitude will carry you through. And if your funny attitude doesn't carry you through, your joke will carry you through.

And if they both work, you got a killer joke, you know?

GROSS: Now, how do you work up your opening monologue?

LENO: How?

GROSS: Well, and, -- how do you feel -- and also how do you feel about having writers writing with you? I'm sure during the years that you were doing clubs, you were writing all your own material.

LENO: I was writing all my own stuff, and there's this arrogance that a lot of comedians had, and I certainly have it -- or at least had it -- you know, I can do this. I can handle it. I mean, you know, it's a bit -- comedians tend to be like Democratic presidents: they think they can handle the whole thing themselves, you know?

You know, I always said the Republicans elect stupid presidents and brilliant staffs, and the Democrats elect brilliant presidents and stupid staffs. And it's the same thing -- comedians are like that. They come in and they say "I can handle."

Like the first 15 to 20 times I hosted the Tonight Show, I said I don't need cue cards, I'll memorize it. And I did OK. But then I realized this is ridiculous -- you're going to do this every day. You can't memorize, you know, 11 1/2 minutes worth of jokes. I mean, you'll go nuts. You'll go crazy trying to do this.

And then I gradually got into it, and now the way it works is, well, we tape the show from five to six. Then we have a meeting. I go home at maybe 7:30, eight o'clock. Nine o'clock, I start to put the monologue together. Eleven o'clock, Jimmy Brogan -- he's the guy that works with me on the monologue -- we go through maybe 500 or 600 jokes that we've prepared that day -- or everybody's prepared.

And they're not all jokes -- some are just punchlines; some are just setups; some are -- did you hear about the guy who did this odd thing in Iowa -- question mark. We try to make a joke out of that. Sometimes it's a complete joke from a writer. Anyway, we'll try and put at least half the monologue together by two or three in the morning.

And then I get into work about eight-thirty, and through the course of the day and -- you're writing jokes constantly as your picking the red M&Ms out of some rock group's, you know, dressing room because whatever is -- you know, you're still dealing with show business people.

GROSS: You're kind of famous for hating vacations -- for not liking to not work. You have to -- you like to work a lot. Is that still true -- that you still don't like vacations?

LENO: I'm not a vacation guy. You know, I was somewhat dyslexic as a kid, and I always remember my mom saying to me: "well, you're just going to have to work that much harder than the other kids to get the same thing."

I never thought I was insecure. I just thought I was being lazy. And that may sound silly, but to me, if something didn't work, it didn't work 'cause I wasn't working hard enough. Like when the whole thing with the Tonight Show was going on -- Is Jay going to be replaced? Is he going to get fired? Are they going to replace him with Letterman? -- well, obviously 16 hours a day is not enough. Maybe I need to do 18 hours a day.

And it worked. You know, I mean, that's what works for me. You know, I never said I was the best. I never said I was the funniest. I just said I will work at this harder than anybody else. Like if I take a -- you know, I went to Hawaii once. This is like a nightmare. I was doing a gig in Hawaii, and I had to stay down there, like, three days.

And the second day, I'm sitting on the beach, you know, look at my watch, ten o'clock. And I'm sitting on the beach for about four hours, and then I look at my watch, and it's 10:30. And I go, great, my watch broke. Battery's dead. And then I ask someone: "what time is it?" And they said: "it's 10:30." And I said: "really? I've only been sitting here for half an hour?"

I thought it was like two o'clock. It was like a nightmare. Get me out of here. And you know, I'm not a vacation type.

GROSS: It must be strange for you, knowing so many comics so well and having been in the position of being a young, hard-working comic, really wanting their big break, to now be the guy who could give a young, hard-working comic the big break.

LENO: Oh, man, it's a nightmare.

GROSS: And I'm sure you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, on the other hand, you want to have the best show you possibly can. So, it's...

LENO: Yeah.

GROSS: ... probably a really awkward spot.

LENO: No, it's horrible, because I used to think: Well, now that I'm hosting the Tonight Show, I can go anywhere. But now you can't go anywhere, because you walk in, and you go: "oh, gee. There's Larry -- I gotta hide." You know?

I mean, that's what it is. I mean, you know, you have friends that come up to you that, you know -- when I first got the job, men, women, comedians would come up to me and they go: "hey Jay, you know, Johnny would never put me one, but now you got the show, it'll be great, man, I can come on all the time."

And I'd have to say: "but you know, if you weren't good enough to get on with Johnny, it's not good enough to get on with me. You got to make it funnier." And you know, I lost a lot of friends that way.

I mean, it's just -- they're people that I love dearly as friends, but the material is not strong enough, or maybe it's really old-fashioned, you know, it's just, you know, old jokes about, I don't know, hippies or airline food or whatever it is.

And you just say: "you know, you gotta update the stuff." And they just don't get it.

GROSS: Jay Leno, recorded last October after the publication of his memoir, "Leading With My Chin."

Next Thursday, he celebrates his fifth anniversary as the host of the Tonight Show with a special program featuring some of the funniest moments since he took over.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jay Leno
High: Jay Leno is celebrating his 5th anniversary as host of The Tonight Show. In this archive interview, Leno talks with Terry about his life: growing up, his struggling years as a stand-up (with other comics like Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, and Steve Martin), and taking over The Tonight Show, and his book "Leading with my Chin."
Spec: Television; Media; Comedy; People; Jay Leno
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Jay Leno
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 16, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Laugh Tracked
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: TV critic David Bianculli has noticed yet another developmental step in the history of the TV laugh track, and to him it's no laughing matter.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: As much as I love comedy, that's how much I hate laugh tracks. The only thing I hate worse than a laugh track on a funny show is a laugh track on an unfunny show.

Or so I thought, until I found something I hate even more. More on that in a minute.

But, first, this quick history of the laugh track, and how and why it came to haunt TV in the first place.

As far as I can tell, it's the fault of one guy: Ed Wynn. Most people think of Ed Wynn mainly as a vaudeville performer in the earlier 20th century. But, he was also a media pioneer.

In 1949, he starred in "The Ed Wynn Show," the first TV series to come out of Hollywood.

In 1956, he took another big gamble and played a dramatic role in a "Playhouse 90" production that's still remembered as a true TV classic, "Requiem for a Heavyweight."

But, earlier in his career, Ed Wynn was a radio pioneer, too. All the way back in 1922, just two years after the first radio station was established, Wynn starred in the medium's first stage show, a production of "The Perfect Fool."

He was so worried, though, about performing his comedy routines just for the radio microphones, he grabbed everyone who was within reach -- secretaries, stagehands, even station executives, who are famous for their lack of sense of humor -- and had them act as his studio audience.

Because he was insecure, he secured his place in laugh track history. That was the first time studio laughter became part of the equation, and it's never left.

On TV, there have been several phases of the laugh track, and each one has been less honest and more annoying than the one before it.

First there was the studio audience for a live program, the Ed Wynn type, only bigger. When you watched "Your Show of Shows" in the early '50s, whatever laughter you heard was coming from real people who were laughing at the same things you were.

Then came "I Love Lucy," where the laughter was recorded but still real.

But, slowly but surely, when less funny shows came along, TV invented the canned laugh track, where the sounds of people laughing at something else, something funnier, were inserted in post-production to make those jokes sound less awful.

In the '70s, the feel good Norman Lear sitcoms added a new wrinkle to laugh tracks, the sensitive "oooh" sounds, where studio audiences were heard to oooh and ahhh sympathetically to a warm episode-ending hug.

Pretty soon these, too, were recorded and dispensed freely all over the place, like bootleg tapes from a Grateful Dead concert.

"Married with Children" was the next major development. For this show, the studio audience was encouraged to whoop and holler at every opportunity. Whenever Christina Applegate's sexy character of Kelly entered, wearing one of her micro-mini-skirts, the audience howled, not as in laughter, as in coyote.

But, now there's a whole new deadly strain of laugh track out there. I found it on "Pauly," that horrible Pauly Shore sitcom that's so bad even Fox came to its senses and canceled it after just a few airings.

But the damage has been done. Listen to this dialogue between Pauly and other characters, and pay particular attention to the sounds coming from the audience.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP OF "PAULY")

ACTOR #1: If you want Becka, I got two words for you: cyber sex.

LAUGHTER AND SCREAMING

You see, Pauly, interactive is the future. I can build you a virtual Becka right here.

ACTOR #2: Cyber sex is so low, it's so impersonal. Wow, are those 3-D.

ACTOR #1: Wonka, wonka, wonka.

LAUGHTER AND SCREAMING

ACTRESS: Downloading smut again?

LAUGHTER

ACTRESS: Hey, not so fast. Print me another naked Brad Pitt.

LAUGHTER AND SCREAMING

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BIANCULLI: I couldn't place those sounds for a while, but I finally did. When anyone makes a juvenile remark on "Pauly," which is almost all the time, the sound you hear from the audience is the sound of a bunch of pre-teens going down a roller-coaster ride. It's a "woooo" track. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if Disney and Universal were recording those screams at their respective theme parks, then selling them to Fox to use on their sitcoms.

"Pauly" is gone. The "woooo" track, though, is bound to return. Just watch. And listen.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV for the New York Daily News and the author of "The Dictionary of Teleliteracy (ph)."

Dateline: David Bianculli; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: TV Critic David Bianculli talks about the history of television laugh tracks and a new development in L.T. usage.
Spec: Media; Television; Laugh Tracks

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Laugh Tracked
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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A more moderate Taliban? An Afghan journalist says nothing has changed

Afghan British journalist Najibullah Quraishi has had trouble sleeping for more than two hours a stretch ever since the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan in August and the Taliban came back into power. Quraishi grew up in Afghanistan under Soviet and Taliban rule, and began reporting on the Taliban before the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks and the onset of the U.S. Afghan war. He's currently in Kabul reporting for his upcoming PBS Frontline documentary, Taliban Takeover, (airing Oct. 12) which details life in Afghanistan now.

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