The Three Stooges were a comedy act that lasted from 1925 until 1970 (!), and yeah, while the majority of their act was showcased in theatrical shorts, their lasting cultural relevancy comes from a television revival, so we’re counting them as “TV”.
Your opinion of The Three Stooges may vary, but your Dad loves them. They’ve come in and out of social consciousness in so many ways it’s hard to describe. They’ve been in movies, they’ve been in cartoons, they’ve been re-imagined for modern audiences by the people behind There’s Something About Mary and been an influence to countless comedians, even the ones who won’t admit it. They were never the most highbrow thing in the world, but they did something right. They also featured a lot of sports in their features, and because I already dated the hell out of myself with the 20 Greatest Sports Moments Of The Brady Bunch, I might as well trick the blogging audience into thinking I’m 100 years old.
If you like this week’s Sports On TV column, be sure to drop us a comment (especially if we forgot something important), click the “like” button to share it with strangers on the Internet, and maybe send it over to your Dad. He’ll think it’s funny.
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Episode: “Punch Drunks” (1934)
What Happens: Down-on-his-luck boxing promoter Moe discovers that mild-mannered Curly becomes an unstoppable, ultra-violent PUNCHING MACHINE OF DEATH when he hears the song ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’. Rechristening a serious mental disorder as ‘K.O. Stradivarius,’ Moe puts Curly in some shorts with musical notes on the ass and gets Larry to play “Pop Goes the Weasel’ on the violin at ringside. Curly goes ape and mauls people on his way to a championship fight with the dreaded KILLER KILDUFF, who knocks Curly out of the ring early in the bout and breaks Larry’s violin. That leads to a race against time as K.O. must keep from being beaten to death until Larry can literally race across the city and get back with another thing that plays music.
Key line: “Every time I hear that Weasel tune, something POPS inside of me!”
You may remember this short from the The Three Stooges NES game, where you played as Larry and ran down the street to ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ for like 4 seconds at a time before crashing into something. Larry’s ultimate success here is in deciding to commandeer a politician’s campaign truck and drive it through the arena wall.
‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ brings Curly back from the dead, and in true Stooges fashion he knocks out Killer in a matter of seconds, knocks out Larry and Moe for trying to celebrate his title win, and ends the short confronting the camera and, I’m assuming, knock out an entire theater’s worth of 1930s movie-goers. Larry came just in time, too: Killer Kilduff’s strikes are incredible, including one where he front-facelocks Curly and punches him in the butt, and another where he front-facelocks him and reaches around his own back to punch Curly in the face. That guy deserved to be champion.
Episode: “Three Little Pigskins” (1934)
What Happens: Through a series of misunderstandings that are not even important to note (including getting their clothes wet with spritzer and changing into Nature Boy Ric Flair robes), the Three Stooges are mistaken for a university’s star athletes, ‘The Three Horsemen’. Then, because it is 1934, gangsters try to use them as ringers on a professional team, only to discover that they are, in fact, the Three f**king Stooges and can barely walk upright, much less play pro ball. The short ends with the gangsters shooting the Stooges in the ass with handguns. No, seriously.
Key line: “Is it honest work?” “Does it make any difference?!” “No, no… no difference.”
Watching the Stooges play football is predictably great, and they touch all the comedy tent-poles you’d hope: playing Keep Away to avoid being tackled, using Larry’s face to block a field goal, phony numbers (Moe’s number is hydrogen peroxide, for whatever reason) and trying to sneak the ball across the field in their shirts. One of my favorite gags is when Moe tells the others to tackle “the man with the ball,” so they tackle the referee. That sets up the best part of any episode — when Curly picks a fight with someone, then flinches his ass off and runs away in fear the second they retaliate.
This short also features a young Lucille Ball, who Larry tries to pick up by sitting near her and smoking cigarettes. Trust me, if I ever find a reliable source of ‘I Love Lucy’ episodes I will do a Sports On TV about it and write up that time she dressed like a Cleveland Indian to meet Bob Hope so fast it’ll make your head spin.
Episode: “Restless Knights” (1935)
What Happens: The Three Stooges discover that they are of royal ancestry and visit the Queen of Anesthesia to offer their services as bodyguards. Like four minutes later, the Queen gets abducted and the Stooges face execution. How did it happen? The Stooges were unimpressed by a wrestling match featuring “the royal wrestlers” (two guys dressed like cavemen) and decided to put on a match of their own. The wrestling business has never been good to anyone, I guess.
Key line: “All for one!” “One for all!” “Every man for himself!”
I don’t really blame the Stooges for being all MINUS FIVE STARS about the royal wrestlers’ match … it’s just two guys tying up, the one taking an airplane spin and a loss. The triple threat between Larry, Moe, and Curly (mostly Moe and Curly) is much better, and features a lot of the staples of modern comedy wrestling matches: tie-ups turning into paddy-cake and ballroom dancing, some chest hair pulling, and Curly taking a bump off a sneeze. In typical Larry fashion, he takes one headbutt to the stomach and an elbow to the back of his head and he’s out. You’d think a guy who got smacked in the face for a living could take a little more punishment than that, but whatever.
I also love that the royal wrestlers couldn’t just be knight-type royal guys, they had to be muscly dudes dressed like Fred Flintstone. Pro wrestling wasn’t the goofy thing it is now back in the mid-1930s, but hell, it’s always been pro wrestling, hasn’t it?
Episode: “Three Little Beers” (1935)
What Happens: A brewing company has trouble making on-time deliveries, so they hire three new deliverymen. GUESS WHO. The Three Stooges make a delivery to a golf course, and because birds gotta fly and fish gotta swim, they ditch their responsibilities to play golf. By the end of their game, the course has been destroyed, everyone in a five-mile radius has been blasted with a golf ball and Curly has had a beer barrel smashed over his head. Birds gotta fly, and all that.
Key line: “How’re we gonna shoot golf without guns?”
You may remember this short from that poster on the wall at Applebee’s, or outfitted with a tongue-in-cheek quote about golf and framed somewhere in the middle of SkyMall. Beer, golf, and The Three Stooges might make “Three Little Beers” the most classically masculine 16 minutes in film history.
I love this one because it contains one of my favorite gags in Stooges history. Curly spills a bunch of golf balls he’s been pocketing, so Moe takes the opportunity to take an unseen swing at a big pile of balls, because hey, he’s got to hit one of them, right? He swings and misses, so he takes out his frustration by grabbing three clubs, holding them together and just whacking the shit out of the pile. Cut to where the balls are GOING to see like 10 people being bombarded by golf balls. Cut back to Moe, hacking away. Cut back to the people to find them all lying on the ground unconscious, golf balls still raining down on them. Hilarious. The Stooges didn’t just destroy property … they destroyed LIVES.
Episode: “Grips, Grunts, And Groans” (1937)
What Happens: When the hobo equivalent to The Three Stooges accidentally knock out heavyweight wrestling champion Ivan Bustoff (by dropping a series of dumbbells on his head, which probably killed him), Curly is forced to don a beard and step into the ring.
Key line: “I got my shirt bet on Bustoff to win a wrestling match tonight, and you mugs got him out gettin’ him stewed.” “Yeah, but he’s payin’ for it.”
I kept the What Happens section short because every wrestling fan needs to read this: Curly Howard invented hardcore wrestling.
In “Restless Knights,” the action stays pretty simple. The Stooges grapple and mess around. In “Grips, Grunts, And Groans,” Curly goes full 1997 garbage wrestling by bringing a needle into the ring (when he misinterprets the term “pin”), gets bodyslammed from inside the ring into the crowd, and ends the match by tossing the referee and attacking everybody (including his friends) with the ring bell. Add that to the fact that a wrestler pretty much dies backstage before the show and BAM, you could’ve held this short on West Ritner. All it needs are the lights going out, then Shemp magically appearing in the ring to dropkick somebody with a chair.
In a related note, “Ivan Bustoff” is the most WWF Attitude Era name ever.
Episode: “Goofs And Saddles” (1937)
What Happens: Because the Old West equivalent to the Three Stooges
are trying to unlock the Walton Gang outfit have been tasked with tracking down cattle rustlers, they sneak into a poker game disguised as gamblers to get the drop on the epically named Longhorn Pete. They get deep into the game (thanks to a combination of not knowing what they’re doing and horrible cheating), but they’re found out when the carrier pigeon they set free with Pete’s plans flies back into the room and lands on Pete’s shoulder.
Key line: The Stooges’ names: “Buffalo Bill.” “Buffalo Billious.” “Just Plain Bill.”
I know, I know, poker’s not really a sport, but it’s got a World Series Of itself, and anything with a World Series can be a sport. These things happened nearly 80 years ago, you’re lucky I’m not counting pie throwing.
The game earns points for (I’m assuming) inventing that joke where someone cheats at cards by standing behind someone, looking at their hand, then communicating it to the other players really obviously. The next time you watch TV and see John Cryer try to help Ashton Kutcher win a hand by yawning, scratching his stomach and mentioning in a loud voice how much he’d like to turn in and sleep in their THREE KING-sized beds, thank the Three Stooges.
The post-game stuff is great, too, and if you haven’t seen the short, it involves Curly being harassed by a traveling monkey and keeping Longhorn Pete’s gang at bay with a meat grinder full of bullets. So, uh, watch the short.
Episode: “Playing The Ponies” (1937)
What Happens: Failed restauranteurs The Three Stooges decide they’d rather make money by racing horses instead of f**king up food and get suckered into buying a lame horse. But because logic is pretty much “pop the back of a raft to make it go faster” in the Stooges universe, they discover that feeding the horse hot peppers will make it run faster. In a classic example of doing a ton of work to avoid a little, the guys use pepperinos, a motorcycle and a stick with a bucket of water hanging from the end of it to trick Thunderbolt into winning them thousands of dollars.
Key line: “You told me to race him around the track — and I did, and I beat him.”
Any short that ends with the Stooges each silently eating their own Thanksgiving turkey (while a horse in a bib eats across from them) is a good one. It’s a true American success story … three stupid guys who fail at everything they do find a way to cheat the system and end up rich.
For the record, Curly’s hot pepperinos not only give you super speed, they make smoke come out of your mouth. That super speed is money, though. Thunderbolt starts off the race running the wrong way, stands completely still multiple times and still manages to beat everybody, even with Larry dressed like a goddamn Dusty Rhodes nightmare on his back.
Episode: “Violent Is The Word For Curly” (1938)
What Happens: In probably one of the worst things they ever did to somebody, the gas station attendant Stooges blow up a car containing three foreign professors, steal their clothes and impersonate them at the local girls college. At one point they teach the girls how to play basketball by running a football play, throwing a basketball at an old lady, then violently tackling her as she runs toward the basket.
Key line: “Meet me later in the gymnasium, next to the dumbbells… you’ll know me, I got a hat.”
1. I can’t say it with 100% certainty, but “Violent Is The Word For Curly” may be the best name for any creative endeavor ever.
2. This is the episode where the Stooges “swing the alphabet,” if someone 85-years old in your family has ever sung this.
3. A terrible thing happens when I watch movies or television shows from before 1950. Pre-1950s actresses are either wealthy dowagers or smoking f**king hot, and I find myself getting really into them only to remember that they are currently either dead or 100 years old. Then I get that really sad google image search where I find some great pictures of them, but most of them are from like 20 years later when they look like Rest Home Sally Jupiter, and a fear of mortality piledrives me back to Earth.
That being said, this random student CAN GET IT.
Ughhh she died in 1994
Episode: “No Census No Feeling” (1940)
What Happens: The Three Stooges are extremely serious about their jobs as census takers, earning four cents for everyone they report. Greed takes them to a football stadium, where they attempt to report on a game in progress. If you’re wondering if this football effort ended any better than the one in “Three Little Pigskins,” it involves Curly racing down the field with Babe Ruth-style sped-up footage and ends with Moe riding an ice cream cart, chucking ice creams at football players.
Key line: “I was one of a litter of 3.” “Now, don’t tell me you were the one they kept?” “Nah, I was the one they threw away.”
The football stuff is funny, but man, “No Census No Feeling” is a real watermark for Moe-on-Stooge violence. When Moe finds out Larry’s gotten to someone before him, he not only slaps him in the face, he chases Larry around the room, traps his head in a dresser, kicks him in the ass and more or less openly threatens to kill him. Moe is downright sadistic in his quest for four cents.
My favorite part of any Stooges short is that first time Larry gets slapped. He just EATS it, every time. Watch how the whole thing shakes. Poor Larry Fine was born with a head made for slapping.
Episode: “What’s The Matador?” (1942)
What Happens: ha, I see what you did there
The Three Stooges are actors making a living putting on fake bull fights in Mexico, but end up facing down a real bull after some nonsense involving a senorita and her jealous husband. The bull charges and gores Curly in into the air, an injury exacerbated when Moe and Larry try to utilize the banderillas and end up driving spears into Curly’s ass. After several seconds of terrified, forced bull-riding, Curly mans up and headbutts the animal to death (!). None of that is as horrifically violent as it sounds.
Key line: “He plays the bullfighter. I play the front of the bull, and he’s… he’s in the bull too.”
You’ve got to be a real 1940s stock character to find your wife with the Three Stooges and get jealous. “Jealous husband” is one of the worst Stooge antagonists, because hell, Moe isn’t exactly Groucho Marx, and the boys work best when their big bad is “we can’t stop being stupid”.
Oh, and to add to all that violence in the What Happens section, here’s a tidbit from The Complete Three Stooges:
While talking in Spanish, the Mexican man giving the Stooges what they think are directions on how to find Delores is actually giving them instructions to jump into a river and drown themselves.
Man, this short is DARK.
Episode: “Even As I.O.U.” (1942)
What Happens: The Three Stooges meet an evicted woman and her daughter, so they decide to take the girl’s piggybank to the racetrack. They win $500 dollars betting on ‘Seabasket,’ but lose it immediately when two conmen trick Curly into thinking the horse can talk. Stuck with another lame horse (because the Stooges can’t go near horses without buying one), the boys decide to load it up with PEDs and shoot vitamin-C pills down its throat with a blowgun. Curly ends up swallowing the pill instead, and because Vitamin C pills make you do this, he starts acting like a horse and gets taken to the vet, where he GIVES BIRTH TO A TALKING BABY HORSE. WHAT.
Key line: “I bet you never won a race.” “I won the Kentucky Derby, once.” “No!” “Yeah. I beat Filet Mignon in the Porterhouse Stakes.”
I feel like this is the ‘Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!’ of Three Stooges shorts. Things usually get weird, but this one leaves so many unanswered questions it boggles the mind. What happened to the evicted lady they were trying to help? The Stooges get obsessed with horse ownership and never mention her again. Did Curly pay back the money he borrowed from the piggybank? If the horse’s voice was from a guy standing 10 feet behind the Stooges, how could a baby horse have a legitimate speaking voice? Does this have something to go with God? If I swallow a vitamin C near a horse does that mean I just had sex with that horse? Am I pregnant? HOW DID CURLY PASS A HORSE BABY. WHY ARE MOE AND LARRY SO HAPPY ABOUT IT. WHY ARE THEY HUGGING SOMETHING THAT JUST CAME OUT OF CURLY WITH THEIR FACES.
It’s this ‘Futurama’ clip in Three Stooges form:
Episode: “Busy Buddies” (1944)
What Happens: In another example of the Three Stooges trying to run a restaurant and giving it up to make money doing something that has never made anyone money, Moe, Larry and Curly enter the high-stakes world of professional cow-milking competitions. It’s a round-based milk-off held in a boxing ring while bleachers full of 1940s-types clap for things like cow substitutions. The world was pretty weird in 1944, you guys. When Curly lags behind the competition, Moe dips into his never-ending supply of animal costumes and hides inside a phony cow with a giant glass jug of milk.
Key line: “See that? Why don’t you cooperate, cow?”
Two awesome things about this short, besides how hilarious it is that cow-milking takes place in a hay-laden ring and a cow-milker can lose the bout by knockout:
1. Curly’s competition, known only as THE CHAMP, is one of my favorite Stooges supporting characters ever. The guy looks like the real-life version of Bluto from Popeye, seems to get legitimate joy from yanking a cow’s udders as violently as possible and doesn’t get any kind of coaching between rounds, he just bugs his eyes out and makes angry faces at Curly from his stool. Oh, and when he finds out he’s been cheated, he giant swings the fake cow (with Moe in it) out of the ring like he’s killing an elephant in The Protector.
2. While it’s not quite “Moe killing bystanders with a shower of golf balls,” the scene in this short where Curly tries to milk a bull is one of my favorites. Most people would go for the semen = milk thing, but we never really see Curly trying to milk the bull, we just see him getting repeatedly gored over a fence and back onto screen. Maybe I’m a Philistine, but any time someone in a comedy thrown around and suddenly becomes a stunt-dummy, I love it.
Episode: “Gents Without Cents” (1944)
What Happens: The synopsis, from the Three Stooges Online Filmography:
The Stooges play actors hoping to make it big with their “Niagara Falls” routine, but always slip up when they get to the “inch by inch” line. They soon meet three dancers Flo, Mary and Shirley and land a job performing at a shipyard. The Stooges’ act is a success and, after another routine, the boys marry the girls. The film ends with the couples going on a honeymoon in (where else?) Niagara Falls.
At one point the girls break out an INTENSE jump rope-themed gymnastics routine that borders on a Step Up throwdown, and if that’s not sports-related enough for you, I’m pretty sure on of them is WWE Raw General Manager AJ Lee’s grandmother.
Key line: “So it shouldn’t be a total loss, I’m taking a bath!”
I’ve watched so many old movies and television shows at this point that I’ve started missing Vaudeville. I want to be able to go down to a local theater and watch guys slap the shit out of each other, followed by dancing ladies doing gymnastics, followed by whatever. Nowadays the Stooges wouldn’t be able to do an act without judges critiquing them, followed by backstage confessionals where each guy tells us how he feels. The dancing ladies would be intercut with reaction shots every four seconds. It would be the worst. Right now is the worst.
I’m also a fan of any Three Stooges short that refers to them as “gents” in the title.
Episode: “Fright Night” (1947)
What Happens: The Three Stooges are fight trainers (!) helping “Chopper” get ready for his big boxing match against Gorilla Watson. Gangsters approach the boys and tell them to get Chopper to throw the fight or it’s CURTAINS, SEE, so Moe, Larry and the just-arrived Shemp try to just feed Chopper desserts and keep him from training in the hopes that the situation will just work itself out. But alas, Gorilla Watson breaks his hand on the night of the fight, and the Stooges must spend the rest of the short trying not to be murdered.
Key line: “There goes Shemp with a left jab. There goes Shemp with a right upper-cut. There goes Shemp with a haymaker!” *crash* “There goes Shemp.”
I love Curly, but Shemp is my motherf**ker.
It’s hard to explain. Curly’s a better Stooge, I think. Most of this list is just the Curly era, because the Three Stooges are Moe, Larry and Curly. That’s just the truth. Curly was a comedic animal, this dynamic force of screaming and animal noises and angry faces, and when he got sick things were never the same. The Stooges made terrible attempts to replace him (Curly-Joe, I’m looking in YOUR direction), but Shemp can’t do anything but be Shemp, and that’s fantastic.
I like to refer to him as “liberal Moe”. He’s the perfect middle-point between Moe and Larry. He looks like Moe, but he’s got comedy hair like Larry. He’s a coward, but not afraid to spring back to life when someone admits to owing him five dollars. If Shemp had just stayed an original Stooge and we’d never gotten Curly, we would’ve been all right.
Episode: “Mummy’s Dummies” (1948)
What Happens: Historically-inaccurate Stooges comedies are the best when they’re clearly just filmed in a lot at the studio. Throw in some chariot props, dress Shemp like a wizard and boom, ancient Egypt. This is less “chariot racing” and more “impeding a chariot race,” as used chariot salesmen The Three Stooges sell a lemon to a rube who turns out to be the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. That leads to the Stooges being sentenced with execution, which leads to Shemp using dentistry skills to cure a Pharaoh’s toothache, which leads to the Stooges overhearing about a crooked tax collector’s plans to steal the Pharaoh’s gold. Yes, at one point Shemp ends up dressed like a mummy.
Key line: “I’m Honest Moe, that’s Honest Shemp and that’s……well that’s Larry.”
The best part of this episode (besides Shemp being a master of disguise … seriously, his wizard costume is amazing) is the ending, wherein dentistry expert Shemp ends up betrothed to a woman with horrible teeth who keeps him from getting away by CHOKING HIM OUT, and the Stooges try to help him get free by throwing shoes and water at him. These guys punch each other 200 times an hour, and when their friend is about to be strangled and sexually assaulted all they can think is “take off your anachronistic shoes and throw them”.
Also great: Mummy Shemp being sure to bring a hammer into his sarcophagus, in case anyone finds him and needs to be bludgeoned.
Episode: The Three Stooges (2012)
What Happens: The Farrelly Brothers reboot of the Three Stooges franchise was the hottest of hot garbage, but the trailer featured Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covergirl Kate Upton as an unexpectedly hot nun in a purposefully-hot nun swimsuit. The Catholic Church got into an uproar, because a woman’s body is the worst thing that has happened to the Catholic Church lately, and Kate was cut from the movie. As a surprise to nobody, the creators of the Three Stooges Farrelly Brothers movie hate you and want you to be unhappy.
And yes, Kate Upton is sports-related. Sports Illustrated has “sports” in the name, doesn’t it?
Key line: Like I’m gonna type anything from The Three Stooges. Here are all of Kate’s parts.