Why the Three Stooges Are a HIT with Me
These artists of zany slapstick will never die
I grew up watching the Three Stooges in those two-reel short subjects - all 190 of them produced between 1934 and 1959, which became a major part of my young life after school when local TV stations showed them. Many of my friends and relatives, particularly the boys, seemed to watch them too. A Stooge happy bunch we definitely were.
Virtually all of these “Stoogephiles,” including me, would often imitate the Stooges, throwing open hands or pointed fingers at each other’s face, often attacking each other out of the blue, a veritable Stooge-fest at any given moment. Most of us preferred to impersonate Jerome “Curly” Howard, seemingly everyone’s favorite - Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk! Why soitenly! – even though Curly usually received the most punishment. Everyone seemed to love Curly’s idiotic facial expressions, silly gestures and amusing sounds.
Occasionally we’d connect with our imitative hits, starting an argument or fight. Hey, stuff happens when you play the Stooges!
Some of us preferred to impersonate the testy bully, Harry “Moe” Howard, perhaps because he usually did the hitting. He’d cry, “I’ll murder you!” or “Get out of here!” or "Spread out!" and then twist your ears, bonk you on the head or smash your nose. Of course, Moe got as much punishment as he dished out, a situation which everybody loved.
Few of us chose Larry Fine as a favorite, perhaps because Moe always seemed to be tearing his hair out by the handfuls, as Larry howled in pain. But Larry could play the violin all right. He was the artist of the trio, you know. Every comedy trio has to have at least one. Remember Harpo Marx? Incidentally, the left side of Larry’s face was permanently calloused because he had been slapped so many times.
Then there was Samuel “Shemp” Howard, the oldest stooge actually, born way back in 1895. That long ago! (All of the Stooges were born around 1900.) People liked it when Shemp was frightened or very excited, because he’d go “heep, heep, heep, heep!” Also, Shemp had a built-in prop - his hair was always very long and oily, so Moe could easily grab a hunk of it and yank Shemp to some destination, the sound effects making a tearing sound, adding to the hilarity.
Few favored that bald, roly-poly wimp, Joe Besser, who replaced Shemp after he had a heart attack and died in 1955. Besser wasn’t half as funny as Curly or Shemp, and he didn’t like to be hit. Who ever heard of a Stooge who didn’t like to be hit? (Fortunately, Besser made only 17 shorts.)
I’ll never forget one Saturday afternoon many years ago, when my friends and I went to see the Three Stooges’ movie, Have Rocket, Will Travel. (By this point, the Stooges were no longer making shorts, just movies and public appearances.) At the box office, a line comprised of hundreds of young Stooge enthusiasts stretched around the block. Finally I got in, but I had to share a seat with a friend. Everybody thought the original Curly was in the movie. Having died in 1952, Curly Howard was seemingly back from the grave! In addition to Moe Howard and Larry Fine, this movie starred Curly-Joe DeRita, the latest Curly, if you will, and a replacement for Joe Besser who had quit the act. Everybody loved the movie, naturally, particularly when the giant tarantula fired laser beams at the Stooges.
I particularly enjoyed when the Stooges showed terror. They’d all exclaim “nyaaa!” and then scamper away from the wild Indians, cops, gangsters or whatever, yelling, moaning and groaning with fright. The Stooges were particularly good at fleeing when they did their own stunts - that is, until the late 1950s. Seeing stuntmen take pratfalls isn’t as funny as watching the real thing, don’t you agree?
The Stooges were definitely at their best throwing pies (pastries, mud packs or whatever else was handy actually), because you wanted to see that pie land in the face of some pompous aristocrat, who would strain to keep his dignity while whipped cream dripped from his face. Naturally, these stuffy types would return volleys of whatever was being thrown at them, generating comedic bliss for Stooge fans.
The Stooges’ comedic shtick was in the grand tradition of such comedy teams as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and the Marx Brothers. At their best, the Three Stooges were just as zany as those giants of early twentieth century American comedy. In fact, the mania of Stooge fans may last the longest. We’ll see, right?
Although the last Stooge, Curly-Joe DeRita, died back in 1993, the Three Stooges are still around in some form or another. Their numerous shorts, as well as movies and cartoons can be seen on DVDs (including Sony high-definition), cable TV (mornings on AMC) and clipped versions of the shorts can be seen on YouTube. You can also find them in video games and, if you look hard enough, comics and novelty records as well. In 2000, Mel Gibson, a big Stooge fan, produced a made-for-TV movie entitled, The Three Stooges.
Review of the latest Three Stooges movie
Produced, written and directed by the Farrelly brothers, the Three Stooges movie released in 2012 pays homage to those lovable Stooges, perhaps the greatest artists of slapstick. The movie provides numerous laughs and repeated references to the Stooges’ signature shtick, though it certainly could have been much better.
The third and final part of the movie is by far the best, providing a hilarious finale worthy of many stooge adventures; unfortunately, this movie needed a great pie fight at the end. The stooges were known for throwing pies at pompous faces, weren’t they? So this flick should have had such a pastry-flinging melee! Be that as it may, many people think the movie is a comedy classic. How about you?
In the early years of our Stooge craze, my two male cousins and I developed a kind of Stooge lexicon, containing words to describe the "hits" the Stooges used when fighting among themselves or fending off bad guys or arrogant officials. These words were onomatopoetic in nature, and the following is an outline:
1. The doot is perhaps the quintessential Stooge noun. Invariably Moe would take his left fist and grab someone by the nose. Then he would take his right fist and smash it into the left fist, making a glorious honking sound upon impact with the nose. At times, my cousins and I tried this with each other, and the joy at doing such is something akin to chugging a can of Dr. Pepper. Doot can also be used as a verb, as in the sentence, “He dooted that guy’s snazzola.”
2. Perhaps equally big was the slap. We didn’t invent this word, of course. Everybody knows what a slap to the face is, but the Stooges made it an art form, complete with resounding sound effects that made the blow even funnier.
3. The sound a slap makes as it collides with someone’s face is turr. When we wanted to tell someone we’d like to slap their head, we’d utter this word while making a slapping motion with a hand. Turr can also be used to accentuate an exclamation, such as in the sentence, “You like him, but I don’t – turr!”
4. Doink is the sound made when someone takes the extended forefinger and middle finger of one hand and then plunges these fingers in someone’s eyes. Wow, that would hurt! We never tried this on someone’s eyes, understandably. Moreover, we never used this word as a verb. But you can - go ahead. Furthermore, these days, you could flash the peace sign, still considered hip (pop star Miley Cyrus is always using it), and then immediately go for the eyes. Do it, start a fad. Moe Howard would love it!
5. When angered, Moe liked to reach for Curly or Larry’s ears and then give them a lusty twist, causing great pain for the recipient. This blow was called a kank. Naturally, you can kank someone’s ears as well.
6. Conceivably more of an insult than a blow, Moe liked to take his forefinger and clip someone’s nose, so their head would abruptly tilt back. This was called a tweak or plink, either of which can also be used as a verb, as in the warning: “Watch out, or I’ll tweak your nose!”
7. I’m not sure I can remember the Stooges actually doing this last hit, but here goes. Instead of twisting someone’s ears while doing a kank, you can pull the ears away from the head as far as you can and then suddenly let them snap back into place, performing what’s called a shhuuppuut. Make sure you try this with someone who has big floppy ears!
That’s it. Don’t try these hits at home. On second thought, why wouldn’t you?
The Three Stooges, though long gone, will continue to give us plenty of belly laughs well into the future, because, if nothing else, they were great slapstick comedians, and everybody wants to see someone get hit in the face with a pie every now and then, don’t they?