- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

Michael Chiklis, star of FX's "The Shield," remembers when an hour of "Three Stooges" short films could make or break his day.
It all depended on who filled the trio's crucial third slot.
"Two Curlys and one Shemp that was an excellent day," he says in a 75th-anniversary special on the Stooges, airing on NBC Tuesday night at 8.
What guy hasn't felt that same pang of disappointment when his daily dose of the Stooges had two Shemps or, worse, a Joe Besser?
The Stooges, comedian Tom Arnold says, are "the bond that all men have," whether they're chief executives or meatpackers.
Of course, women get a kick out of the Stooges, too, as Cheryl Hines, co-star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," points out.
But men love the Stooges. And why wouldn't they?
They acted like gleeful morons, played with power tools and still got to hang out with hot blondes.
NBC's special, a somewhat hasty and sketchy affair, may not sway prissy Stooges detractors, but the already converted will enjoy the short ride of yelps, pokes, punches and nyuk-nyuks.
The tribute-cum-documentary had been scheduled for last fall, the true 75th anniversary of the legendary comedy troupe. The Three Stooges actually, there were six by the time all was said and done debuted in 1927 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles and played the vaudeville circuit before starring in the short films for which they became famous.
Hosted ably enough by Woody Harrelson at the Orpheum, Tuesday's Stooge-fest begins with the trio's little-known live gigs with the forgotten comedian Ted Healy, whom MGM Studios considered the bankable star.
Healy let the Stooges out from under his contractual thumb in 1934, when Columbia Pictures signed them. They produced their first short film, "Woman Haters," and later that year earned an Academy Award nomination for another short film called, funnily enough, "Men in Black." It was their first and last Oscar nod.
Like many comic geniuses, from Lenny Bruce to Mel Brooks to Larry David, the Stooges were Jewish. Brothers Moe, Shemp and Jerome "Curly" Horwitz were known professionally by an Anglicized surname, "Howard."
Larry Fine was the second banana the "great reactor," says director Peter Farrelly.
Joe Besser and, later, Joe DeRita would play the third wheel after Curly was disabled by a stroke and Shemp died of a heart attack. The Stooges team retired for good in 1970 after Larry suffered a stroke.
Throughout their long career, the Stooges patented a highly original style of physical comedy that's still funny. The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, happily concede the Stooges' influence in their movies, including the blockbuster "There's Something About Mary."
"The one thing I learned from the Stooges is that fat people falling down, getting hurt, is always funny," Mr. Arnold says.
The Stooges were silly, true. But they were skillfully silly. They made it look easy. The truth is, it was anything but.
You try to act out a Stooges bit. Go ahead; see if anyone laughs.
"The genius involved the synchronicity," Mr. Arnold says. "They elevated the common slap to an art."
And the poke to the eyes. The trusty hand-on-nose move that blocks the poke to the eyes. The punch to the belly, then on top of the head.
We are treated to several montages of classic Stooges footage; some of the clips were chosen by us fans through an online poll.
My favorite bit: the Stooges lampooning Nazis, with Moe wearing a fake Hitler mustache and mimicking the Fuehrer's barbaric speechifying.
If there's any problem with the Stooges' 75th-anniversary special, it's a lack of footage we haven't seen already. There's a nice rare clip of the aging Stooges revealing their methods on a show called "On the Go," but not much else of note.
They didn't really hurt each other, Moe explains. It was all in the faux-pained expressions. The eye-poking was directed more to the forehead, but they moved too quickly for us to notice. Perhaps the Stooges should be credited for inventing fake professional wrestling.
Mr. Chiklis sums up the Stooges' legacy with a bathetic riff on how "laughter is a gift" or some such nonsense.
The Three Stooges were funny as heck no more, no less.
Bridget Fonda put it nicely: "Those who didn't think the Stooges were funny just weren't watching."

WHAT: "The Three Stooges 75th Anniversary Special"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, NBC

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