Stand-up comics will tell you that they don't write funny lines that they believe aren't funny. Every joke they intend to be a joke should get a laugh. But all the intentions in the world don't change the fact that some gags work for everyone, some gags work for some people, and some gags work for nobody.
A laugh track assumes every would-be funny line succeeds. It takes observations that clever people might have already made themselves and claims they are revelatory. It takes things that might elicit a smirk of recognition and insists they're gigglingly fresh. It remorselessly pounds the viewer with a spectrum of responses that indicate what a committee of people have decided the viewer will be compelled to feel. It tells you what you need to be thinking at any given moment. It's the auditory equivalent of a man playing pocket-pool every time he sees his own reflection.
This is what makes CollegeHumor's idea of a takedown seem so damn stupid. Their idea was this: Two and a Half Men causes people to feel anger or suffering. At the same time, it constantly congratulates itself for its comedic worth by using a coercive tool that tells you how funny it is. Both of these observations are true. But in making this point, CollegeHumor employed the exact same means of self-congratulation and obviousness that makes Two and a Half Men contemptible. Substituting a groan track for a laugh track to make a point about comedy is like trying to take spaghetti stains out of the carpet by daubing it with a Chicago-style pizza. The mentality that thinks a groan track is going to "show" somebody is the same one that thinks that dough is really absorbent.
A groan track is a laugh track in reverse. It has to tell you that something isn't funny at the same time a laugh track tells you that something is funny. It infantilizes the audience in the exact same way, only it presumes that what it's telling you is even more important than "Laugh now." Worse, theirs is not even a groan track in any literal sense. Instead of just playing a bunch of audible moaning or wailing every time Two and a Half Men is punishingly unfunny -- and honestly, hearing a lot of horrifying screaming is pretty fucking funny -- the groan track bothers to explain to you why what you're seeing isn't funny, as if you couldn't get it yourself. It's the kind of self-righteous pose that lets a rapist wipe his hands and stare grittily into the sun like Clint Eastwood because he executed a drug dealer.
If CollegeHumor hadn't been good in the past few years, none of this would be worth mentioning. It's because they're clearly smart enough to be aware of layers of irony that this comedic note rings so false. Their takedown isn't bad because it's wrong; it's bad because it doubles the world's quantity of this kind of suckiness to make a cheap point about how sucky things suck. Pointing out that a solid-gold colander isn't seaworthy is smart and apt. Mining, smelting and forging an identical one to mock someone, then expecting yours will float is stupid. Doing it while backing away from your audience, bending over and waggling your fingers to make a "gimme tha money" gesture is a dick move.
The thing is, they could have done anything to Two and a Half Men, and not only have been funnier but also right. It fails as comedy so completely that shooting intellectually both above it and below it yields better results. Look, deliberately being dumber than Two and a Half Men is funnier than Two and a Half Men:
If you want to go the commentary route, the show offers so much to work with that CollegeHumor never broached. This is a family-friendly show about an unregenerate bachelor who keeps fucking women constantly, yet he has a hand in raising a child. This show airs on CBS, the most geriatric and fussy network possible. This is the same audience who thinks that the popsicle-stick blonde who solves crimes in a world of blue and soft focus on Cold Case shows way too much titty. So naturally CBS runs family comedy starring a human criminal punchline:
Finally, if you're determined to shit on Two and a Half Men and going through the headache of all that editing in the first place, you might as well try to create an art. College students do that all the time and consistently produce some of the funniest material available anywhere. It's not intentional, but the internet doesn't give a shit about motive. It's results-driven. Why not give it a whirl?
Finally: an advice column for the rest of us! (Who seek to enslave humanity.)
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