Boom. Boom. Bang! That's what the Rule of Threes feels like for audiences. If you're a comedian, you probably like to tell jokes and make people laugh, but not everyone is successful in this. The Rule of Three is one way you can make your comedy even better.
The Rule of Three is a technique used in everything from stories to speeches to jokes. This rule states that when 2 normal elements are used and establish a pattern, a third and final unexpected item that provides a punchline for the set must be added.
Most people like to laugh and some people like to tell jokes, but not everyone is good at it. The Rule of Three is a simple and easy way to add a splash of humor to your storytelling or speeches, improve your comedy routine, or even just make your dad stop cringing at your jokes.
What is the Rule of Three?
The Rule of Three is a technique that is used in comedy, storytelling, speeches, and can be found pretty much everywhere. In short, this rule is when you begin with 2 elements, items, jokes, stories, or really anything else, and you establish a pattern.
With the first item, you are establishing that pattern, and then with the second one, you are reinforcing and maintaining that pattern. When you reach the third item, this is the critical moment. This is when you deliver the unexpected twist or punchline. You capitalize on the fact that this final item is likely unexpected and will catch the audience off guard. As a result, you'll have a room full of people laughing at the joke or story you have successfully set up.
The Rule of Three is a pattern that you should follow throughout your comedy routine. Whether it's telling a story, listing items, setting up a pattern of events, or involving audience members, you should almost always use the number three as a standard. This rule can be found everywhere. It is used in speeches, quotes, ideas, stories, movies, and jokes.
Some notable examples of this are the story of The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or even the story of A Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by 3 different ghosts.
The Rule of Three works because three is the smallest number required to establish a pattern. Once the pattern has been set with the first two items, you can successfully deliver a humorous twist or change on the third and final item of the set. In addition to that, using three is short, clear, and satisfying to people.
How to Use the Rule of Three
In whatever you choose to do in your routine, incorporate the Rule of Three. Whether it's telling three jokes, doing an action three times, or telling a story three times. You should use the number three as the framework for everything else you do in your routine.
When you are establishing your pattern of three, you'll want to use some expected and normal objects or topics in your jokes or routines. After the first two, you'll want to switch things up with the third item. With item or joke number three, you'll want to use something weird, unexpected, or contradictory. In this way, the first two items establish the pattern or setup. Then, the third item adds the twist or the punchline.
One way you can do this is by setting up the same gag or joke three times. The first time, you need to establish an expectation. The second time, you must reinforce that expectation. The third time, you should break that expectation by changing how the gag will play out. In other words, the third time is when you add the twist or the element of surprise to not only keep your audience engaged and entertained but to catch them off guard and make them laugh at a bit of humor.
Here's a step by step guide on how to successful set up and use the Rule of Three in your comedy:
- Set up or create the context of the story.
- Find a list of 10 qualities that fit well with your context.
- Create a second list of qualities that are exaggerated or don't really match with the first list.
- Choose the best 2 qualities from the first list and 1 item from the second list. You'll want to pick the 1 element that contrasts the most with the other 2 good qualities you've chosen.
- Deliver the story or the joke by establishing the pattern or expectation, reinforcing that expectation, and then delivering the twist or unexpected element as the third and final item.
Why It Works
In short, the Rule of Three works because the human brain is wired to think that way. Sets or patterns of three are pleasing to the ear. A comedian is more likely to be successful when they use tactics such as this rule to make it easy for audience members to follow along with and understand jokes throughout the performance.
Humans are made to find and recognize patterns. When we do this, our minds are at ease and it's easy for us to follow along with a story or understand a joke that's being told. The Rule of Three is a way to help keep your audience engaged in your performance.
The rule works because of the pattern. When you establish and maintain the pattern with the first 2 items, you can create a build-up to the third and final item. This build-up is a key part of what makes the third item so effective and funny when it is delivered.
The build-up helps not only in leading up to the delivery of the joke and punchline, but it also builds the interest of the audience. As you do this, it will help you take a normal story and turn it into a joke.
Thanks to the human expectation for a set pattern, comedians have the advantage to pull the switch on the third, and final, item. Part of the reason people laugh at this point, is because of the element of "surprise" or at least, in part, because of the twist from the expected.