6 Realities of the Secret World of Paid TV Audience Members

#3. They'll Do Whatever They Can to Get the Reactions They Need

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It's not uncommon, particularly on a criminally unfunny sitcom, to bribe the audience with prizes. Whoever laughs the loudest at Ashton Kutcher's terrible joke will get a DVD set of an actual good show, for example. On these sitcoms, the wrangler will often be a stand-up comedian who will try to get you to laugh with his own jokes between bouts of Ashton Kutcher giving your brain a colonoscopy.

CBS
"Couldn't you just give the funny comedian his own show?"
"No, that makes entirely too much sense."

I once sat in on a taping for a sitcom called Friend Me starring Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as McLovin, about the riveting behind-the-scenes operations of Groupon. It was exactly as good as it sounds, which is why you've never seen it on TV. They showed us the pilot before the taping began (as is customary for a show that hasn't aired yet, so the audience can get an idea of what the hell is going on), and boy, you could hear a pin drop on J. Lo's ass on a pillow-top mattress in that studio.

That ominous silence sent the production team into overdrive. As the taping began, that poor wrangler was frantically running back and forth between the "laughter" and "applause" signs, eventually pulling out every physical comedy gag he could think of to get us to respond. The cameras are rolling, McLovin is Grouponing, but we're not laughing at him -- we're laughing at the comedian balancing a ladder on his nose just off camera.

Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images
The laughter didn't sync up with any scripted jokes. I'm not even sure there were any scripted jokes.

Sure, that's some base level clown humor, but everything is relative. Next to watching a hackneyed sitcom die right there on set, those circus tricks are practically Arrested Development.

#2. The Audience Is Occasionally Full of Junkies and Burglars

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I'm not under any illusions about how hard it is to do my job. You will get no "Hey, man, that deep fryer is a lot more complicated than it looks!" rants from me. Anyone with a pulse can sit and clap, and you don't even necessarily need that if you've got a sufficient system of pulleys. Like most unskilled jobs, it doesn't pay very well -- about $40 per session -- but it does pay cash on the day, because I'm not going to sit through McLovin's terrible jokes if I can't immediately go out and get blackout drunk before that experience stores itself in my long-term memory.

draghicich/iStock/Getty Images
If the network had any brains, they'd have gotten us drunk before.

Now, think of the type of folks you know who would go out of their way to make small amounts of instant hard cash for no skilled labor. Yep, most studio audiences are made up of struggling actors and even more struggling junkies.

You can tell by the way they nod off in the middle of a taping. You can also tell by their tendency to burgle and assault people. Paid audience members will show up to a taping that's already full with the hope that someone will drop out and they can take their place at the last minute. Fistfights have broken out over those spots.

Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images
Although they might have been ADs and wranglers trying to fire up the crowd.

Some particularly enterprising lowlifes rubbed their remaining two brain cells together one day and figured that if the studio is handing everybody $40 at the end of the day, there must be a stash of cash sitting around somewhere. And they were correct: An agency representative's car was broken into, and $20,000 went missing.

That was not a typo: The show had 20 grand earmarked just to pay people to pretend to enjoy themselves.

#1. At Some Point, You Will Applaud for a Human Rights Violation

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There were two shows that I sat in on that got incredibly uncomfortable for the audience. The first was an extreme spelling bee hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro, aka Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It sounds like a fever dream, but I am not making this up.

ABC
It was named Spell-Mageddon. Definitely by Carlton himself.

The show lasted one season, which is actually pretty amazing, given that the contestants had to spell words while being tortured with electric shocks. People were screaming in pain, but listen to the audience in that video -- they're clapping and cheering like good little drones. It was like a televised Milgram experiment. At least you can take consolation in the fact that live torture does not make a random sampling of people clap-happy -- the show had to pay for those reactions.

The other one, which, despite the better nature of God and man, is somehow still on the air, was the accurately titled Bet on Your Baby. On this show, parents place wagers on their infant's ability to complete certain tasks for a chance to win that amount toward a college fund for the child. I'm pretty sure I've been witness to the end of more than a few marriages thanks to this show.

ABC
"Eh, the baby was the only reason this marriage started. Figures that it would end it."

One woman pulled her husband aside off camera and lost her entire shit at him after he failed to help their child do his tricks as well as she would have liked. With so much money at stake and tensions so high, I'm almost certain there was some post-performance child abuse going on. But you don't think about that -- you awwww for the child, make sad noises when the parents lose, and cheer when they win. Any calls to child services must be made on your own time.


Manna is looking into paying people to laugh at her jokes on Twitter.

For more insider stories, check out 5 Horrifying Ways an Ex Can Ruin Your Life With Nude Photos and 6 Horrific Realities of Living With a Bedbug Infestation.

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