Well, there was Soupy Sales, but he was just one funny. The Three Stooges were three funnies. And three funnies beat one funny any time. Unless the one funny was Red Skelton. His Gertrude and Heathcliff routines could crack me up any day of the week.
He’d almost lost me at one point, but I forgave him.
More on that later.
But Skelton aside, to me the Stooges were the height of comedy.
Some people actually have the ability to remember what days, and even what times specific shows where on when they were children. I don’t. All I know is that the Stooges were on at certain times and at those times I was right there, sitting in front of the TV and laughing.
But then, in 1962, a wonderful thing happened.
The Stooges had a new movie out, and my cousin, Beth, took me to see it.
I can still remember the excitement. It was like Christmas. No, it was like having a birthday. No, it was — it was just about the best thing I could think of, and it was actually happening to me right now!
The movie was The Three Stooges in Orbit, which meant not only was it going to have the Three Stooges, but it would have rockets and space stuff as well.
We sat in the theatre. The room went dark, and the movie started. I glanced down to take a sip of pop or something and the audience started laughing. Crap! I’d missed a funny. Food be damned! From that moment on I kept my eyes on the screen.
The audience started laughing again, and this time I’d been watching like a hawk. Then it happened again. And again. But — I couldn’t see anything funny! I kept looking towards the sides of the screen to see if the funny was happening there. It wasn’t. Nor was it happening in the background. The experience was disconcerting and almost physically unsettling.
After a couple of minutes I whispered to Beth, “Why are they laughing?”
“Because it’s funny?” she suggested.
But it wasn’t.
At that moment, the Stooges were nothing more than three guys hitting each other for inexplicable reasons.
We left after about 15 minutes.
Beth seemed more amused than anything at my reaction, but I was worried. I had no understanding of what had happened. I’d always had a somewhat touchy relationship with comedy. That crisis with Red Skelton, for instance, came about because I found out that when he talked about funny things that happened to him on the way to the studio, they hadn’t actually happened. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find the humour in fictional stories and jokes, but if someone was going to go to all the effort to claim that the stories were real, I fully expected the stories to bloody well be real.
It had taken me a while to regain my appreciation of Skelton.
And now I’d suddenly lost if for the Stooges. What made it worse was that this time I didn’t even know why.
In fact, I couldn’t ever remember having found them funny. Kind of like when you get sick after eating a delicious meal and can’t imagine ever having wanted to put that stuff in your mouth.
I didn’t lose my love of slapstick. I still considered Dick van Dyke’s show the funniest sitcom on TV, and later would laugh out loud at The Pink Panther, Airplane!, and both Evil Dead movies.
But unlike my short break with Skelton, I never got back my appreciation for the Stooges.
This would prove to be a problem later in life when the gods of maleness declared that all men must love The Three Stooges. This was about the same time they decided that men should no longer enjoy reading anything other than Sports Illustrated, hate movies that didn’t have explosions, and refuse to take an interest in anything that could be plausibly described as “intellectual.”
But I don’t care.
I don’t like the Stooges, and I want to thank Mike at Too Many Mornings for having the courage to openly admit his own antipathy towards them, thereby giving me the courage to come out of the closet.
So go ahead. Unfriend me on Facebook. Stop following me on Twitter, if you want.
Harold Lloyd is funny.
The Stooges? They’re just dumb.