By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, Oct. 20. 2010 — What on Earth are the Three Stooges doing on IFC?
They’re doing what they usually do: Slapping, punching, poking eyes and throwing pies. But what we really mean is: How do the Stooges, who are now being featured in mini-marathons every Saturday on IFC, fit in with the rest of the programming on this cable channel formerly devoted exclusively to showcasing independent films? It’s enough to make an IFC fan exclaim, “Why, you!”
Well, why not? As the channel’s chief executive explains, IFC feels these legends of slapstick comedy conform completely with the cable net’s current tagline, “Always On. Slightly Off,” particularly the latter half of that slogan.
“These were the first guys who were ‘slightly off’,” said Jennifer Caserta, executive vice president and general manager of IFC. “We have been moving into this alternative comedy genre in a very significant way. And if you look back at what we’ve done, particularly over the past year – for example, we brought ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and a lot of the Python films onto the network [and] we reunited the Kids in the Hall for a series called ‘Death Comes to Town’ – what we’re realizing is there’s something to be said about some very nostalgic properties that transcend the generations. [The Three Stooges] were kind of the first alt-sketch comedy troupe if you really look at it like that.”
Fair enough, but there was another reason why IFC picked up the Stooges for these mini-marathons that first turned up in August and then returned this month, running every Saturday from around 9:30 a.m. ’til 2 p.m. (this Saturday’s lineup begins at 9:35 a.m./8:35c): They were easy to get their hands on since IFC’s co-owned cable channel, AMC, has owned the broadcast rights to the Stooges’ short films for about a decade and air them all over the place, mainly as 20-minute fillers between movies. The difference: IFC’s Stooges run without commercial interruption.
The Three Stooges starred in so-called “two-reel” comedies (about 20 minutes in length) produced by Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. The team – Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard and later, Shemp Howard and Joe Besser – made about 190 shorts for Columbia, a portion of which began airing in television syndication in 1958. They’ve been on more or less continuously ever since, entertaining generations of kids – 99 percent boys (and immature adult men).
So far, the Stooge mini-marathons running this month on IFC have been almost entirely from the Curly era, which ended in 1947 when Curly had a career-ending stroke on the set of “Half-Wits’ Holiday,” one of the shorts that happened to air last Saturday. His older brother, Shemp, replaced him as third Stooge until Shemp’s own death in 1955.
This Saturday’s lineup of 12 consecutive Stooges classics includes the 1934 hospital comedy “Men in Black” (10:45 a.m./9:45c) – the only Stooges movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar (they lost); and the Art Deco-infused “Slippery Silks” from 1936 (1:20 p.m./12:20c), which was Moe’s personal favorite.
IFC’s Caserta admits the Stooges are definitely a guy thing. “I have observed over the years how guys go nuts for the Stooges,” she said. “I have yet to meet a woman who gets them.”
So how about it? Is she right about the great Stooges gender divide? Are there any women out there who “get” the Stooges? And for those of you who love ’em, here’s the question that always sparks discussion among Stooge fans: Who do you like better – Curly or Shemp?
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org