Rule of Three

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The Rule of Three is a principle in English writing that suggests a list of three things is inherently funnier, more effective or more sexually satisfying than a list of any other number of things. Often to obtain maximum humour, the third thing in the list breaks the pattern set up by the other two. It is an important comedy writing technique often used in television shows, stand-up comedy routines and erotic novels. The technique can be combined with any other comedy technique including redundancy, random humour and redundancy. It should not be overused, however, as the joke will fast become stale, stagnant and hilarious.

Why Three?

It is universally accepted that three is the funniest number and all things that come in threes are funny, such as the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs and the Sugababes, whereas all things that come in twos are not, such as the two World Wars, the Twin Towers and Tenacious D.

It doesn't matter if a list has two things, four things or 64,852 things, it will never be as funny as a list of three things. It is not fully understood why three is funnier but there are a few theories.

  • The first theory, known as Wikipedia's Theory, reasons that three is the minimum number of elements required to establish or violate a pattern, and when we hear or read two elements of a list, our brains begin to make connections, suggest other things that would fit the pattern and think about sex. Then when the third element, which has no connection to the other two all, is revealed, it makes us feel foolish, stupid and hungry for thinking there would be a logical connection, causing us to laugh awkwardly as a defense mechanism.
For those without comedic tastes, the "researchers", "experts" and virgins at Wikipedia have an article about the Rule of Three.
  • The second theory is that three is actually the meaning of life. Evidence to support this claim include the fact that a table needs to have at least three legs to stand, the fact that three is the biblical value of Pi and the fact that it is in between four and two, the digits that make up 42—the widely accepted answer to life, the universe and everything.
  • It just is.


An "innocent" child demonstrates the technique in his letter to Santa.

Here is an example of a list with three elements:

"A Cryptid is a mythological creature of unproven existence, like Nessie or Bigfoot ... or Chinese Democracy!"

Funny because it contains the three key ingredients of any good joke: an implied pattern, a punchline breaking said pattern, and Bigfoot.

Now compare that to a list with only two elements:

"The Turkey's death was tragic and delicious."

Not Funny because there's no pattern. The humour of a list comes from setting up a pattern, taking a sledgehammer to it and breaking the sledgehammer. In this case the punchline comes prematurely, a problem shared by many Uncyclopedians, Encyclopædia Dramaticans and fans of My Chemical Romance. By simply adding another adjective, however, this example could be greatly improved. It would flow better, it would be better structured, and it would become marginally funnier.

Here's an example of a list with four elements, a typical buzzer introduction from the tv show QI:

Stephen Fry: "Bill goes ... *Lion's Roar* ... Clive goes ... *Tiger's Roar* ... Sean goes ... *Leopard's Growl* ... and Alan goes ... *Kitten's Meow*."

Not Funny because, well, two reasons really. For one thing, they do the same thing every episode so we expect Alan's buzzer to be different in some way, but the main reason it isn't funny is because the pattern is over-reinforced. Only two roars are needed and as such the third roar is redundant, but not in a funny way, redundant in a time-wasting, unnecessary, time-wasting and unnecessary way. If there were only three contestants, then this particular section of the show would be much funnier.

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Things That Should Never Be Used As The Third Element In A List Of Three

Are You Paying Too Much On Your Car Insurance?

See Also
Did you know...
You are three times more likely to be hit by a flying champagne cork than you are to die from a spider bite, a terrorist attack or irrelevant third templates.

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