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When you need to laugh, squeal like a Stooge

Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at 3:41 PM

I really, really needed a good laugh the other day.

Things had gotten far too serious around here. First the whole bin Laden thing erupted, then Donald Trump got bounced from the Indy 500 pace car because he couldn't produce a valid driver's license. Then I went to an Arbor Day tree planting and a somber Veterans Day ceremony broke out.

So I felt the need for a chuckle. A good, old guffaw. A real beer-gut belly laugh.

So I surfed through the cable channels. Pickin's were slim. "Who's the Boss"? Not if Tony Danza were dressed in drag. "Full House"? Oh lord, no, I prefer my Bob Saget R-rated, thank you.

Then I turned over to AMC. And suddenly there were The Three Stooges. The Moe, Larry and Curly version, not the cheap imitation Shemp or Curly Joe or Joe DeRita variety.

It was the one (of many) where the boys were wallpaper hangers and ended up draped in sticky paper and covered in wallpaper paste in yet another instance where their skills were familiarly overmatched by comic circumstance.

Predictable? Soitainly. Laughable? Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, if I don't say so myself. Just what the doctor ordered? Especially if it was Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine and Dr. Howard.

But just watching their timeless antics brought me back to my own Wonder Years when my buddies and I would literally run home from school to catch The Stooges on WGN, Channel 9, Chicago.

Boy was it ever the best of times. If Ernie Banks wasn't hitting one onto Waveland Avenue for the Cubs after school, Moe was smacking Curly with a pick-ax or grabbing Larry's schnozzola with needle-nose pliers.

Despite our mothers worrying we'd start smashing each other in the face with shovels, we kept watching. And soon we were thrilled to learn The Three Stooges had been booked into the nearby Theatre-in-the-Round at Hillside, a suburb a couple of miles from my suburban Chicago hometown. We knew where they were staying because one of our neighbors ran the restaurant right next to their hotel. So we peddled our bikes over to 13th Avenue and staked out Slater's restaurant.

A short time later we spotted the boys walking over from the hotel. Nowadays they'd be fighting their way through the paparazzi but back in 1962 they were simply three old guys out for a stroll. And by three old guys, I mean three old guys!

I'll never forget how stunned we were as Larry, Moe and Curly Joe made their way closer to us. Of course, The Stooges we had seen on TV were those from the vintage film shorts made in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. These Stooges were older than my grandparents and much more wrinkled and stooped over.

Nonetheless we got their autographs. And the crumpled paper with signatures of Moe, Larry and Curly-Joe (yes, for some reason he hyphenated it) proudly hung on my dresser mirror for years.

The Three Stooges -- all six of them are long gone -- but isn't it funny how they can still make you laugh, even when you know what's coming?

Ah, but that was part of their comic beauty. Even when you knew the "pick two" eye poke was coming, there was invariably the hand-to-the-nose block. Followed by a fist to the gut and a bonk on the head.

Funny stuff. Thanks for the laughs, boys. Thanks for the laughs.

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A native of Chicago and a graduate of the University of Missouri, Eric Bernsee has enjoyed residing in Greencastle for more than 25 years. Years of consuming McDonald's iced teas, Dairy Castle flurries and Marvin's GCBs have helped make him the man he is today.
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