03 August 2009

Threes . . .


{A brief note from the Aviarist: Started this back in June, prior to being consumed by In Bocca al Lupo, so do forgive the lack of timeliness. There are still some ideas here I like. Anyway...}

All my theories about the nature of humor aside, they're not just for comedy {Threes, that is.}.

This post is inspired in part, of course, by the strange coincidence (in every sense of that word) of the recent celebrity deaths. Personally, I tend to perceive a desire for meaning where others might perceive an actual meaning, or pattern. Does this biscuit resemble a face to you? Yes, it does, but I believe that's because our most necessary and long-established pattern recognition ability is related to human faces, not because your biscuit is trying to tell you something. However, even I am given pause by the phenomenon of triple demises, or even just triple serious injuries. Maybe we're looking for a pattern to something that's very frightening for us, to make it somehow more rational, and pinpoint a supposed "end" of such a cycle. I don't know. But I know I have more trouble embracing that rationale for times such as those.

For the record, I'm not torn up about any of our recently departed entertainers. I usually am not when it comes to celebrities. Jim Henson was a big blow, and I continue to mourn in my own little way Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. But on the whole, I react to celebrity demise with a "how sad," not any profound catharsis. I did not, after all, know them, no matter how well I know their work.

In our work as Zuppa del Giorno, I and my comrades-in-comedy are always searching for and instructing others in "the comic three." We express this a number of different ways: set-up, narrative and punch-line; catch, wind-up and release; introduction, suspension and delivery. Typically, the real tricky beat for performers -- especially those unaccustomed to any stylized acting -- is the middle one. This is totally understandable in this context. It's the least concrete part, of indeterminate length, and it often functions in mysterious ways when it comes to a joke in particular. Is it exposition, important detail for later use, or is it in fact a misdirection that makes some sort of punchline or payoff possible? There's another set of basic terms we use to describe a progression of three: beginning, middle and end.

I can't say for certain what it is about threes that make them so generally comprehensive for we humans. Why is it that a three -- a beginning, middle and end -- should make sense to us on such a basic level? Why not a five, or a two? For the most part, I'm content to accept it as a fact. However, an idea occurred to me while I was mulling over for the umpteenth time this week what I find an interesting supposition. Maybe even a draft of an explanation. It has to do with how we, as individuals, perceive time. Maybe it's because we can't ever completely reconcile the past, present and future. Maybe it has to do with our relationship to reality as we understand it.

{Insert fart joke here.}

Now look: As much as my syntax and unabashed love for the layered parenthetical may argue against it, I am not a fan of pretentious theory. We can expound all day on reality, and perception, and philosophy, and phlah phlah phlah. I'll love it. Hell yeah, abstraction. Bring it. So long as it stays in the realm of discussion, and doesn't wander into realms of authority because, brothers'n'sisters, we just don't know. We don't. What we have are ideas, and ideas are exciting things. But let's keep our pants on, 'cause there's a time and a place. (And the naked philosophy party starts at my place at 9:00, Friday.) My idea, then, is something like this:

We all have distinct relationships with our pasts, or memories, and our futures, or dreams. We try to live in the present, most of us, because that's where it's at, man. Yet we're tugged, one way and another. The past seems to offer us answers, if only we can understand it well enough, the future to offer us hope for change. When you come right down to it, this paradigm makes up such an encompassing framework for our perception at large that it's extremely difficult to escape. When we speak about it in greater absolutes, it is a unifying experience for literally everyone alive today, regardless of culture or credo: we are born, we live, and we die. It's the great commonality, and so that rhythm translates across any border. It's the music of comedy. As for why students of comedy seem to have the most trouble with the middle bit, well, isn;t that the same in life, too?

Sure, yes, okay -- I acknowledge that this could be a rather backwards deduction, fitting reality to a three because threes are there. I could be seeing faces in biscuits here. But it's an intriguing idea to me, nonetheless. Plus, it makes me laugh.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

I think one of the reasons threes are such an effective structure is, that's the minimum number of steps we need to establish, then break a pattern. The members of Blue Man Group said in an interview that they decided on three guys, because that's the smallest number of people where it's possible to establish someone as an outsider. Two guys are in sync, one guy isn't. So to some extent I think threes are simply the smallest unit for creating a structure. I agree the celebrity death thing is imposed. Having lost someone dear to me in the same week as Micheal Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, I had trouble seeing extra significance in their demises, even while I was able to imagine the feelings of their loved ones vividly.

Jeff Wills said...

I like the idea that three is where it gets interesting/complicated. It's also where we tend to begin to notice a pattern at all, I think. In terms of sheer circumstance, two can be a coincidence. What's really significant of course is what the three communicates, and in theatre, thankfully, we get some choice about that. Little choices that can add up to big effects and feelings.