The Three Stooges: The Joy of Stupidity

Posted: April 12, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy
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Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!  If the Farrelly brothers have their way, these three nonsensical words immortalized by the loveable Curly Howard of the Three Stooges will once again be repeated by a new generation.  An American institution since they began making movies in the 1930’s, The Three Stooges hits the big screen this weekend.  Along with their comedic brilliance, what is truly remarkable about this acting trio (plus Shemp, Joe, and Curly Joe) is that they appeared in 220 movies!  Because of their format (190 of them were short films), as well as their fast-paced physical humor, the Stooges have been a staple on television since 1958.  Personally, I have been a big fan of Moe, Larry, and Curly since my father first introduced me to them at a very young age.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly are the writers, directors, and producers of The Three Stooges.  These brothers have become modern princes of stupid comedies, giving us KingpinStuck on You, There’s Something about Mary, and my personal favorite, Dumb and Dumber.  The brothers Farrelly are taking quite a risk remaking an American comedy icon; but at least they have attempted to keep to the spirit of the original movies with a fairly clean rendition (at least that’s what the PG rating says).  We’ll see if they have success.

So why do so many of us love stupid, slapstick, really useless comedies?  It is not just us moderns who enjoy it so much.  This foolish “physical” humor has been around forever–from the court jesters of medieval times to traveling circus clowns; from vaudeville revues of the late 1800’s to Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and the Stooges of the 1900’s.  The pie-in-the-face routine, anvil-on-the-head, and poke-in-the-eye have amused audiences of all ages for centuries.  Even though we are smart enough to often know what’s coming, it’s almost impossible not to laugh.  What is it about this form of comedy?

For starters, God has made people with a senses of humor–some more than others, of course!  Created in His image, we know that God laughs as well.  God is a God of joy and laughter.  What a gift it is to be able to giggle and guffaw and even split one’s sides at times.  What would life in this fallen world be like without the ability to be amused and to laugh out loud?  It would be serious misery indeed.

But why do we laugh at stupid people and foolish actions?  We certainly wouldn’t be amused if someone REALLY had a piano fall on his head, would we?  Or if Wile-E-Coyote REALLY died when he was scared off a cliff by the Road Runner (Yes, I know he’s a cartoon character)?  We don’t shriek in horror when people get hurt like this because of the clear humorous context.  We know it’s not real.  We know we are being invited to laugh.  In true slapstick comedy, no one ever dies, even if all the Stooges end up in full body casts in the local hospital.

At the same time, hopefully we recognize that no one can really be that stupid in slapstick movies–except maybe the stars of the Jackass franchise.  It actually takes incredible acting skill and a fair amount of intelligence to pull off such tomfoolery.  As much as we enjoy laughing at the Stooges, we would probably not enjoy being around them for very long in real life.  And we probably don’t want our children and youth emulating their foolish behavior (this, of course, is a valid concern of parents which may make them choose not to allow too much slapstick in the lives of their youngsters)!

While foolish comedies can be enjoyed because of the gift of humor, they also provide a learning opportunity for us.  Ultimately, they remind us what God says about fools in His Word.  Stupidity and foolishness is clearly not virtuous!  “The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8).  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).  And my personal favorite:  “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).  Fools may be funny in the movies, but real folly is no laughing matter.  The end of the true fool is destruction.  The LORD calls His people out of ignorance and into truth and wisdom!

Of course, walking in wisdom doesn’t make for good comedy.  Can you imagine the Stooges making wise choices in response to difficult situations?  Would we belly laugh if they responded to unkind words with love and grace?  What if Moe suddenly became a compassionate leader amongst his band of brothers?  Much, much too serious.  And, we could no longer call them Three Stooges!

So we may enjoy our stupidity and foolish slapstick, as long as it doesn’t become our life’s goal to be as ignorant as the Three Stooges.  It is wise to keep Proverbs 1:7 in the forefront of our foolish minds: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Or just follow the immortal words of Moe and Curly: “Oh, a wise guy, eh?”  “Soitenly!”


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