Public Speaking Course:
Rule of Three
Out of everything you will learn in your public
speaking course, the rule of three is the most
pervasive in the construction of humorous situations.
You will see it over and over because it's so simple to use, it's powerful
and it works (see I just used it there in a non-funny situation). Most
of the time in humor the Rule of Three is used in this way: The first
comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third unexpectedly switches the pattern which
makes it funny. Here's a few examples
from brochures advertising my seminars:
In the "How to Get There"; section
* From Washington, D.C. take Rt. 50 . . .
* From Baltimore, MD take Rt. 95 . . .
* From Bangkok, Thailand board Asian Air . . .
* By Metro take the Red line . . .
* By Car take New York Ave. . . .
* By Steamship take the Chesapeake Bay
While in front of a group I point
to an audience member and say "You can make a difference in your
[Pointing to the next person] You can make a difference in your
[Pointing to third fun person] You can [pause] Well not everyone can
The Rule of Three is also used in constructing bits (see bits article
on this website).
Three jokes or one-liners on one topic is enough to create a rise in
the audience, but not enough to tire them about that subject. As you practice
what you learned in your public speaking course, don't forget that the Rule of
Three is good in non-funny situations too. Even Old Abe Lincoln used it twice in the powerful, but short, Gettysburg Address: "We cannot
dedicate. We cannot consecrate. We cannot hallow this ground";
and that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth."