Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.
Something That Matters
This matters: Sometime around 1933, Shemp wanted
to quit the Stooges and pursue a solo acting career
but was reluctant to leave Moe and Larry with only
two-thirds of a Three Stooges act. Moe told him
not to worry, they'd bring in younger brother Babe
to be the third Stooge. Like I said, this really
"Hey Moe, hey Larry, get me
out of here, I'm stuck."
—Curly in Cactus Makes Perfect
Moe had Beatle bangs that predated the Fab Four
by at least 30 years. His hair was longish for those
days, and he wore it straight down, cut in soup
bowl-over-the-head fashion. Larry was going bald,
but his curly anywhichway frizzball hair jutted
out to the sides like coiling rattlesnakes ready
to strike. (The unique Larry hairstyle would later
influence both Bozo the Clown and Art Garfunkel
Babe had wavy brown hair that was
most unStoogelike. The women liked it, but would
the Stooge fans understand? No, they wouldn't. Something
had to happen.
So, after Moe and Larry approached
him about becoming a Stooge, Babe told them he'd
be back shortly. When he returned, he was wearing
a hat. While his soon-to-be-fellow-Stooges watched,
Babe whipped it off and presented his new chrome-domed
coif to the shocked Stooges.
He was no longer Babe; he was Curly.
And Moe, Larry and Curly were now The Three Stooges.
Cue up "Three Blind Mice."
"That's no lump, that's my
—Curly in Gents Without Cents
A Theory on Curly and The
Three Stooges' Wall of Comedy
To me, The Three Stooges were a precursory comedic
version of legendary rock 'n' roll producer Phil
Spector's wall of sound. Spector, who produced the
Ronettes, Crystals, Righteous Brothers, Ike and
Tina Turner, John Lennon and George Harrison, to
name just a few, created what would be called "a
wall of sound" in his recordings.
Without getting too technical (because
I'm not really a technical guy), the wall of sound
was a driving drum beat that sounded like 27 drummers
pounding on kettle drums with sticks the size of
oak trees, lots of percussion and a heavy bass sound.
Spector then added guitars, strings, pianos, harps,
horns and a smorgasbord of other instruments. On
top of that, he added heavenly soaring vocals and
lush, creamy-smooth harmonies.
This wall of sound can be compared
to a layering of fabrics. The drums and percussion
are blue jeans, the guitars, flutes, pianos, etc.
are akin to warm, thick corduroy and the vocals
sound like miles of piles of fine expensive silk.
That's the wall of sound: blue jeans, corduroy and
When you watch The Three Stooges
in action, you'll see the same kind of multi-layering,
but instead of music it's comedic layering. Moe
is the drums and bass, the blue jean material, all
boom boom boom THWACK! Larry's the corduroy, the
sweet sounding instruments in the middle, running
around like a fuzzy-topped sperm in a fun house
petri dish. And then along comes Curly, the silk.
A man-child. All WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! to Moe's boom
boom boom THWACK! Together these elements create
a perfect wall of comedy to inflict a HA HA HA sensory
overload on even the most serious, tight-lipped
While The Three Stooges were always
funny with Curly replacements in later years, they
were never able to recreate this staggering, booming
wall of comedy. The WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! was gone
from the equation, and nobody could replace it.
Without Curly, it was all blue
jeans and corduroy. The silk was gone, and it didn't
To "Er" is Human,
To "Oi" is Divine
In addition to the spinning, the belly thumping,
the nyuks and the whoops, the words "Soitenly"
(certainly) and "Poifictly" (perfectly)
are still other Curlyisms. But then you already
knew that, didn't you?
The Shorts, Part One
The Three Stooges are most famous for their two-reel
films they did for Columbia, starting with Woman
Haters in 1934 and ending 190 films and
24 years later in 1958 with Sappy Bullfighters.
These films, or "shorts" as they were
known back then, are the black and white programs
you've seen on TV.
The Curly-era Three Stooges filmed
97 shorts, the last one being Half-Wits' Holiday
in 1947. During filming, Curly suffered a stroke
and was rushed to the hospital. After that, Shemp
returned to the fold. But we're not here to talk
about Shemp. And we're certainly not here to discuss
Joe Besser, much less Curly Joe DeRita, now are
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
The Shorts, Part Two
It's easy to reduce the memories of The Three Stooges'
films to all eye pokes, slaps, kicking, running,
screaming, biting, pie throwing, nostril pulling,
pipes exploding and, of course, Curly spinning on
the floor like a human top gone frightfully berserk.
But as you watch the shorts, you'll
see that it's not just all slapstick and broad comedy
strokes. Rebellion, satire, political commentary
and social statements are intertwined with the eye
poking and pie throwing. And, of course, a nyuk
nyuk here and a WHOOP WHOOP! there.
In the 1946 short Beer Barrel
Polecats, the Stooges attack the Prohibition
Era by brewing their own beer. Curly gets clipped
while selling a bottle to a Fed, and the Stooges
end up in jail. However, the crafty Curly sneaks
in a keg of beer to quench their thirst during their
stay in stir. Ultimately it blows up, covering the
cops in a river of beer foam. In this short, the
Stooges rail against ridiculous governmental culture,
interloping in much the same way that Cheech and
Chong later did in their own brand of stoned-style
slapstick in the '70s.
Social hierarchy is a subject addressed
in many Three Stooges shorts. In Termites of
1938, a wealthy woman needs an escort
to take her to a high society dinner and instructs
her black, Aunt Jemima-looking maid to call Acme
Escorts. While the maid is dutifully looking up
the number, the wealthy woman says, "I hope
they're discriminating." Instantly the black
maid's eyes get wide as she says, somewhat horrified,
"Discriminating?" In this brief moment,
the film addresses a real fear facing downtrodden
minorities. It also reveals the fact that their
wealthy bosses were either oblivious to their fears
of being discriminated against or, if they weren't,
they were apathetic at best to the plight facing
the servants who toiled for them.
The maid is so distraught that
she dials Acme Exterminators by mistake, and for
her sins, the wealthy woman ends up with the Three
Exterminating Stooges as her escorts. At the dinner,
the Stooges proudly display their bad manners—olives
are soon flying, peas are being eaten on knives
with mashed potatoes and expensive cloth napkins
are gleefully torn in half. Then the Stooges rip
what's left of the stuffing from the shirts of the
snooty crowd by playing an impromptu concert with
Moe sawing a bass fiddle in half and Curly busting
his flute into two pieces. This short alone could
have influenced everything from the film Guess
Who's Coming to Dinner to the food fight in
Animal House to the Who smashing their
instruments on stage.
The Stooges saved their sharpest
commentary and satire for a political leader who
really deserved the slicing: Adolf Hitler. 1940's
You Nazty Spy! was the first of a trilogy
addressing the horrors of Hitlerland. In this short,
Moe ends up the king of a land called Moronica.
With a Hitler-like mustache, he gives a speech,
promising "to make the country safe for hypocrisy."
Snakes on the country's flag are intertwined to
form a swastika, books are burned and the poor are
shunted to "concentrated camps." In the
end, the Hitlerish Moe and the other two Stooges,
who are his henchmen, are fed to the lions.
Three years later revealed the
Stooges still hungry to lampoon the Hitler regime.
In Back From the Front, the Stooges
stow away on a Nazi freighter. The boys are discovered
and considered spies by the Nazis. A battle begins,
with the Stooges knocking one Nazi out after the
other. Moe once again dons his Hitler suit and instructs
the officers that if they can't catch the spies,
they must blow their own brains out. With this,
the captain sheepishly replies, "But we are
Nazis, we have no brains."
The Stooge nose-thumbing-of-Hitler
trilogy is completed with 1943's Higher Than
a Kite. In this short, the boys end up
in Nazi headquarters after stowing away in a bombshell.
All three don Hitleresque uniforms and mustaches,
and it's Curly who thwarts the Nazis and shows the
world what they think of the barbaric German dictator.
When the Nazis attack, Curly turns
his back on them to reveal a photo of Hitler taped
appropriately enough to his well-endowed derriere.
When the hapless Nazis see the photo, they have
to halt their charge and salute while saying "Heil
This type of political slapstick
was a forerunner to Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Abbie
Hoffman and the Yippees.
A Short List of People
Influenced by Curly
Moe Howard always felt that Lou Costello, half of
the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, "borrowed"
a great deal of his character from Curly. In his
1977 pictorial autobiography Moe Howard and The
Three Stooges, he voiced the following opinion:
"I always felt there was much of Curly—his
mannerisms and high-pitched voice—in Costello's
act in feature films."
Of course, you'd be hard pressed
to find any comedian or comedic actor who wasn't
influenced by The Three Stooges. Here's a short
list of funny guys guilty of acting under the influence
of Curly: Jerry Lewis, John Belushi, Uncle Fester,
Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Michael Richards, Divine,
Carroll O'Connor, Mel Gibson, Mel Brooks, Art Carney,
Red Skelton, Barney Rubble, Albert Brooks, Bob Denver,
Mickey Dolenz, Chris Farley, Harpo Marx, John Candy,
Iggy and the Stooges and any wise-ass punk who has
nyuk, nyuk, nyuked himself into detention hall.
"Oh boy, it's done. Look at
all the beer we got!"
—Curly in Beer Barrel Polecats
Of all the Stooges, Curly was the one who liked
to imbibe in all things liquid and alcoholic. Legend
has it that when the Stooges were on the road, Moe
would worry when Curly was out on the town carousing.
It was only when Curly returned to the hotel and
screamed "Swing It!" at the top of his
lungs that big brother Moe would relax. He knew
then that Curly had made it back in one piece.
Moe addressed Curly's drinking
in his autobiography: "He drank far too much
liquor and I knew the reason why. After his gun
accident as a teenager, he was in quite a bit of
pain when he stood too long. The fact that he had
to shave his head for the act was also a factor:
he felt that he had no longer any appeal for the
fair sex. So he drank to give himself the courage
to approach any young lady that appealed to him."