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The origins of comic performance in adult-child interaction

Authors: Wilkie, Ian; Saxton, Matthew

Source: Comedy Studies, Volume 1, Number 1, 1 January 2010 , pp. 21-32(12)

Publisher: Intellect

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We argue that the essence of comic performance, in act and interpretation, is intrinsically located in early adult-child interaction. We focus in particular on the special register used by parents with their young children: Child Directed Speech (CDS). We show how characteristics of CDS contribute to comic understanding in the child from very early on in life. Smiling and laughter emerge within the context of adult-child interaction, typified by a focus on the here-and-now and the use of comic devices, which include surprise, familiarity, repetition, incongruity and nonsense. Cognitive development is, in fact, encouraged and enhanced through the use of comic interpretation in the superiority gained through the grasping of concepts; the enjoyment of language based humour discovered in puns and jokes; and in the confounding of expectation. This article suggests that early parent-child interaction constitutes the blueprint for comic performance itself and that the quality of interaction between parent and child echoes the conditions for successful interplay between comedian and audience.

Keywords: Child Directed Speech (CDS); adult-child interaction; comic interplay; comic performance; incongruity; nonsense; repetition; superiority

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Education, University of London.

Publication date: January 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • Comedy Studies covers multiple aspects of comedy, with articles about both contemporary and historical comedy, interviews with practicing comedians and writers, reviews, letters and editorials. The journal seeks to be instrumental in creating interdisciplinary discourse about the nature and practice of comedy, providing a forum for the disparate voices of comedians, academics and writers.
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