An examination of why comedy comes in threes.
By B.T. (Brett) Ryback (Actor-Writer)
It's a truth universally recognized that comedy happens in threes. Unless it doesn't.
But typically it does, and you'll notice in my play Weïrd that this rule is used great deal.
Notice, for instance, that there are three sisters.
Okay, so Shakespeare gave me that one, but still, it's funnier, trust me.
Here's why 3's work in comedy. Comedy, like all good storytelling, is about creating an expectation and then either fulfilling it or denying it.
But because comedy is also about surprising your audience, when you fulfill the expectation, it must build to an unexpected height; and when you "deny" the expectation, you must do so by altering it to something equally unexpected.
This where the number 3 comes in...
I should note, that the repetition of something can be word-for-word or structural repetition. In either case it works best when it's exact reptition.
Now that you've created an expectation, the third iteration is when you either fulfill or deny it.
For an example of "denying the expectation", look at this exchange between Torrence and Harper:
‘Tis like a fresh nightmare, so vividly does it play still in my mind’s eye. In the wood, on
my way home from the town, I was thrice passed by a black cat.
You know as well as I that if she passes once, ‘tis good luck.
If twice, ‘tis good health.
But thrice! ‘Tis…good god!
Here you'll notice I've actually created 3 levels of 3. (OMG the threes.)
Torrence was thrice passed by a cat, which allows me to construct 3 iterations.
In an example of structural repetition, Torrence starts by saying, "Good luck," followed by, "Good Health." The audience has an expectation that the third one will be some version of "Good (Insert Noun Here)" but the expectation is denied when she exclaims, "Good God!"
In an example of word-for-word repetition, Harper responds the first two times with "Aye," creating the expectation that she will, again, say, "Aye." That expectation is denied when she says, "Ay-yi-yi!" instead.
Keep an eye out for this and many more uses of the "Comedy in Threes" rule throughout Weïrd!