Breaking the Rule of Three, Part 3: Divas

One last aspect of the rule of three (before I can move on and do a post about sex already!) is that often times characters in stories come in 3’s. This can be bears, mice, stooges, pigs, fates, fairies, angels, goats gruff, sisters, wizard kids, tenors, kings etc.  The idea being that and trios are inherently funnier, cooler or more sexy (in the case of the goats gruff).

It is also possible to have a trio of divas. I know what your thinking, aren’t those crazy divas meant to just to stand ahead of the pack a screlt out powerful solos? Well it turns out that over the years Broadway thinkers and makers have gotten smarter and smarter about combining the powerful known types of Diva into super molecules of fabulous. These creations keep getting more and more complex. The brief history can be summed up in my good friend Robert Coverdell’s Theory of Diva Evolution:

In the beginning, shows had only one Diva (this was before the technology existed to have sassy women share stages).  This is the Ethel Merman type.  She would blare out a brassy number and kick and swear if someone even mentioned the spotlight leaving her. Gypsy is a great example of a show that is constructed around one major diva character. Streisand characters often play for all the marbles as well.

The second stage of the Evolution is a  Divas dueting. I’m talking about heart stopping numbers in pieces like Sideshow, Chess and Wicked.

And then lastly, in accordance with the rule of 3: shows with 3 Divas.  Big mentions here being Witches of Eastwick, Dreamgirls, and recently, 9 to 5.  Now, these are fantastic shows.  9 to 5 is my jam, BUT will we let the rule of 3 stop us there?! I know it seems impossible but there must be a way to break this barrier and bring well-constructed 4 Diva shows into existence.

I should pause here to give mention to Ira Gasman and Cy Colema’s The Life. This romp featured a half-dozen slutacular women of the night screaming proudly.  It was a wonder, but far too unstable to replicate.

SO I sat down with research partner Robert and we tasked ourselves with breaking the rule of three and reaching for just one viable show that can support the 4 Diva compound.  After about 30 laborious minutes we have done it.  Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: The Musical.

Just think of it! four chicks, different things going on, different personalities, a well balanced cast provided by Ms. Ann Brashares. Robert and I are going to start working on the score pretty soon now, but we are already accepting applications from interested Divas who want to be part of history (Sutton Foster, you can have the weird character, or the one that goes to Greece!).  I even have some of the lyrics coming along:

Our love won’t unravel,
’cause our pants travel!
we’re a good good good
Sisterhood!

well… There’s some more R&D to happen here.  But I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

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The Rule of Three: Part 2 of 3

So, Yesterday I discussed stretching a joke out by employing the newly invented rule of 6 (thank you thank you). Today I’m going to quickly discuss another way to subvert the Rule of Three… not that it necessarily needs subverting.

Now, today’s topic is the Overly Long Gag, a name I pulled from tvtropes.org. In the words of tvtropes: “The concept is that something happens repeatedly, to the point of boredom. Then it keeps going, to the point where it, in theory, actually becomes funny again. Essentially, the sheer length of the gag becomes the gag.”

The article goes on to mention the Sideshow Bob-Rake gag from the Simpsons. Knowing that The Boy loves the Simpsons I decided to see if he thought this extended gag was funny to him.

Me: So I was reading about Overly Long Gags online, like Side-Show Bob and the rakes.

The Boy: Oh My God! I love Side-show Bob and the Rakes. The noise he makes is so funny, seriously. It’s like a oooh!, well no it’s more like mmMGNGN! and he like shudders….. like this… and it just keeps going and now everytime he’s in an episode he steps on a rake and it hits him in the face. It reaches the point where you’re watching a sideshow bob episode and you’re just waiting for him to step on the rake- you actually feel cheated if he doesn’t, I think there was one episode when he didn’t step on one, and I was like: WHat?! but then the next episode with him he stepped on a rake I was like: Ok , there we go.  And then I think there’s even one where his son steps on a little rake and you’re like: YES YES YES YES.

As I walked next to him I was thinking to myself: this is getting so overly long I feel like gagging myself. I also think he may have scared away a woman while punching the air on the YES YES YES’s.

Usually I am hard to please using the extended gag, but I do love traditions.  And There is something to be said that comes from the pleasure of predicting what’s coming up. That said, nobody could have predicted or explained why the only video of Sideshow Bob and the Rakes is in black and white and in German.

The Rule of Three: Part 1 of 3

As I mentioned in the last post, this weekend was the Samuel French Off Off Broadway festival finals. One of the lucky plays selected for Publication is a “scathing comedy” about child beauty pageants called Skin Deep, written by Mary Lynn Dobson. This hysterical one act shows stage moms and life-long beauty pageant hosts obsessing and repeating the same points over and over.  So much of the comedy came from the repetition of bits that I started to pay careful attention to Mary Lynn Dobson handled the joke repeated.

Most people in theatre have already heard of the rule of 3. Wikipedia lists the generally agreed upon definition as: ” a principle in English writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”  And “the third iteration is the most pleasing or most effective.”  SO sure, I mean, how often have I heard that the third time a joke happens is the funniest?

However, in this play I can remember two occasions when Ms. Mary Lynn told the same joke 4 times each(!). In these cases she was still able to keep the joke fresh by tweeking it for that fourth and final run. For example: In a very funny scene one of the overly excited, raspy, fidgety, old pageant judges explains that she’s looking for a young lady who has that special somethin’, a young lady that just says (bellowed:) “LOOK AT ME! look! HEY! Look at me LOOK AT ME!”  The actress was terrific and sold really sold this moment as a crazy old lady. Then she sold it again twice more: LOOK AT ME! look! HEY! Look at me LOOK AT ME!”.  and each time people laughed because it was so absurd that this woman would continually come back and yell this line during the same interview.

After the third delivery of the line I waited carefully to see if the writer would break the rule of three- and she did. She took here time, there was a nice break from the earlier jokes and then it came, in the middle explaining the “no-guns” policy, because if a 5 year old beauty queen points a loaded rifle at you and says “LOOK AT ME! look! HEY! Look at me LOOK AT ME!….then you’re gonna look.”

So this got me thinking that there has to be a a way to extend a joke. if slight changes keep it fresh then we should be able to go beyond three repetitions with some new rules…. SO I offer the rule of 6. A guide to comic gestures or phrases repeated in performance:

first time: it happens. it’s either funny, or not funny.

Second time: it remains funny or it becomes funny because it happened again.

Third time: it’s so damn funny! this shit has happened three times!

Fourth time: it’s funny because you tweeked it.  the punchline answers a different set-up, or the person doing the gesture is now in drag, or perhaps the line was changed into Spanish?

Fifth Time: (this gets tricky) It Doesn’t Happen-  and it’s funny because of it.  Imagine: everything is set up for the person to say it, but they don’t. Maybe their trying to think of an example for someone, and the repeated punchline is perfect… but they just… can’t…remember anything right now….  It’ll still be funny because to the audience can remember. And the audience loves getting the understated joke.

Sixth Time: It just happens again. In it’s simple form. After the 4th time and 5th time which changed it up there is space to bring back the classic version, and it satisfies immensely.

I have yet to actively identify steps 5 or 6 in anything- but they sound nice don’t they? Now, string of repititions has to stop at around six, otherwise it becomes something else: The Overly Long Gag. I’ll discuss this tomorrow in Rule of Three: Part II.