Thursday, March 19, 2009

"The Only Time 'The Three Stooges' Ever Made Me Laugh"

I imagine movie companies, especially the makers of those low budget “B” movies of the thirties and forties, felt no compunction about stealing classic comedy routines performed by nameless vaudevillians and inserting them, without credit or compensation, into their pictures. “Niagara Falls” (‘Slowly I turned…”), the “wallpaper routine” (everything sticks to the paper hanger’s hand), likely even the I-almost-died-laughing-the-first-time-I-saw-it, “Who’s On First?” popularized in pictures by Abbott and Costello.

This material-pilfering had to explain the only funny thing I ever saw The Three Stooges do, a “bit” exponentially sharper and as a result funnier than their standard repertoire of slapping and eye gouging. It’s not that I’m against stupid comedy. But I need it to be smart underneath. Like The Bowery Boys (who specialized in hilariously choreographed donnybrooks) and the sneaky-funny rurality of Ma and Pa Kettle.

(I mentioned this one before, but it’s my blog, and I’m doing it again.)

IT’S RAINING OUTSIDE. PA’S EATING AT THE TABLE.

PA: Ma, I think there’s a hole in the roof.

MA: How do you know, Pa?

PA: I finished my soup three times.

The Stooges were just stupid. Two Jews, and a third sometimes a Jew sometimes an Italian, knocking each other silly to the accompaniment of amplified sound effects. They never made me laugh. And in case of the eye gouging, I heard my eyes actually go, “Ew!” I don’t know about you, but it’s very rare for my eyes to say anything.

So Stooges – stupid.

Except this one time. Which makes me think the routine was stolen.

The Stooge who isn’t Moe or Larry is standing in front of the Witness Box in a courtroom, ready to testify in a case. He is self-assured and nattily attired, his smart-looking outfit topped by an impeccable Homburg hat. He carries a black umbrella in his left hand.

“Take off your hat,” drones the Bailiff.

The man, we’ll call him Curly – though it could have been Joe or Curly Joe – transfers the umbrella to his right hand, and with his now free left hand takes off his hat.

“Raise your right hand,” instructs the Bailiff.

Curly returns the hat to his head, transfers the umbrella to his left hand and raises his right hand.

“Take off your hat!” barks the Bailiff.

Curly transfers the umbrella to his right hand and takes off his hat.

“Raise your right hand!”

Curly returns the hat to his head, transfers the umbrella to his left hand and raises his right hand.

“Take off your hat!”

Curly transfers the umbrella to his right hand, and takes off his hat.

“Raise your right hand!”

Curly returns the hat to his head, transfers the umbrella to his left hand and raises his right hand.

“Take off your hat!!!’”

Curly transfers the umbrella to his right hand and takes off his hat.

“Raise your right. Hand!!!’

Curly, revealing a stress-induced, nervous blink, repeats the maneuver ad infinitum, his once-confident facade dissolving into helplessness before our sympathetic but laughter-filled eyes.

Thank you to whatever comic genius conjured that up.

And thank you, Stooges, for at least trying to elevate your game.

12 comments:

growingupartists said...
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growingupartists said...

Wow, you're hard to impress. Not that the Three Stooges did it for me either, but I at least figured they were skilled politicians, fresh in their memories both of those forgettable wars, Global I and II.

Are you trying to tell me Ted Healy is some sort of distant cousin? And so you're more understanding and sympathetic about feedback and revenge, and that stealing? Er, uh, trying to tell your readers, not me personally. All four of them.

I was in a bad mood last night, and not just because I was stuck working when I should've been beauty sleepin'...but suddenly I'm reinvigorated. It has nothing to do with you Earl, get over it.

It's the internet. I just realized how lucky I am, to have every drop of history at my fingertips, not that going to the library is so difficult or inconvenient...I was going there anyway this afternoon.

But now, instead of dragging home another 18.25 pounds of books I won't read, I just get to socialize! Which is why I was going there in the first place (we scheduled a playdate).

Plus, I know old people who've lived through conspiracies, like you.

growingupartists said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
growingupartists said...

Ed McMahon versus Johnny Carson? Just curious.

JED said...

Yes, it was Curly (brother of Moe) who delivered the lines you quoted. There were other "third" Stooges named Joe and Curly Joe but they were not as good as Curly and his brother Shemp. But you knew that, didn't you? I'm just being naive.

I'm surprised you didn't appreciate the nuances of the exchange between Curly and the hostess of a party the "boys" attended dressed as Scotsmen. When the hostess tells the other guests that the Three Stooges will perform their native dance for the party, Curly whispers to Moe, "I ain't takin' my clothes off for anybody."

Anonymous said...

As a kid I was afraid of clam soup for years, because in one 3 stooges episode some nasty clam would spritz Curly in the eye every time he tried to eat it.
They also seemed to have a lot of mixups between cement and flour.
I both liked and didn't like the stooges. Who knows maybe their comedy set me up for Marx Brothers, Keaton, Chaplin, etc.

growingupartists said...

Wow, it's hoppin' over here today, nice job Earl! I'll admit I'm stopping back in hopes of a two-post Thursday. Of course, I'd never recommend you do anything that interferes with your massage schedule.

A. Buck Short said...

Ya wanna come a little closer to the monitor? I’m not sure everybody should hear this. In addition to having been in Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning Marty and 40 other pictures, perhaps my cousin Diana’s principal claim to thespian fame is that she appeared as an ingĂ©nue in more Three Stooges movies than any other living human being. There, I said it, and I’m only marginally sorry. These included the classic: Triple Crossed, Outer Space Jitters, Flying Saucer Daffy, Rumpus in the Harem, Shot in the Frontier, Merry Mix-up, Musty Musketeers, Pardon My Backfire, and the unforgettable He Cooked His Goose (uncredited) in which she reprised her role as Mss Lapdale the secretary from Triple Crossed.

Such is my cousin’s fame, that she has not only been toasted asas guest of honor at numerous Three Stooges conventions and fan club events across the country (all expenses paid), but served a similar function at the grand opening of the world renowned Three Stooges Museum (Stoogeum) in Spring House Pennsylvania outside of Philly. 100,000 pieces of “Stoogeabilia" (a goldmine for Stoogeologists), a 100 seat theater, and when you ring the doorbell, it actually says, “hello…Hello…HELLO….”) And I’m not just nyukin’ ya.

Incidentally in reference to your previous post, Diana’s kid, my second cousin Evan, now a director, was Bill in the second incarnation of the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure TV series. After actually sitting beside the legendary Samuel Z. Arkoff for a screening of his Reform School Girl, I called Evan up and said I had never realized the extent of his mom’s acting talent. I had never before actually seen a film featuring anybody playing volleyball in heels. Am I proud? Soitenly!

MikeThe Blogger said...

You didn't like "The corner of Telephone and Telephone"? -or- the "We're in Goslow."?

Anonymous said...

We're just gonna have to agree to disagree about the Stooges.

MikeThe Blogger said...

GINA: ...What will you do if Martine wakes up? Run away like a mouse?

JERRY: No, more like the Three Stooges at the end of every movie.

GINA: Who are these Stooges you speak of?

JERRY: They’re a comedy team.

GINA: Tell me about them. Everything.

JERRY: Well, they’re three kind of funny looking guys and they hit each other a lot.

GINA: You will show me The Stooges?

JERRY: I will show you The Stooges.

reggie said...

The three stooges
Awesome, superb, mind-blowing and fabulous comedy movie. It has interesting and wonderful story. I watched this movie more than 10 times and never get bored to watch the three stooges movie repeatedly. When I watch it I laugh every time.