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It is really hard to develop a logical process to create humor. The only sure-fire process I’ve discovered so far is to go through middle school as a bookish, clumsy, awkward introvert with early onset acne. Humor becomes a matter of survival. But one element that does seem to be consistently successful is the Rule of Three or the Comic Triple. Mankind seems to dig groups of three – The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, My Three Sons; you get the idea. The Comic Triple takes this natural affinity and turns it on its head. The biggest part of humor is surprise. A list of three is the fewest number of words necessary to establish a pattern and tumble it on its head to create the surprise. For example, the next bit of dialogue comes from our Five-Minute Shakespeare play, Hamlet.
POLICEMAN 1: What a mess. Better get to work. You outline the bodies.
POLICEMAN 2: I’m going to need more chalk. Have you ever seen a crime scene like this before?
POLICEMAN 1: Yep. It’s the work of a serial killer.
POLICEMAN 2: Vlad the Impaler? Jack the Ripper?
POLICEMAN 1: Shakespeare the playwright.
Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper set up the pattern of historical serial killers. Using Shakespeare takes the concept and twists it a bit, since he killed off so many characters in his Histories and Tragedies. He makes George R.R. Martin look like a romance writer. I’ll give you another example from our play Alice in Blunderland. Not that another example is necessary, but I do so want to shamelessly plug our plays.
MAD HATTER: Yes, a quest. It’s the preferred method in Blunderland of getting rid of troublemakers.
ALICE: But, I’m no troublemaker.
MAD HATTER: Your quest is to, uhm . . .
MARCH HARE: Follow the yellow brick road?
DORMOUSE: Destroy the ring of power?
MARCH HARE: Raid the lost Ark?
MAD HATTER: No, those have been done to death. I know. You must dethrone the Queen of Hearts.
ALICE: Queen of Hearts?
DORMOUSE: Quite the character.
MARCH HARE: She’s such a card.
MAD HATTER: The Queen of Hearts is quite mad —
DORMOUSE: (To MAD HATTER.) Pot. Kettle.
MAD HATTER: And she wants to rule all of Blunderland. You must stop her.
MAD HATTER: The usual. Go on a journey. Gather quirky companions. Lop off her head with an ax.
ALICE: I can’t do that!
MARCH HARE: (To MAD HATTER & DORMOUSE.) She refuses to cut the cards.
DORMOUSE: Maybe she can just deck the Queen.
MAD HATTER: If you don’t stop her, she will destroy Blunderland. No more rainbows.
MARCH HARE: Or unicorns.
DORMOUSE: Or universal health care.
We used the comic triple a couple of times that passage, bringing the grand total of comic triples in this blog to three. I don’t know, but for some reason I find that very satisfying. I’m hoping this blog gets lots of responses, because there are so many funnier writers than I here on Critique Circle. I just love to steal their ideas. I mean, permanently borrow their ideas. I mean, flatter them.
Jim and Jane Jeffries have been writing and producing madrigal dinner scripts for Jest Scripts since 1995. They write each script as a team. Jim has the more important job of carefully crafting each quip, pun, and gag. Jane takes care of such minor details as plot, character development, story-line, setting, and making sure that the plays “make sense.” Visit their site at madrigaldinners.com/