The president of Coors, the President of Anheuser Busch and the president of Guinness meet each other at a brewer’s convention. They fall into a conversation, and, finding one another congenial company, decide to continue the conversation at a nearby bar.
“What will it be, gents?” asks the bartender.
“I’ll have a Coors,” says the president of Coors.
“I’ll have a Budweisser,” says the president of Anheuser-Busch.
“I’ll have a Coke,” says the president of Guinness.
His two friends look at him in surprise. “A Coke?” they demand. “Why did you order a Coke?”
“Well,” the president of Guinness replies. “I figured since you boys weren’t drinking beer, I wouldn’t either!”
Notice, that was three guys walking into a bar. Not two, not four. When it comes to jokes, three is the magic number. (Cue music from Schoolhouse Rock).
A lot of humor is based on surprise. When something doesn’t happen the way we expect it--that stepping-on a-stair-that-isn’t-there feeling--one typical result is to laugh.
“Orange you glad I didn‘t say banana?”
This “rule of three” is important--not just to jokes, but to storytelling in general. Writing an essay or a magazine article, I frequently try to come up with three examples--anything less may not support my contention. Anything more is padding.
But it’s in humor that the Rule of Three is most important….and it’s so obvious it’s almost instinctive. The first instance sets up the situation. The second instance establishes the pattern. The third instance breaks the pattern. The result is surprise, and laughter.
I don’t think that you can go so far as to say that surprise is the essence of all humor, but certainly a big part of what we think is funny is the shock of broken expectations.
A Rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, some kind of a joke?”
I told you breaking patterns is funny.