Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 looks at:

The Three Stooges

Stooges movie poster Kurt Vonnegut talks with great fondness about the funniest thing heís ever seen: a bus door opening and a man in midfall coming out the door, his body horizontal to the ground. As far as Iím concerned, thatís a tacit endorsementófrom a pretty heady source, mind youóof The Three Stooges. The endorsements are necessary, I find, to defend my affection for what might possibly be the stupidest act ever to be exposed to film.
For what the august Mr. Vonnegut is saying is that seeing people in physical pain can be damn funny. This is not to say that seeing a manís head being forced into the spinning blade of a table saw is, by itself, funny. No. Certainly not. But if that man is named Curly, and if after skull meets saw blade the blade is bent at odd angles and the man named Curly laughs and points at said blade, well, then, weíre talking comedy gold, in my opinion.
Iím defensive about the Stooges because I feel, as a person who generally abhors violence on television and in films, the Stooges are largely indefensible. Taken at face value, itís three men knocking the crap out of each other, with crowbars and monkey wrenches or anything thatís handy. And though itís hard to explain the difference between a manís head being crushed in a vise in the movie Casino, and Shempís head being crushed in a vise on the Stooges, a difference does exist, and morally, the victory goes to the ďOh, wise guy, eh?Ē and not the Wiseguys.

This all comes to the surface now because the Three Stooges are currently enjoying something of a renaissance on the Family Channel, and Iím sure there are many parents out there who are concerned about their children seeing harsh men in bowl cuts and shaved heads crushing the cartilage in each otherís noses with pliers. As one raised on a steady diet of Stooges, I humbly offer myself as an example of what can become of a child exposed to their particular brand of violence: for five years, I talked to puppets on a daily basis. See? Iím fine.

As is so often the case, the responsibility rests with the parents. I think itís important for the father to point out to the child that using a crowbar to extract his friendís head from a mine shaft is a touchy business, one best left to Moe. Itís the motherís job to explain that Larry has spontaneously regenerating hair, and if Moe grabs a generous handful and extracts it, itís OK because Mr. Fine can make more. Talk to your children, parents. Explain that Curlyís head is at least as hard as industrial-grade diamonds and can withstand a thousand beatings by a thousand copper pipes without the least damage to his prodigious intellect.

I fear that parents will be swayed by watchdog groups who would have the Stooges suffer the same fate as Popeye. The last time I saw the poor, balding, bulbous tar was in a batch of nonviolent cartoonsóhe and Bluto working together to solve environmental issues, or some such thing. I wept for days. Even after viewing several Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Daffy Duck getting his beak blown clean off his face, I remained disconsolate. Only the sight of Curly, with childlike trust, hitting Moeís balled fist, then Moe pinwheeling his arm and sending that fist crashing onto Curlyís bald pate, could cheer me in the least.

Another Stooge issue that must be faced before we can begin enjoying them without fear is the whole men-love-them-women-hate-them myth. I tire of this argument. True, Iíve never met a man who didnít like the Three Stooges. And though, true, Iíve never personally met a woman who did like the Three Stooges, we must remind ourselves that this is based only on 32 years of anecdotal evidence. And though it may further be true that Iíve never even heard of a woman who likes the Three Stooges, we mustnít be swayed by such hogwash. Certainly there are many studies that show that men and women love the Three Stooges equally. All we need do is find evidence of these studies, collect the data, publish it, and put to bed forever the horrible misconceptions that pullulate around the Three Stooges gender-gap issue.

Besides, Iím sure I need not remind readers of the violent subject matter of so many of the books, television shows, and movies that are generally considered to be for women. The fact that I canít think of a single one should not be held against me.
We need the Three Stooges, if only to remind us that, well, men hit each other with alarming frequency. Whether good or bad, itís true. Yes, men have in the past, and will continue in the future, to bend back the blade of a common carpenterís saw and sproing it violently into the face of other men. Itís a truth that must be spoken of. Francois Truffaut? Preston Sturges? Laurel and Hardy? OK, bad example.

We live in a world that has laid untold riches at the feet of Keanu Reeves as reward for his ability to say the word ďwhoa.Ē A world where people do the bidding of Adam Sandler, gladly and without question, simply because he does a funny baby voice. And yes, horrifying as it may seem, Jim Carrey, our top box-office draw, feels free to speak out of his buttocks in front of a billion people on the Academy Awards.ģ

I know you didnít ask, but canít there be room for me to enjoy the Three Stooges without guilt?

Books by Michael Nelson available from Amazon.com include Movie Megacheese. Mike's episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available from Amazon.com on both video and on DVD, and he co-wrote the MST3000 book

The last time I checked they had several used copies of Megacheese for sale. I won't sell you my copy. Don't even ask. I haven't read the Jackie Chan chapter yet, or even the Van Damme chapter and you know how much I like Van Dammege. "The Muscles from Brussels. Kick boxer. Actor. Restauranteur. Dumber than a bag of hammers...Makes Steven Seagal look like Richard Burbage." Well ok, I did read the intro to the Van Damme chapter...

Fun fact:
Kurt Vonnegut and Dr. Seuss were Frat brothers in college

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© 2000 Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. Mike Nelson is no relation to Lloyd Bridges and has never run low on air while hunting around under the sea.

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