Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

I'm No Stooge for the Stooges

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

I'm No Stooge for the Stooges

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- Here's what I never liked about The Three Stooges, despite Jerome Horwitz (better known as Curly Howard) and his timeless arsenal of vocal delights: I think the Stooges give roughhouse slapstick a bad name.

Call this column "Confessions of a Pre-Teen Comedy Snob." When I was a kid, comedy was my entry point into film history. When I discovered the early Marx Brothers films -- the Paramount ones, not the MGMs -- I was a goner. When I first saw Laurel and Hardy in both short and long form, with or without sound, I was beguiled by the symphonic calamity of their best movies. When I saw "It's a Gift" and "The Bank Dick" and "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break," W.C. Fields became a treasure to me.

And then I saw my first Buster Keaton films, the 1922 short "Cops" as an introduction, topped by the great "Sherlock Jr." two years later. No one took more abuse on screen in an American film than Keaton; no one got smacked around more by his own family on stage in vaudeville, in training for the movies. Yet no one came back for more with more panache.

Keaton elevated violent slapstick and mind-boggling stunt work to the highest form of personal expression. The Three Stooges made a lot of money, and made a lot of people laugh, but compared to the greats or even the goods, their work always felt like work to me. Their short films, cranked out at an astounding, mediocrity- ensuring rate of production, stripped everything down to a highly codified and numbingly repetitive series of physical rituals. The eye-poke. The sledgehammer to the noggin. The buzz saw to the forehead.

My brother and I tried enjoying them as kids. (My folks didn't have any sort of issue with us watching the unavoidable reruns on TV in the '60s and '70s; we were pretty mild-mannered kids. Bob Newhart was my favorite comedian when I was a teenager. Even he was a little wild for me.) I remember us sort of staring at one of their films, our heads titled slightly to one side, like Nipper, the RCA dog on the old record labels. What's this stuff? I thought. I just saw the Marx Brothers in "Horse Feathers." I just saw Keaton's "The Navigator" for the first time. …

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