“I love you.”

Back when I was in Monks’ Night Out, every Sunday rehearsal started with about an hour of Three Line Scenes. You had to try them over and over until everybody voted that your scene worked. It made you say stupid things like: “Hey, Sis, I just crashed Mom’s car — and it’s her birthday!!”

But for me the harder part was being the second guy, the one who is miming some kind of action and had to respond to the first line in a way that set up a joke for the next line. So first you had to think up some kind of miming that wasn’t writing, reading, sewing or washing dishes. It had to be an action that could be both maintained and easily interrupted (You can’t have someone enter while you’re surfing, otherwise you’re being a dick to the other guy who’s trying to come up with a relation, situation and joke). Then you had to hear the set-up this person was giving you and find a way to respond that clearly set up the punchline. And the action can’t be so crazy that the person is forced to comment on it. You’re supposed to be just “doing something” without having to say what it is, and not turn the scene into “Two guys fishing.”

“You failed the test.”

He says that to you, and that’s all you’ve got. He’s not allowed to ask a question. He just has to say something that establishes where you are, who you are, — some sort of grounding.

You keep on brushing your teeth, or tying your shoe or whatever.

“I’ll give you five thousand dollars to say I passed.”

He leans back, stares at you. He’s got to make the joke here. It’s his turn.

“We went through this last week, Mr. President.”

It’s not perfect, but it would have passed.

Back when we’d get stuck on that third line, one of my friends would always turn to his scene partner and use for his third line: “I love you.” Then they’d hug. It was funny every damn time because there’s so much tension between those lines, when you can hear someone think, when they just want to say the right line so they can get off the stage because it’s early on a Sunday and it’s hot and there’s no air conditioning in the club, and everybody’s cranky.

I do not miss the Three Line Scene.