3’s and 4’s in Comedy and Music

Ok, I’ve got some geeky comedy and music thoughts on my mind today. I’ve been pondering the effects of “threes” in comedy and “fours” in music to try and figure out why those “threes” work.

In comedy we have a type of joke called a “triple”.  It’s a joke that sets you up with two things and hits a punch line on the third.  An example from one of my bits is: “A lot of things stoners say should be in quotes…’doctor’… ‘prescription’… ‘job’.”

Keep in mind, a lot of standup jokes are way less funny out of context and offstage. 🙂

If I add an extra tag inside that before the punch, ie. ‘doctor’…’prescription’…’pharmacy’…’job’.   It doesn’t have the same effect.  Much smaller laugh.

So, in comedy, three works and four doesn’t.  In music, a huge majority of pieces are written with four beats to the measure.  Probably 95%.  Of course there are pieces written with three beats to the measure (or 5 or 7, etc.), but they obviously aren’t as natural or they’d become more standard.  Whenever I try to teach someone how to play in three, they always find it uncomfortable until they get used to it.  Why?  Because beat 1 of the next measure keeps coming up faster than you expect it to.

The element of surprise….aha…  Surprise is the #1 element that makes comedy funny.  Here’s what’s going on.  All this happens on a subconscious level.  Because of our many years of listening to music in four we expect a rhythmic resolution of sorts at the end of the measure, beat 4.  A person listening to a joke knows there’s a punch line coming.  If there isn’t, they’re at the wrong show.  Our brains, on some level, are expecting that punch line to be on the fourth beat, the fourth tag because of that musical conditioning.  But when it comes on the third beat, it surprises us by being earlier than we expected it.  Hence the laugh.

There’s a good chance that nobody else gives a rat’s ass about this.  But hey, you’ve read this far.  So thanks for playing. 🙂

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