Another basic element of humor is the Rule of Three.

In The Rule of Three, a writer begins with two segments of a familiar statement to lure the reader in for a big payoff. Think of the old line, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” But there’s where the familiar ends. Who remembers the scene from Ghostbusters that used this Caesar setup? 

Have you ever heard George Carlin’s take on the old George Bernard Shaw quotation: “Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.” 

In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ted describes Ludwig Von Beethoven’s favorite musical works: Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. The first two are the setup. They make sense. The third one is the payoff. It comes out of the blue, and the ridiculousness of that last choice takes the viewer by surprise.

More recently, the movie, Horrible Bosses, told the story of three guys who conspire to kill their three vastly different but truly awful bosses. 

Experts say you have to see or read something three times before you’ll remember it. So if you’re setting up for a funny scene in your manuscript, try to allude to it twice (setup) before actually reaching it (payoff)!

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