Threesology Research Journal
Jokes with a "3-pattern" in one form or another
(This is a small sampling, and not the only pattern to be found)

(The Study of Threes)


Jokes Comic

Have you ever noticed how so many jokes seem to have some sort of pattern-of-three as part of their structure? For many, their overall pattern is similar to some syllogistic logic pattern (i.e. Major premise- Minor premise- Conclusion). In other instances there is an obvious "three" pattern similar to that found in Fairy Tales (i.e. 3 bears, 3 pigs, Cinderella- Anastasia- Drisella, Old King Cole and his fiddlers three, etc...). All of which makes one wonder whether or not being on the 3rd planet from a Sun is not meant as some sort of joke. The following are a few examples of Jokes with a pattern-of-three:

Three-Rule Mechanisms of Joke Structure
--- Greg Dean's College of Comedy Knowledge ---

  1. Decoy- The misdirecting assumption in a joke's setup which creates the 1st story and is shattered by the reinterpretation.

  2. Reinterpretation- An unexpected meaning or function of the connector that shatters the decoy assumption.

  3. Connector- At the center of a joke, the one thing perceived in at least two ways.  One way of perceiving it constitutes the decoy assumption; the second way of perceiving it reveals the reinterpretation.

3 sequence beginning, middle end... There is something magical about "threes" in dramatic and comedic structure. A joke, too, has a beginning, a middle and an end, even if it's only two lines. " -Bob Shayne

Third position is reserved for the punchline in comedic terms such as a joke:

To illustrate:

Past Present Futile
1 2 3

The first two words set up an expectation broken by the third.

We live on the third planet from the sun.

Sun Mercury Venus Earth
1st planet 2nd planet 3rd planet

Our earth is the punchline in some Great Cosmic Joke, only we seem to be too close to the joke to get it - we think, act and behave as if this life is a tragedy; the bulk of the light humour zooming right over our heads.

--- The Great Cosmic Joke ---

There are of course other patterns that one may take the time to quantify, such as one-line jokes, two-line jokes and so forth. Yet, jokes, like many cognitive efforts, exhibit a conservation. In other words there is a limit as to the length and number of elements which can be contained within a joke, with multiple elements often condensed to a singular words such as "many" or a reference such as "you know what I mean"; even if a person doesn't actually know what the speaker is saying, they simply go along with it and may laugh "on cue" (when they think they are supposed to), as part of an activity of socialization. In other words, many people laugh in a crowd because others are laughing, and do it reflexively. However, what jokes do tell us is that a given audience is similarly attuned to one another as a group, but not necessarily as individuals. Going to a "comedy club" or some place where someone called a "comedian" or "comic" is going to tell what are labeled as "jokes", is an environmental set-up to participate in a joke as part of the joke itself. Laughing as a group at a given moment is part of the overall joke routine.

We should also note that while many jokes have a single punch-line, others can have double or triple forms. No less, while a comedian may commonly reference some person, place, or thing that is not present except in the mind of the listener, other comedians may directly involve one or more listeners to participate as the fall-guy (or gal) who is set up to be duped and look like a dope, because the speaker is practiced at taking advantage of someone unprepared for that which the speaker is prepared for in making adjustments to contingencies, because of others they have encountered in previous joke setting routines. In fact, the development of a joke can arise from a comment or situation developed by a participant, that is then modified for future usage... and thus reveals that the comedian is not as original at creating jokes as some might want to think.

Along with jokes is the "comic" strip or book item, that frequently are not funny at all... and are not meant to be. Very often, they exhibit some reference to something many of us interpret as a non-funny foible, eccentricity or stupidity of human behavior, and are thus mislabeled... but if they contain a drawing of a fictional person, place, or thing, they may be labeled a comic... though fairytales could well be viewed as different illustrations of comic "book" characters.

The number of people (or places or animals) in a comic book might involve numerous entities, while a comic strip... such as those seen in a newspaper, may be limited to one, two, or three characters. In those instances where numerous people may be shown, the idea of a single (one) crowd may come to mind. In terms of panel quantity, there are single, double triple and multiple versions. I do not know which panel quantity occurs most often in what setting, when we take into consideration different cultures. However, a study of the character types and quantities for different countries and cultures would be an interesting comparison in terms of cognitive appeal for those who like to read comic strips or books.

Here are some examples of different panel quantities, for those unfamiliar with the counting of panels as a topic of cognitive research:

one panel comic strip
One panel comic strip
two panel comic strip
Two panel comic strip
three panel comic strip
Three panel comic strip
four panel comic strip
Four panel comic strip
five panel comic strip
Five panel comic strip

Here's a few references that may be of interest to some readers:

Syndicated Comic Strips and Panels
Wikipedia: Comic Strip
Wikipedia: Panel (comics)
Wikipedia: Sunday Strip

Here's a joke told to me while in the State of Utah. When I told it to a neighbor, he referenced it as a "Mormon Joke".

Three little old ladies living together:

  • One of them had stopped on a staircase to pick something up that she had dropped. After retrieving the object and standing erect, she asked "Was I going up the stairs or down the stairs?"

  • Another of the old ladies was in her room looking at herself in the mirror and brushing her hair. She asked "Was I putting my clothes on or taking them off?"

  • The third old lady laughed out loud while sitting at a table and said "I'm glad I'm not like you two. Knock on wood. Now, was that the front door or the back door?"

A new prisoner had arrived at the prison and was being shown the ins/outs, dos/don'ts, whys/why nots of day-to-day prison life expectations. After getting a tray full of food in the cafeteria at lunch time he sat down with his "tour guide" to eat. He noticed that there seemed to be very little talking going on as a prisoner over to his right stood up and shouted "54!" All the other prisoners in the cafeteria began laughing out loud. After awhile the laughter subsided and there came that same quiet he had witnessed when first sitting down. A prisoner to his left stood up and shouted "23!" All the prisoners were again laughing out loud. Some were almost falling out of their seats. As the laughter began to subside, he quietly asked his "tour guide" what was going on. He was told that there were so many jokes in prison that they had to be given numbers. Whereby, every number to almost a thousand was associated with a joke. He asked if he could try it and his "companion" said sure. So he stood up and shouted "17!" But there was dead silence. In fact, several of the prisoners looked very sternly at him and shook their head in disapproval. He thus slumped into his chair and tried to conceal himself below hunched shoulders. He very quietly asked the other prisoner what had gone wrong. The other prisoner looked at him and said "Man, some of us can tell a joke and some of us can't.

A woman entered a nearby auto repair garage and told the mechanic that she was missing her 710 (seven one O). He asked "what?" She then said "My seven ten." He again asked "you what?" She replied that it was there the other day but now it was gone and that her car was missing the seven one-hundred ten. The mechanic looked at his assistant with a wide-eye view suggesting that she was missing a few marbles in her brain, but he said nothing and asked her to accompany him into the shop area. He took her to a vehicle with a hood open and asked her to point out what she was missing. She pointed to an object near a valve cover. (The two images below illustrate what she was trying to describe:)

710a (15K)
710b (15K)

3 part joke: Who are the easiest people to treat medically?

  • Some say Electricians, because everything is color-coded
  • Others say Engineers, because everything is number-coded
  • But the consensus is that Politicians are, because their rectum and mouth are inter-changeable

A new teacher was assigned to work in a low-income school district where gang membership amongst students was widespread. And even though she was assigned to an elementary school, the young kids attempted to emulate their older brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, etc., with respect to dress, mannerisms and use of abbreviations when writing. After a month of teaching with no real "gang" related problems she walked into her classroom and saw "TTT1A" scribbled on the blackboard. OH OH, she thought. It's gang graffiti. She was angry and asked in a stern voice: "Who did this?" "What's the meaning of this?" A young black student stood up and said he had done it. Again she asked, "What's the meaning of this?" The young boy replied: "TTT1A" means "To The Teacher One Apple." He then gave her an apple which may her feel somewhat ashamed that she had reacted so impulsively and angrily. But her anger seemed to quiet the students down so all she said was thank you to the student. He walked back to his desk and sat with a big grin on his face. In fact, all the black kids were smiling.

A couple of days later when she entered the classroom she saw "FTT2ER" in calligraphy on the blackboard. OH No! she thought to herself. Now what? Instead of becoming angry she thought about using another tactic by saying that the calligraphy was very good and asked who had done it and what the meaning was. An Asian boy stood up and claimed to be the author. He replied that "FTT2ER" means "For The Teacher Two Egg Rolls." After receiving the egg rolls she thanked him and noticed that he was walking back to his desk with a big grin on his face. When all the other Asian kids begin smiling and looking about the classroom the Black and Hispanic kids became very sullen.

When she entered the classroom the next day, she saw "FUCK3T" written in Old English Script on the blackboard. She could not restrain herself. She was so appalled and livid that she called for the principal and school security officer. She then raised her voice and asked who had done this and what was the meaning of it? An Hispanic boy stood up very proudly and said he and his barrio brothers had done it. When the teacher asked him to explain the meaning of it, he replied: "FUCK3T", but he was interrupted by some students who began laughing and others who were giving condemnatory looks and expressions. The teacher had to silence them so that he could continue. The Hispanic boy again said: "FUCK3T" means "From Us Chicano Kids Three Tamalies." The three events were the young kids' version of playing a one-upman-ship game. In other words, each of the three groups were trying to outdo the other.

A small community decided to combine the opening of a New Walmart with their yearly county fair. On the opening day, a woman told her two friends that today was the day she was going to ride a horse. She was now in her thirties and had never been on a horse. Both her friends encouraged her, which provided her with the needed boost in confidence to pay the required fee. As she sat on the horse it began to slowly amble on. After a short while the horse's pace began to quicken which caused her to shift to and fro in the saddle, but she remained upright for the most part. But then the horse began a quickened gallop which caused the woman to slide off the saddle to one side. However, her foot got lodged in one of the stirrups so her head was banging up and down on the ground as the horse continued on. She then began to shout for help: Help Me! Help Me! Somebody please Help Me! A young boy rushed up and said he would help her, whereby he pulled the electric cord. (Originally I heard this as a "dumb blonde" joke but I know far too many blondes that can hold their own intellectually, with their peers in industry and academics.)

Links that may be of interest (but there are numerous other articles not listed here):

Wikipedia: Joke
What is the structure of a good joke? What is the structure of a bad joke?
Jim Richardson's "How to Write a Joke: the 7 basic joke forms"
The joke model of creative thinking A Linguistic Analysis of Jokes
Emotional structure of jokes: A corpus-based investigation
The Rule of Three: A humor technique from the world of comedy.
The narrative joke: Conceptual structure and linguistic manifestation
The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious
Linguistic Ambiguity in language-based jokes
Relevance Theory, Humour, and the Narrative Structure of Humorous Novels
Lots of Jokes
Chemistry Jokes
Wikipedia: Rule of three (writing)
Jokes: Rule of 3 can be hilarious (or hurtful)

While not specifically about jokes, this may be of interest to some readers who are writers:

Rule of Three: Thinking Visually in Threes

Last update: Tuesday, 18 - March- 2014
Latest Update: (Translator added) Saturday, 20-May-2017... 7:10 AM
Update of page information: Saturday, 8-Sept-2017... 12:00 PM

Your Questions, Comments or Additional Information are welcomed:
Herb O. Buckland