A semiotics of comedy: Moving figures and shifting grounds of Chapayeka ritual clown performance

Marianna Keisalo


This article develops an analytic approach to comedic performance by examining the performance of the Chapayeka ritual clowns as a series of semiotic shifts and reversals: the Chapayekas play with images and contexts, introducing unpredictable figures to effectively shift the grounding conditions of their own performance. The Chapayeka performance combines both conventional and set forms as well as improvised and newly invented ones. As they shift from convention to invention (in the sense of Roy Wagner), the Chapayekas emerge as “symbols that stand for themselves.” This capacity allows the Chapayekas to function as both symbolic figures in the ritual and self-contained contextual grounds, which enables them to produce further signs and manipulate figure-ground relations within and beyond the ritual. The analytic view developed here is informed by the complex and multilayered semiotics of comedic performance; this exploration offers a novel perspective on how comedic performances create and wield semiotic force through establishing grounds and evoking figure-ground relations.


Yaqui, Chapayekas, ritual clowning, humor, performance, semiotics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.010