My friend Dustin recently asked me why improv audiences are so delighted with reincorporation.
Reincorporation is bringing back ideas and phrases from earlier in a performance (typically, but not always, the same scene).
I don't think it's really known why it works so well, but I am very certain from my personal experience that it does. In this entry I will speculate on why, from a cognitive science perspective.
When you experience something again, you encode it into memory, in some new context. The first thing that happens is you are aware that some stimulus has repeated-- every time you see something it increases the probability that you will see it again. As a result at some level you think it's important. We are wired to pay attention to patterns so that we can better behave in our environment.
The other thing is that whatever we're re-experiencing we're learning more about. We are deepening our understanding of the stimulus by associating it with a new context.
I love the book "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" because its thesis is that things are only meaningful to us because they repeat. Indeed, the book recounts the same events over and over with new perspectives.
This works not only for improv, but for the arts in general. In visual art, repeating visual patterns (sometimes called "rhymes") are effective.
Commedians will often end their act with a joke told before. For example, Jerry Seinfeld had an act in which he complained about people saying "say hi to him for me." Then we talked about Jared, the Subway diet guy. At the end of the act, he said "And if you see Jared, say hit to him for me." The audience roared with appreciation. They were in effect saying "thank you for enriching my memory system."
In music and poetry we have rhyming and alliteration, which is a re-incorporation of phonemes.
Also in music we have repeating beats, melodies, and lyrics. A good example for lyrics comes from the song "Nothing" from "A Chorus Line." In this song Morales tells of being in an acting class in which she was supposed to feel like an ice cream cone, or a bobsled. Unfortunately, as the chorus repeats, she "felt nothing." The acting teacher tells her she's worthless. At the end of the song she recalls seeing that the teacher had died. She cried because she "felt nothing." Notice how feeling nothing takes on a new meaning at the end. I notice a lot of good songs have choruses that mean something different at the end of the song.