How the Worst Day of Fran Drescher’s Life Changed Sitcoms Forever

In 1985, actress Fran Drescher went through the most harrowing experience of her life. The home she shared with her then-husband, producer Peter Marc Jacobsen, was broken into by two armed robbers. One robber ransacked the house, while the other tied up Jacobsen and sexually assaulted Drescher and a female friend who was having dinner with the couple at the time of the invasion. In the aftermath of the trauma, Drescher worked to put the incident behind her. In 1991, Drescher found herself sitting next to CBS president Jeff Sagansky on a flight to Paris. By the time they touched down in Paris, Drescher had convinced him to meet with her and Jacobsen and listen to their pitch for a sitcom. Sagansky liked the idea, and The Nanny debuted in 1993. Unfortunately, Drescher’s quick rise to fame saw her attract a rather serious stalker. She became so fearful that she couldn’t handle random people being in the studio audience. That’s when CBS asked Lisette St. Clair of Central Casting — Hollywood’s oldest and most established casting agency — to find and screen 30 to 40 professional laughers. The job paid $75 a day, and St. Clair aimed for a 50/50 gender split. She found the majority of those she chose were between 40 and 50 years old, and it turned out that their life experiences made them excellent laughers. Now, the practice of hiring professional laughers, instead of relying on “laugh tracks” — pre-recorded laughter from live audiences. Although the pay is meager, the benefits couldn’t be better. As one professional laugher explains: “Can you think of anything more wonderful than sitting in a comfortable chair all day long and being amused?”