Comedy cookbook: The rule of three

There’s something about the number three in comedy.

Something about the third time lucky. The third time funny.

Welcome back to the Comedy Cookbook. The mini-series in this blog which looks at how comedy actually works.

The Rule of three: A comic establishes a situation or statement and keeps coming back to it. The second time would have a very similar structure to the first but we only get smashed with the funny at the third attempt.

A little confusing? Check out this bit by David Newton about post-match interviews in rugby:


So what has he done there?

He establishes that he’s going to be talking about the post-match habits which annoy him. After adding in a couple of beats about Kobus Wiese‘s appearance, he starts introducing the rhythm.

David Newton takes on John Smit‘s character and the mock interview is instantly recognisable. It draws on so many cliché questions and responses.

Newton’s characterisation of Wiese starts us off: “We’re here with the winning captain John Smit. Congratulations on your victory today”. This is followed by a detailed response from Smit. “Thank you Kobus, I knew it was going to be tight…”

Now, there’s nothing really funny about that. The appeal is in the fact that it draws on things we can relate to.

When Newton talks about the interview after the match is lost, the response from Smit is almost identical to the first. By the time we’ve heard this, the rhythm is firmly established. By rhythm, I’m referring to the now-predictable and familiar way that Smit will respond to every question.

David Newton shows crisp execution of the Rule of Three

That gives Newton licence to mess around with the formula and completely break our expectations when it comes to the third time of answering. He makes cheeky sexual references to trigger all sorts of associations in our minds.

This is a prime example of the “Rule of Three” at play. The third stab at the rhythm (if done well) can always trigger an electric response.

I’m chuffed to include a South African example in this Comedy Cookbook series.

There’s a couple things also happening on the personal front. I’ll keep you up-to-speed on all that.

Stay tuned…



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