Author: Campbell, Bruce

The Stoogological Harmonic Convergence

(Editor’s Note—Bruce Campbell wrote in to CBAWEB Central this morning to say he needed to hit the sack, (don’t know whether it was Giants celebrating or election even monitoring), and wouldn’t deliver his regular Wedsnesday column. He asked if we could dig into the archives and find something to fill in, so here goes…..)

This past week was marked by a extraordinary confluence of events, a harmonic convergence of massive proportions. It was something I had hoped would happen sometime in my lifetime, but never dared dream that it would.

The day began like any other. I arrived at work at the usual time and fired up my computer. We use the old fashioned gas-powered PCs at my work, so I had to prime the carb and pull the rope a few times to get it started. Like most mornings, it ran roughly for the first few minutes until it warmed up. Then, glancing around to make sure no one was watching, I opened a browser and checked out the CBA Message Board.

It looked like my friend Henry Zuniga got even an earlier start than I, and had a post about an ad on the CBA website that seemed to be featuring Josef Stalin. Now, I’m no Stalin fan (I doubt even his mother was), but I didn’t share quite the level of indignation that Henry felt. So, I chilled. Somebody compared the picture to a youthful Rich Evans, and Rick (“I’m a lover, not a fighter”) Cornish, ever the peacemaker, explained the origins of the ad and the source of the picture, and said that the Stalin-lookalike’s mustache DID resemble Rich’s. So I chimed in and said he better not use a picture of Oliver Hardy because he had a Hitler-style ‘stache. (sidenote: The Hitler-style mustache was actually a style popular in England in the 1920’s – apparently, Adolph was a closet Anglophile.)

And then it happened. The perfect storm. Nancy Zuniga, joining in the fun, mentioned Moe of the Three Stooges. And I had it – the thing I’ve been waiting for: a logical connection between Bluegrass and the Three Stooges, and it happened right there on the CBA Website! Oh happy day!

Read the messages that followed – they are a spot-on demonstration of what the Three Stooges mean to Americans, and the perfectly limned differentiation of the act’s effect on men, and women.

Men, almost invariably, have wonderful memories of The Three Stooges. They have laughed themselves stupid over their antics, and nearly all American males believe they do a pretty passable imitation of at least one of the Stooges. A dumber act you could not hope to find, but I defy any of my fellow fellas not to smile as they picture the Stooges’ distinctive style of mayhem. It could be argued that they are the Marx Brothers without the underlying intelligence, but that’s another essay.

The Stooges’ brand of physical comedy was not just simple pratfalls. There was a lot of tension between their characters. Moe Howard was the main focus, and was always the boss, but it was never clear why – he was no more competent or qualified, just the meanest. Larry Fine was mainly there to suffer ridiculous indignities, while offer an occasional protest. The third character though, defined the Stooges. Back in the vaudeville days, it was Moe’s brother Shemp, but by the time they began making the movie shorts that make up the bulk of the act’s oeuvre, it was another Howard brother: Curly.

Curly was an extremely gifted physical comedian, and his wisecracking asides, ill-timed bluster and sarcastic laugh (“nyuck nyuck”) were a perfect foil for Moe. Curly’s rotund frame showed off his physical gifts to great effect – he was very light on his feet. When Curly fell ill, the Stooges brought Shemp back into the act, and nobody reacts to getting hurt like Shemp.

And it was all about getting hurt, and that’s where a lot of folks have a problem with The Three Stooges. Most of the visual gags were the Stooges beating up on each other, in absurd ways: Moe smacking Larry on the head with a sledge hammer (with great anvil sound effects), Moe taking a cheese grater to Larry’s face or a wood planer to Curly’s head (complete with wood flakes coming off) to Moe dragging the teeth of a saw under Curly’s chin. Terrible, cruel stuff, but I’m smilin’ as I am typing this. It was all just a live action cartoon. Just as the cartoon cat can be squashed flat by a falling safe and be fine the next scene, the Stooges never suffered for more than a split second after being hit, cut, smacked, sawed or burnt.

Even as a young child, I never, ever once thought it was a good idea to try the Stooges’ antics. To me, the absurdity of it all, (plus the hilarious sound effects) was what made it so funny. The plots of their 15 minute movie shorts were pretty much all the same. The Three Stooges connived their way into working as plumbers, mechanics, doctors, or carpenters and proceeded to totally screw things up. Moe would try and bully his cohorts into doing a good job, but was too much like them not to bollix things up in short order. And the reactions from the “normal people” around them were part of the fun. For some reason, everyone in Three Stooges movies are taller than the Stooges, too.

But I’m thinking too much here. No one had to train me to laugh at the Three Stooges – I laughed the first time and I’m still laughing. And I remember a Saturday morning when my son was about 4 and he wakes me up to say “Dad! You gotta see these guys on the TV – they are SO funny!” Who do you think it was?
Posted:  11/3/2010

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