True story. One of the salient things that initially attracted me to my wife was… The Three Stooges. At the risk of serious gender stereotyping, let me just say that 99.999% of all Late Baby Boomer-aged girls/women I have ever met, spoken with, attempted to date, or dated—and that funnel gets very narrow by the end—uniformly believe The Stooges are “dumb,” “stupid,” and/or “have goofy hair.”
Not my Kay-Kay. She still thinks The Stooges are hilarious. Hence the reason I was instantly enamored of her. That and she did my laundry. I’ve always hated doing laundry.
In the interest of academic integrity, I freely admit that there’s a Dissenting School of Thought that holds The Three Stooges are merely “juvenile” and/or “uncouth,” suggesting that the simulation of eye gouging, pulling noses with a pair of pliers, or dropping a plaster ceiling on someone’s head is somehow less than morally elevating. Noted. But it’s my blog, so too bad.
Admittedly, there is some marginal danger from becoming a devotee of The Stooges at a young age. Or as a college student with too much time and liquor on hand. I confess to being inadvertently poked in the eye more than once perfecting the “Pick Two” schtick. But that was a small price to pay for that feeling of utter contentment that can only come when you and a couple of friends have successfully emulated The Stooges’s synchronized sleeping roll-over with a harmonic snore arpeggio, punctuated with a final “bee-bee-bee-bee.” It’s transcendent. And I have it on good authority the Dali Lama totally digs The Stooges. As far as you know.
And let us not overlook one of the gems contributed by The Stooges that is now embedded in American cultural literacy. Of course, I refer to their law firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe. (I pause to note that the truly regrettable Stooges reboot in 2012 ran this esteemed joke off the rails and into the ground, adding a proctology practice, “Proba, Keister, and Wince” and a firm of divorce lawyers, “Ditcher, Quick, and Hyde.” Sacrilege, really.)
The Stooges also had a lesser-known songbook that is also near to the heart of True Disciples, starting with the ear-worm-worthy Big Band version of “Three Blind Mice/Listen to the Mockingbird” mashup that served for decades as the intro theme song to most of the 190 shorts they made for Columbia Pictures. They did scores of tunes sprinkled throughout their films and immortalized in several albums. They even delved into opera, lip synching Chi mi frena in tal momento from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. My personal favorite, however, remains the intriguingly titled, “She Was Bred in Old Kentucky, but She’s Only a Crumb Up Here,” although we only hear one verse sung by Curly while slicing a loaf of bread.
There were a total of six Stooges over the fifty-year life of the act from vaudeville through television. The brains of the enterprise throughout was, of course, Moses Horwitz, which any good Stoogian will tell you was the real name of the bowl-cutted Moe Howard. The engine room of the comedy team was, from beginning to end, Moe and the wire-haired Louis Feinberg (a.k.a., Larry Fine). The third Stooge rotated over time between two of Moe’s brothers, Samuel (Shemp) and Jerome (Curly) Horwitz/Howard, then passed out of the family in later years to Joe Besser and finally to Joe DeRita.
I believe I speak for all True Stooge Fans when I say that there really was only one Third Stooge—the epic physical comedian and endearingly innocent man-child that was Curly Howard. The Distant Second among the Third Stooges was his oldest brother, but Shemp was really only good for predictable physical humor, like stepping on an upturned rake and getting smacked in the face with the handle. He lacked Curly’s onion-like layers of funny. Curly would have been praiseworthy for his “nyuk-nyuk-nyuk” alone, but there was so much more to him. Alas, he was truly The Sad Clown. Believing he was unattractive to the ladies—How? How I ask you?—he was a notoriously gargantuan devourer of food, alcohol, and any woman that would have him. So like his comic progeny John Belushi and Chris Farley, Curly burned brightly but too briefly, his health ruined by 1946 and replaced by Shemp.
Wikipedia quotes two film scholars in its entry on The Stooges thus:
Aesthetically, the Stooges violated every rule that constitutes “good” comedic style. Their characters lacked the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplin… they were never as witty or subtle as Buster Keaton… And yet… they were responsible for some of the finest comedies ever made. Their humor was the most undistilled form of low comedy; they were not great innovators, but as quick laugh practitioners, they place second to none.
I wholeheartedly and unapologetically concur.
The secret, I think, to The Stooges’ enduring place as America’s clown princes of comedy lies in the unaffected simplicity of their yuks. You can just laugh out loud—reflexively, unthinkingly, even primally—at their pratfalls and physical insults. I’m fairly certain you could show a Stooges short to a classical Greek, a medieval monk, or a cargo-cult Pacific Islander and each would at least chuckle a little. Might even get full-blown belly laughs out of the Greek guy. I mean, Aristophanes killed with fart jokes in the 5th century BC.
The latest generations to rediscover the hilarity of The Stooges may be experiencing a little vicarious consequence-free physical danger. We’re now working on our second generation of bike-helmeted and elbow-padded children who we attempt to raise in cotton-lined test tubes. The Stooges might be quite therapeutic for them—the comedy version of making sure they get licked by a few dogs and eat a little dirt so as not to grow up too antiseptic.
And in the final analysis, The Stooges harken us back to a less complicated time. Their best work was done before there was an atomic bomb, although they were happy to take glancing swipes at Fascists and Nazis in their day. No matter what befell them, The Stooges always survived to insult and abuse each other for another day, in another place or time, but always in the same slapstick manner. Why soitanly.
So I say, Make America Goofy Again—and semper Stoogi…
Seems like I remember them being on after school when I was a kid. The boys in grade school (well and some of us girls too) would do our best Curly impressions to keep each other amused. (usually behind the teacher’s back) My husband will still watch The Three Stooges if he happens upon an episode while channel surfing. Me? Not so much. But I still can do a mean Curly.
It’s all about the effort. After all, there was only one Curly…
I’m with you, Jeff! There will never be another trio like them! In their honor I have purchased and been given lots of Stooges pictures, videos and even beer!! They will always live in my heart, mind and home! I still strive to perfect flicking my fingers on my neck, like Paul 😉
It’s true. Kay-Kay and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe just reviewing the video links in this blog post. There’s something very cleansing in laughing at something without having to think at all about the jokes. It’s like caveman humor.
Hey Jeff, a scholarly and spot-on analysis of the Stooges! I remember Val laughing, as a high-schooler, during our altogether too infrequent after-school down time devoted to the Stooges. I believe they were on from 4:00 to 5:00 while Mom prepared the family dinner. Time well spent. Some years later, Jacquie and I would enact Curly and Moe’s wave-the-hand-in-front-of-the-face schtick, which was was preceded, of course, by my fingers snap/neck flicking. What do you call that so quintessentially Curly maneuver, anyway? Also, I work with a woman who I’d consider to be an unlikely Postal employee; in a nutshell, she’s a class act. Among her many positives, she possesses a refined sense of humor. I almost fell when she said that she loves the Stooges. You never know who among us may be counted as Stoogian devotees.
All it takes to identify yourself is a “Oh, I wise guy!” or a “Pick two!” It’s kind of like a Freemason secret handshake. Stoogians find their own. As I said in the post, sometimes we just need a good belly laugh without having to think too hard about. We knew the Stooges would always survive to slapstick another day, no matter how outrageously they poked each others eyes or ripped out each other’s hair.
Had to look up the “soitanly” word and it did make me laugh! Thanks for a new take on some old humor! I will have to give these guys another try!
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk…
I love your perspective and it’s so funny you knew she was the one when she laughed hard at the stooges. The only losers in the Stooges era were all the little sisters maimed by the big brothers trying to reproduce skits. Oh no, not the rolling snoring skits, harmless but funny. Try the finger poking and my favorite, the door slam after you call her name and tell her to come here urgently! I’ll send you a picture of my black eye. Why I oughtta……………….
We all bear a few Stoogian battle scars…