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Cohesion-Building in Stand-Up Comedy: An Overview

This section will be an overview of some devices that are used in stand-up comedy shows and can be considered to be cohesive devices. We will just present them here so that they can provide the background against which callbacks have to be assessed. The connection between callbacks and these cohesive devices will also be briefly explored.

Building a Whole Linguistically: A Few Definitions

As is well known, cohesion has to do with the linguistic (or, sometimes, paralinguis- tic; see below) features that make a text a text, and not just a collection of random utterances, whether spoken or written. The term is therefore used in a similar way to that found in Cohesion in English (Halliday and Hasan 1976), which famously listed ways in which the very textuality of a text affects its structure: anaphora/ reference, ellipsis, substitution, conjunction, lexical cohesion. Cohesive devices are linguistic devices, perhaps sometimes paralinguistic, too (again, see below), that are there because a given utterance is part of a whole and so comes after something else and before something else. Part of the difficulty may consist in drawing up a list of such devices, although a number of studies have done that, in different ways (e.g., Halliday and Hasan 1976; Duchan et al. 1995). Another problem is to show why, and how, a given device actually creates cohesion. Coherence is to be sought at a semantic, or logical level; it has to do with how relevant and/or logically sound the different connections that are made between the ideas, arguments or events are. Cohesion-building devices may contribute to making a discourse more coherent, but the connection between the two is notoriously complex: a cohesive text may be entirely incoherent (?This house is blue, because it likes it), and it is possible to build a very coherent reasoning with no known cohesive devices at all (He came. I was happy. We all wept.) Links may be construed without them being necessarily expressed, and be computed pragmatically, or discursively. The connection or absence of connection between cohesion and coherence may come to play a role in stand-up comedy, as it can be a source of humour (Chauvin 2015). This question will be briefly taken up in Sect. 6.3. The ways in which a given series of utterances is made to be a spoken text have also been studied in Conversation Analysis, and will be used as background hypotheses in this study (cf. the presence and construction of topic continuity). The recognition and discussion of the existence of a level of subordinate structures (cf. sequences) is also of relevance. A large number of analyses of “pragmatic” or “discourse” markers have also resulted in the addition of such elements to the list of cohesive devices; well, oh, so, etc. have all been studied in relation to the building of cohesion, at the ideational but also the interpersonal level (for instance, Schiffrin 1987). They will only be mentioned briefly here but a few examples will be cited in relation to the main questions discussed in the paper.

Cohesion devices have been studied in a number of genres, and, partly, as was said before, written texts, or conversation. Now, choosing the relevant framework for stand-up comedy may be a question to be dealt with at the outset. Stand-up comedy is neither “text” nor “conversation” - it is prepared speech, but spoken, with possible room for improvisation. The routines have a clear conversational dimension (see Sect. 3 and the absence of the fourth wall), too, but are also mostly monologues. Narratives, which could perhaps be considered to be specific kinds of texts, have been analysed separately by (literary) narralogists and linguists, but stand-up comedy is not one organized narrative, and comedy shows do not belong to the type of texts that have been described in such classical studies as that of fairy tales by

Propp 1970, or even the spoken narratives such as those analysed in Labov and Waletzky 1967, Labov 1997, 2001, 2004, 2006, or such as the “frog narrative” (Slobin 2005). The French structuralists, Barthes, Genette, Todorov in particular (cf., for instance, Barthes 1966; Genette 1966, 1972; Todorov 1966, 1967, 1971), have dealt with the organization of (again, literary) narrative in ways that turn out to be partly relevant here, but probably not entirely. The humorous dimension of shows may as well of course leave its mark on the type of devices that are used. These links, and differences, have to be kept in mind.

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