Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum
When I was growing up, we watched a lot of sitcoms with a live audience, since it was a popular format for television in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Of course, the live TV audience dates even earlier to shows like I Love Lucy. Back then, many of the actors and writers came from a background of radio plays and stage productions, so having people around to react just seemed natural. At the end of the episodes I grew up watching, you would hear someone—usually one of the show’s actors—say something like, “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.” Then you knew the laughing was real.
But it wasn’t just the laughing. It was also the sounds of anticipation from the audience. I thought about this phenomenon as I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show with my daughter a few weeks ago. The audience was privy to information that one of the characters didn’t know yet but was about to find out. Even though you couldn’t see the faces of the people sitting on the other side of the cameras, you knew exactly what they were thinking. The husband was about to see his wife trying to hide the inflated raft, and everyone knew it was going to be hilarious.
When the reactions from the audience are real, it just feels different. Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond said, “The only thing I miss from the sitcom format is that immediate gratification…of the live audience.” It’s a feeling of everybody experiencing something together—community, camaraderie, coordination of shared emotions.
Reading Hebrews 11-12, you see the power of sharing something with others, even when the “others” are people who’ve been gone a very long time. Hebrews 11 lists the “Faith Hall of Fame” with names like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. You see people who chose to trust in God while standing next to tall walls and deep seas, knees trembling before what seemed insurmountable or uncrossable. You see people who “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength…” People who were tortured, imprisoned, and stoned for their love of God, and “the world was not worthy of them.”
Then we come to Hebrews 12 and the assurance that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Though the saints who’ve gone before us may have died and aren’t necessarily watching us from some cloud in the sky, we still can rest in the knowledge that their testimonies encircle us in a powerful way. Believers endured great suffering and went on to their reward, and the memory and stories of these spiritual giants are our audience as we walk on this earth today. It’s their examples which help us “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Beyond the example of those saints, we have Jesus who is sitting “at the right hand of the throne of God” in our studio audience. And we’re called to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” He’s got a front row seat!