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NO LAUGHING MATTER : How Funny Is Getting Poked in the Eyes? About as Funny as Getting Hit on the Head

August 22, 1993|Patt Morrison

I know I will get killed for saying this. I will get fingers poked in my eyes. I will get bonked over the head with a fist. I will get whanged with a hammer. I will get my face slapped and my hair pulled. But here goes:

I can't stand the Three Stooges.

Nyah, nyah, you missed me!

It must be a law of nature, for there's no other way to explain it: Men love the Three Stooges and women don't.

Nearly every man I've known well enough to ask--and it's one of those questions raised much too late, right around the time the subject of condoms comes up--has said he absolutely adores the Three Stooges. (Note: That's a loose translation. Men don't "absolutely adore" anything.)

Then, when that "how soon can I get a cab?" look crossed my face, he hastened to add some prissy screening-room defense, like, "Well, I think they're interesting. You have to consider the filmic elements of comedic timing , the genius of the ensemble performers . . . "

I know this critique comes on the heels of the recent death of the last Stooge, Joe DeRita, the third Curly replacement, in Woodland Hills. But let's not get sentimental. Besides, DeRita's own stepson said by way of eulogy that his stepfather was always making jokes: "Joe used to love to torment waiters."

A Stooge relative makes my point for me: What's the comedy in torment?

Larry, Moe and Curly were brilliant, vaudevillian, Molieres for the modern age, slapstick with a sob, Stoogists insist. During the Great Depression, Stooge shorts packed 'em in at movie houses, rescuing any pond scum of a feature they happened to be billed with.

Maybe that was fine for the Depression, when one's own pain was so awful that it was a relief to take refuge in somebody else's. But all that gouging and poking and clonging, three guys acting like prizefighters but with more hair and less brains . . . You call that funny?

My friend George, who as a child never missed the afternoon Stooge reruns, recalls, "You wanted to do all that stuff, hit people on the nose, conk people on the head. And they got away with it." George once tried the Stooges' nose-twisting trick on another boy, and both of them were astonished when it drew blood. That never happened to the Stooges; like Wile E. Coyote, who was always bouncing back after a two-ton safe mashed his head, they were unbloodied and invincible.

Any girl who has survived fourth-grade recess can attest to the Stooges' malevolent influence; Larry, Moe and Curly epitomized what girls hated most about boys--noisy, dumb, hurtful pranks. Every time my brother and his pals got stoked on a Three Stooges movie, the rest of us were in for pure hell. It wasn't entertainment; it was the Tomas de Torquemada exercise video. Some mothers simply hid the TV, dead sure that after watching a Stoogefest, one sibling would go after another with a ball peen hammer, and there would go all that expensive orthodontia.

Now any premise carries exceptions that prove the rule; some Stooge fan gender crossover is inevitable but statistically inconsequential.

In my fieldwork, the first 15 women I asked burst out unhesitatingly: "Are you kidding? I hate the Three Stooges." The 16th said: "I love the Three Stooges. One of the funniest things I've ever seen was the one about fixing the plumbing and tearing up the electrical wires by mistake. They said, 'No wonder this pipe doesn't work--it's fulla wires. ' Women probably hate the schtick where they hit each other on the head with fists and hammers. I hate that. But I like the rest."

When they progress far enough, genetic scientists will undoubtedly discover a Moe gene, situated one step up the DNA spiral staircase from the Remote gene, a dominant gene predisposing men to click away with TV channel changers, which are really substitutes for guns, and we all know what guns are substitutes for.

I think there's a research grant out there with my name on it. Woo-woo-woo!

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