The number 3 seems to have a mythical power of a comical construction. You probably have noticed that many jokes use triples in which the first two instances build up tension and the punch line serves as the climax.
How many times have you heard the various stories about 3 poor guys among whom the third one suffers the most? Or 3 stupid guys among whom the third is the biggest idiot?
For some reason, 3 is the optimal number. 2 is insufficient to establish a pattern whereas 4 would be repetitive and dilute the mood.
The “rule of 3” is by no means restricted to humor. It is frequently employed in speeches, writing, and paintings (notice the triple here). And we usually raise 3 examples to make a point.
It is sometimes referred to as pacing.
Here is a classic joke using this “rule of 3”:
Three men were standing in line to get into heaven one day.
Apparently it had been a pretty busy day, though, so St. Peter had to tell the first one, “Heaven’s getting pretty close to full today, and I’ve been asked to admit only people who have had particularly horrible deaths. So what’s your story?”
The first man replies: “Well, for a while I’ve suspected my wife has been cheating on me, so today I came home early to try to catch her red-handed. As I came into my 25th floor apartment, I could tell something was wrong, but all my searching around didn’t reveal where this other guy could have been hiding. Finally, I went out to the balcony, and sure enough, there was this man hanging off the railing, 25 floors above ground! By now I was really mad, so I started beating on him and kicking him, but wouldn’t you know it, he wouldn’t fall off. So finally I went back into my apartment and got a hammer and starting hammering on his fingers. Of course, he couldn’t stand that for long, so he let go and fell-but even after 25 stories, he fell into the bushes, stunned but okay. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I ran into the kitchen, grabbed the fridge, and threw it over the edge where it landed on him, killing him instantly. But all the stress and anger got to me, and I had a heart attack and died there on the balcony.”
“That sounds like a pretty bad day to me,” said Peter, and let the man in.
The second man comes up and Peter explains to him about heaven being full, and again asks for his story.
“It’s been a very strange day. You see, I live on the 26th floor of my apartment building, and every morning I do my exercises out on my balcony. Well, this morning I must have slipped or something, because I fell over the edge. But I got lucky, and caught the railing of the balcony on the floor below me. I knew I couldn’t hang on for very long, when suddenly this man burst out onto the balcony. I thought for sure I was saved, when he started beating on me and kicking me. I held on the best I could until he ran into the apartment and grabbed a hammer and started pounding on my hands. Finally I just let go, but again I got lucky and fell into the bushes below, stunned but all right. Just when I was thinking I was going to be okay, this refrigerator comes falling out of the sky and crushes me instantly, and now I’m here.”
Once again, Peter had to concede that that sounded like a pretty horrible death.
The third man came to the front of the line, and St. Peter asked for his story.
“Picture this,” says the third man, “I’m hiding naked inside a refrigerator…”
What’s my point? My point is that if you have something funny to tell her, maybe it’s a good idea to arrange it in 3 parts so as to enhance the humor effect. For example:
“You know, you are like an angel—you are constantly up in the air, continuously harping on something, and have nothing to wear.”
If you want to be seen—stand up;
If you want to be heard—speak up;
If you want to be appreciated—shut up.
This “rule of 3” also has some “do’s and don’ts”:
- Don’t make the same joke about the same thing more than 3 times
- Don’t talk about more than 3 things in a short time. You’re a funny guy, not a professional comedian. (I can’t say that for sure, but you know what I mean.)
- 3 minutes is probably a nice timeframe for your jokes.
The nice thing about triples is that they can be used together with 2 other techniques I’ve already introduced to you:
- Surprise her
- State the simple (and logical) truth
“You remind me of beautiful face, silky hair, great body—you have none of those.”
“In a typical day, if you feel great for just one hour, be totally alert for one hour, do smart things for one hour—you are still dumb for the rest 23 hours.”