AMC's new series Kevin Can F**K Himself breaks the sitcom mold in just about every way, including the satirical laugh track that accompanies about half of its scenes. In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, star Eric Petersen discussed how the show generated laugh tracks and simulated a live audience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also revealed that he truly earned at least one laugh that you can hear in the series.
"So the original plan was to have a full live studio audience, obviously with COVID, that plan went away," explained Petersen, who plays the titular husband Kevin in the series. "We had groups of laughers. There were about 10 to 15 people that were all all the multi-camera stuff. There were local Bostonians, and they would be, you know, COVID tested and wearing masks. They were sitting kind of behind the curtain and watching a monitor, but they were there live laughing with us."
Kevin Can F**K Himself is filmed like a multi-cam sitcom about half of the time, with Kevin cracking jokes and laughing with his friends. The other half of the time, it's a dark drama, revealing the reality behind the "sitcom wife" Allison — played by Annie Murphy. Petersen appreciated this subversion, but he had plenty of prior experience on straightforward multi-cam sitcoms to draw from.
"I just don't know how you can do this style of comedy to silence. It would be really hard," he said. He even revealed that the directors tried to bolster the "laughers" by asking the crew to break their professional training, with mixed results. He said: "the directors would always encourage the crew. They'd be like 'hey guys, you can laugh. If you think something's funny, you can laugh and we'll pick it up.' A lot of the crew was like 'no, no, no, we can't laugh' because they're just so trained that, like, when you're filming something, the camera operator can't be laughing and shaking the camera."
Petersen went on to describe one more way his past experience on multi-cam sitcoms came in handy. He said: "Our multi-cam editor is a guy named Joe Fulton who actually went to the same college that I did... He also was the editor on a CBS sitcom that I did, but never went to air. That starred Steven Webber, Rita Moreno, Minnie Driver and myself, and he was telling me 'I always save laughs of live studio audiences that I can kind of mix in with a laugh track just to make it feel as realistic as possible.'"
"'And he was like 'I actually have one of your biggest laughs that you got from that pilot we did like six years ago, and I put it into Kevin Can F**K Himself in one of your jokes. Just to sweeten one of the laughing moments,'" Petersen went on. "I was like 'that's kind of cool! A joke and the laughter from a joke from six years ago added into this show here.' Pretty cool."
You can see Petersen in Kevin Can F**K Himself now on AMC+. The show premieres on the AMC network on Sunday, June 20 at 9 p.m. ET.