The Rule Of Three – Luke Armstrong’s Blog

Luke“Sometimes called trebling, the Rule of Three is a pattern used in stories and jokes, where part of the story is told three times, with minor variations. The first two instances build tension, and the third releases it by incorporating a twist…. A more popular variation on the rule is to repeat the same joke or concept three times, but put a twist on the third one that makes it funny again. One version of this is The Triple, wherein a character lists three items – the first two logical and serious, and the third applying a twist or joke. For example, a character might say to a bald person, “Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?” (From The Dick Van Dyke Show.)” – TV Tropes

The legendary Marx Brothers were masters of their craft, namely- the rule of three.  In dramatic writing, most of the time each element from the rule of three would relate to each other, i.e. the first pig made his house of straw, the second made his house of sticks, and third was smart enough to use brick.  All of these materials were each used to build a house…and dramatic tension. HEY-O.

In comedy, more specifically, The Marx Brothers, almost all the time none of the tiers in the rule of three needed to relate.  The first joke was funny, the second was funnier, and the third would have you in stitches.  Sometimes jokes landed better than others, but the precision and craft of these beats is what made them funny while telling a story.

What is it about this magic number that makes it so effective in building tension or laughs?  This established number of beats has been proven to help audiences understand and comprehend information in an easier way by creating a memorable or methodical progression.

”The Rule of Three is especially common in storytelling. The third of three brothers succeeds after his older siblings each failed. The protagonist is given three tests and receives the prize after the third. It’s almost unusual to find a folktale that does not incorporate the Rule of Three in some form. This may be an artifact of the oral tradition, in which the stock formula of the first, second, and third attempts makes the story easier to remember…” – TV Tropes

While watching “Miracle”, you will see that we have decided to use these three beats throughout this entire show in our storytelling, our physical humor, and in one case, a three page comedic bit.  Watching comedy like the Marx Brothers it’s easy to say, “anyone can do that”, but boy, oh boy, would you be wrong.  This type of physical comedy, all while keeping the rule of three in mind, is not just challenging to the body, but to the mind as well.  We all have worked really hard, to the point of exhaustion, to create these precise beats to help build some tension, make you laugh, and ultimately to tell the story in a comedic way.

Here are a few examples of the Rule Of Three at work. First, from Laura Kightlinger:

“I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead…”

And here’s one from Jon Stewart:

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land….”

We look forward to seeing you at the show, at the bar and, very likely, in jail afterwards!


Luke Armstrong
Resident Actor
“Antony Antonini” – Miracle on 43rd Street