While watching the shit-show that was the Michigan versus Notre Dame game something familiar happened. Chuck Weiss tore some ligament. Players repeatedly fumbled. And the rain made player coordination look similar to that of a screwball comedy. Amidst the slipping, sliding, tripping and stumbling that happened in South Bend, a revelation occurred that made the game a bit easier to watch.
It was just like the Three Stooges short, “Three Little Pigskins.”
It’s the one where Curly hides a football in his jersey that sports a question mark for a number. Larry brags about studying Pig Latin, not dissimilar to the popularity of modern kinesiology. And Moe just throws the ball away, afraid to get tackled by the opposing team. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?
The Three Stooges have been viewed in some capacity by almost everyone. They’re nothing new, and if you don’t like them now, you probably never will. But the appeal of the Stooges is how well their act has aged. You have a “nyuk-nyuk” here and a “wiseguy” remark there. Slapping sounds are mixed with surprisingly violent pratfalls. Implore yourself to not find these guys a little funny. And even if you don’t find their antics amusing in the slightest, you probably at least know who these guys are.
They’re still relevant, and they can still entertain. “Three Little Pigskins” was a small testament to that. Covering the entire Stooges catalogue requires encyclopedic knowledge, and lord knows there’s enough written on these goofs. Their handful of two-reel short films helped create a popular vernacular for slapstick and screwball comedy. So think of this like a greatest hits briefing.
Three great Stooges films, still worthy of viewing, include the aforementioned “Pigskins,” “Beer Barrel Polecats” and “Punch Drunks.” All are available on Hulu and all can be cathartic in stressful times.
“Pigskins” is about the Stooges running from mobsters, only to hide out on a college football team and be mistaken for heroes. Some classic bits include the seltzer-water-shots (you’ll recognize them) and various goofy football theatrics. At 18 minutes, their promise of gags beats plot any day.
In “Beer Barrel Polecats” we see the, uh, real dangers of alcohol. Making your own liquor is about the dumbest, if not funniest, thing you can do. Spilling a piping hot batch of alcohol on a friend is in poor form, even if it is hysterical. And never try to sweet talk the police when alcohol is present. It’s moronic now, and it was in 1946. But at least here it’s done in good spirit. It’s almost like a pre-MIP cautionary fable.
With “Punch Drunks” we get classic Stoogery, still worthy of study and notoriety because of its simple antics. When sap waiter Curly hears “Pop Goes the Weasel” played near him, everything goes blank as he turns into a killing machine. Only in a screwball comedy would this sort of thing be acceptable. So, Larry and Moe, being the good Samaritans that they are, push Curly into the professional boxing world.
Curly screams and whoops and slaps his face in glee as he sports spandex with a Stradivarius across his tummy — clearly the mark of a psycho fighter. But that’s what makes the Stooges so funny. By making everyday events like sports and school, or going to work or court, preposterous, the Stooges became easily identifiable to any person who watched them.
Besides, who said art has to be serious? Without these guys, we’d likely have no “Something About Mary” or “Blazing Saddles.” The Three Stooges left behind a true wealth of comedic film that seems to have been fading in remembrance in recent years. So do yourself a favor and re-introduce yourself with these three classics.