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Spencer Green

Spencer Green

Posted: November 13, 2010 06:29 PM

In a potentially devastating blow to performers and writers everywhere, President Obama's special fiscal commission will recommend cutting the long-standing Comedy Rule of Three to two. Senator Michael Judison applauded the proposal, noting, "We have to make serious choices, even in humorous matters." On the other side of the issue, Humor Czar Morty Woodger spit water out of his mouth and yelled, "Oy! With the deficit and tax reforms, Mr. Discretionary Spending-Type Person! Where's the respect for tradition with the love and the laughter and the stuff that fills you with the warm fuzzy thing? Flayvin!!"

The heretofore inviolable Comedy Rule of Three holds that three sequentially ordered items or phrases set up a joke and then pay it off in an unexpected way to get across the humorous point. For example, from Carnac the Magnificent: "Big Ben, Dan Marino, and the candidates' campaign promises. Name a clock, a jock, and a crock." From The Dick Van Dyke Show: "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?"

"It is unconscionable to be proposing cuts to the critical comedic lifelines for hard-working Americans," says Republican Congressman Leonard "Chuckles" Pendlebright, who was also incensed over the commission's recommendation to reduce the number of words with the "k" sound. Pendlebright notes that, in some special cases, even exceeding the Comedy Rule of Three has been allowed if a joke builds correctly, i.e., Woody Allen in Annie Hall: "Everything our parents said was good is bad: sun, milk, red meat, college."

Fiscal commission member Alan Teasdale argues that this is the kind of waste the modified Comedy Rule of Three will eliminate. Teasdale cites Jay Leno's discussion of realistic premises supporting made-up premises on the TV series Star Trek, with Captain Kirk saying, "I realize this crew is familiar with the writings of Plato, Socrates...and, of course, Cremus of Rigel 7." By eliminating Plato or Socrates from the joke build-up, Teasdale says Americans will get to a punchline more quickly and have hours of extra time to create jobs, spend money, or adjust to the cancellation of NBC's Undercovers.

The proposed cut in the Comedy Rule of Three may also inevitably impact rules of three that go beyond comedy: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the order in which people die; and an endless number of trios involving Godfathers, Kings, and Musketeers. But, the most immediate concern may be best expressed by Democratic Senator Marshall Jaspers: "Do you seriously expect people to say, 'A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar' without the minister? You need the minister. Damn it, man, America needs the minister!"