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Why Did M*A*S*H Have A Laugh Track?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

When you think of wartime doctors performing dangerous operations on young soldiers in the middle of a bloody conflict, you usually don't think of laughter. Yet, when you catch a rerun of M*A*S*H on cable, that's exactly what you get. The canned laughter that billows from an unseen audience at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital seems remarkably out of place.

It wasn't just the subject matter that made the choice of using a laugh track questionable. Unlike almost all other comedies of the era, M*A*S*H was filmed in an immersive, fluid manner. That it didn't take place on a stage before a half-circle of cameras is what made the show unique and its laugh track so cringingly awkward.

The reason for its inclusion is rather simple. Studio heads at CBS had never even attempted to produce a comedy without a laugh track. It was a relic from radio days, and the thought of jokes hanging in the air without the affirmation of laughter made no sense to them. Even though M*A*S*H contained a mix of comedy and hard drama, CBS put their foot down.

“I always thought it cheapened the show," said series developer Larry Gelbart. "The network got their way. They were paying for dinner.”

Despite this, the show's producers were able to negotiate some grounds for dropping the laugh track. “Under no circumstances would we ever have canned laughter during an O.R. scene," Gilbert said. "When the doctors were working, it was hard to imagine 300 people were in there laughing at somebody’s guts being sewn up.” They were also able to argue for the removal of laughter altogether for a few episodes: "O.R.," "The Bus," "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?," "The Interview," "Dreams," "Point of View," and "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen." ("The Interview" was filmed in the style of a documentary, so the track's omission was pivotal to selling the concept.)

After season six, the laughter was toned down immensely, and later episodes feature a hushed track that contrasts sharply with the all-out hooting and hollering of the show's early days.

DVDs of M*A*S*H give viewers a fantastic option: The ability to watch the show without a laugh track. It's amazing how much a little silence adds.

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Big Questions
How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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