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Film / The Three Stooges

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The original Comic Trio.
Three blind mice, three blind mice
See how they run, see how they run
They all ran after the farmer's wife
She cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a sight in your life as three blind mice?
— Lyrics to the iconic theme song, "Three Blind Mice"

The Three Stooges are best known for the dozens of short subjects they turned out through Columbia Pictures starting in the 1930s. In fact, with 190 short films, not including their features and numerous cameo or guest appearances dating back to 1930, this trio had the longest film series in Hollywood history.

Though six actors appeared as Stooges at varying times, people are most familiar with the iconic lineup of Moe Howard, the bully-like leader (and the only actor to stay with the trio for its entire existence); Larry Fine, the frizzy-haired sort-of straight man; and Jerome "Curly" Howard (Moe's younger brother), the bald, oddball guy with the weird mannerisms and verbalizations.

Like many Hollywood successes, the Stooges came about their success largely through serendipity. The Stooges started out as second bananas to former vaudeville comic Ted Healy, and were not originally credited as Stooges. The original line-up consisted of Moe, Larry and Shemp Howard, Moe's elder brother. After making one film with Healy, 1930's Soup to Nuts, Shemp launched a solo career as a comic and character actor. Jerome (who had no prior acting experience) was recruited, dubbed Curly despite (or perhaps because of) his shaved head, and the trio continued to appear in films with Healy.

In 1934, Columbia offered them their first picture deal and Moe promptly seized the opportunity to make the big time without their notoriously drunk and abusive employer. Their first film, Women Haters, was moderately successful; their second, Punch Drunks, was more so; and the third, Men in Black, was nominated for an Oscar, and the group found its niche, appearing in a half dozen or so short films (16-20 minutes) a year.

Curly was forced to retire in 1946 after suffering a stroke during a break in filming of Half Wits Holiday, and Shemp Howard (who was reluctant to rejoin, as he had a successful solo career, but realized that Moe and Larry would have nothing without the Stooges) rejoined the act, changing the dynamic and triggering an ongoing "Curly vs. Shemp" debate that presaged the similar Joel vs. Mike debates of more recent vintage. After the deaths of Curly and Shemp in 1952 and 1955, respectively, a bizarre set of Stooges shorts were created in order to complete the trio's current contract, making use of a body double and stock footage to make it appear that the now-deceased Shemp had participated, a technique later dubbed the Fake Shemp in his honor by director Sam Raimi. In 1956, Joe Besser, already a well-established comedy star, joined the group for their last shorts with Columbia (the short-film format was retired in 1959), and "Curly Joe" DeRita, so nicknamed because of his resemblance to the original Curly, would sign on for their "post-shorts" career which involved a number of feature films as well as hosting a popular cartoon series.

The Stooges continued to make popular feature films and TV appearances until January 9, 1970 when Larry Fine suffered a stroke during production of a TV pilot called Kook's Tour. Like Curly Howard, Larry suffered more strokes before his death on January 24, 1975. In the early 1970s, longtime Stooges supporting actor Emil Sitka (best known to most Stooges fans for the line "Hold hands, you lovebirds!") was promoted as "Middle Stooge", but Moe died on May 4, 1975 before any more movies were made, ending the era of the original Three Stooges. Curly-Joe continued to do live performances for a short time with two other individuals filling in for Moe and Larry, but then retired.

The Three Stooges are one of the few comedy acts of the black-and-white era that continue to attract fans and remain so firmly embedded in the popular culture that a fifteen second silent cameo depicting them as airport firefighters still provides one of the biggest laughs in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World decades after their heyday. Their popularity is such that video games have been made about them all the way up to the Game Boy Advance era.Although...  And while their broad slapstick has been often derided by critics, it's also a key reason why they're popular even in nations where English isn't spoken. They also had two animated adaptations: a syndicated series in 1965, with live-action wraparounds between cartoons, and The Robonic Stooges, a segment of Hanna-Barbera's Skatebirds. Unfortunately, neither of these truly took advantage of The Stooges' already cartoon-like nature.

That's the short version of it. Wikipedia has practically a small book on the team, their history and their impact. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

Trope-wise, it is hard to do slapstick without referencing the Stooges. They did it all. Wait. Here is the throw-down: If you can come up with a slapstick bit that was not done by the Stooges, the Wiki will award you a delicious, fresh-baked custard pie.note  Notably, the Groin Attack trope is not on this page. This could be an oversight or deliberate, due to Hays Code enforcement. The movie definitely has a Groin Attack, but it's not the original Stooges...

Don't bring any lame one-foot-in-a-wastecan, guy-turns-with-ladder-and-bonks-another-guy-in-the-eye stuff. We have no pies for that.

A Made-for-TV Movie biopic about the Stooges produced by Mel Gibson came out in 2000 on ABC. While it serves in large part as an homage to their comedy style, to the point of recreating several of their shorts, it also confronts many of the not funny parts of their careers, particularly Curly's health issues.

A movie was released on April 13, 2012. It was directed by the Farrelly Brothers, appropriately enough. Described on the DVD as a love letter to the Stooges, the film recreates many of the trio's tropes, and adds a few more. For the movie's section of tropes, click here.

Has a recap page in progress.

Trope Namer for Three Stooges Shout-Out.

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Fill out those tropes. What tropes? The tropes we been fillin' fer the last ten years. Oh, those tropes:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: The shorts used this in a couple of varieties, including the door opening outwards and the villains coming in behind them, sometimes handing them things to put on the barricade.
  • Absurdly Long Stairway: A similar was used in An Ache in Every Stake where the Three Stooges must deliver an ice block to a house atop a very long staircase, but the ice always melts by the time they make it to the top.
  • Acrofatic: Curly could move pretty quick for a chubby guy.
  • Adolf Hitlarious: They provided the Ur-Example in You Nazty Spy!, officially the first Hollywood film to mock Hitler and the Nazis.
    • There's a story where they were shooting one of these shorts on a Saturday where Moe, dressed as Hitler, wanted to wrap up quickly so he could get home in time for his daughter's birthday party. When they did stop he rushed straight to his car without getting out of costume — and the Hollywood police got several calls reporting a reckless-driving Hitler.
  • The Alleged Expert: There is not a single line of work in which they have partaken in that they hadn't boasted of being good at and caused an Epic Fail on.
  • All Just a Dream: Most of "I Can Hardly Wait", though the audience is shown that it's Curly's dream when it starts in a Thought Bubble. "Heavenly Daze", and its stock footage reworking, "Bedlam in Paradise", are examples featuring Shemp.
  • Alphabet Song: In "Violent is the Word for Curley", the Stooges become teachers at Mildew Academy and lead a class of coeds through the song "Swingin' the Alphabet," which is basically a jazzed-up version of the song "The Spelling Bee" by Septimus Winner.
  • Amusing Injuries: Anything from getting poked in the eyes to getting blown up sky-high to being assaulted with power tools and beyond — always only makes funny sounds, some screaming, and leaves behind soot at worst.
  • Animated Adaptation:
    • The New 3 Stooges (1965) — a part live-action/part animated series that starred Moe, Larry, and Curly-Joe.
    • The Robonic Stooges (1977-78) — a series animated Hanna-Barbera that found Moe (Paul Winchell), Larry (David Joliffe), and Curly (Frank Welker) as crime-fighting robots.
    • Hanna-Barbera also featured the Stooges (Moe [Pat Harrington Jr.], Larry, and Curly-Joe [Daws Butler]) in two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Any basic form of gun safety is thrown clear out the window in many shorts.
  • Artistic License Music: According to the short "Idle Roomers", a trombone sounds like a whole band.
  • Artsy Beret: The short "Pop Goes the Easel" has the Stooges ducking into an art school to evade a cop. They put on artist smocks and berets to disguise themselves. In fact, the entire art school is dressed similarly.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Should the Stooges be Disguised in Drag, someone will find them attractive.
  • Baby Carriage: The Stooges knocked over one while running from some authority figures in Grips, Grunts and Groans. There WAS a baby in it, and it was played for nyuks.
  • Badly Battered Babysitter: In episodes where the three are babysitting. You definitely do not want these three guys anywhere near your children.
    • Though there are times like in Baby Sitter Jitters where the kid mauls them instead.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: In a couple shorts where they're running a diner, Curly or Shemp mistakenly drinks paint instead of coffee. In Shemp's case, after trying the diner's coffee, he switches back to the paint, insisting that it tastes better.
  • Balloonacy
    • In an odd variation of this trope, Moe becomes a balloon in one episode. In Dizzy Pilots, Moe falls into a tub of tar, and to get the tar off of him, Larry and Curly cut a hole in his clothes and begin filling it up with gas. Hilarity Ensues as Moe begins to float away when Larry and Curly aren't looking, and they spend the next sizable chunk of the episode trying to get Moe down. He eventually floats through an opening in the ceiling and into the sky. Hearing Moe cry during the ordeal makes this a candidate for Funny Moments.
  • Bears Are Bad News: In the short Idiots Deluxe, the stooges have to contend with a bear that wanders into their cabin as they're camping. Hilarity Ensues, as just about everything they try backfires on them.
    • The long clip in which the bear slurps up every last drop of a jar of honey with his absurdly long tongue is one of the funniest scenes not featuring the Stooges (or any humans) in all their shorts.
    • The Stooges often had to deal with an ornery brown bear named "Tim Bear" in the 60s animated shorts.
    • Referenced in the 2012 film, only with a lion.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: The Stooges filmed at least two comedies involving the Stooges as bullfighters:
    • What's the Matador? (1942): The Stooges are vaudeville entertainers who trek to Mexico to perform their gag bullfight shtick, with Curly as the brave matador, and Moe and Larry dressed in a bull costume. Along the way, they cross paths with attractive senorita Dolores Sanchez. They also cross paths with her evil jealous, and hot-tempered, man-hating husband named José. In an act of revenge on Curly for flirting with Dolores, José pays the bullring attendants to release a live bull into the ring. Moe and Larry flee the ring, but Curly is unaware of the switch. He eventually head-butts the wild animal, and is paraded out of the ring to the rousing cheers of "Olé, Americano!"
    • Sappy Bull Fighters: Largely a reworking of the 1942 short, the Stooges are vaudeville entertainers who trek to Mexico to perform their gag bullfight shtick, with Joe as the brave matador, and Moe and Larry dressed in a bull costume. Unfortunately, their gig is cancelled once they arrive. According to the trio, the manager fired them after they refused to do 10 additional shows for free. With no money to return home, the Stooges are stranded. Feeling bad for them, attractive señorita Greta gets the boys a gig at the local bull ring. However, when she leaves Greta mistakenly takes the trio's suitcase instead of hers. When they go retrieve it, however, Joe becomes attracted to Greta and begins to kiss her, infuriating her husband José. The next day, the Stooges perform their act successfully at a bullring José recognizes the trio. In an act of revenge he pays the bullring attendant to release a live bull into the ring. Moe and Larry flee, but Joe is unaware of the switch. He eventually head-butts the wild animal, and is paraded out of the ring to the rousing cheers of "Olé, Americano!"
  • Benevolent Genie: In "Three Arabian Nuts," the Stooges encounter a genie (or, as Shemp affectionately calls him, a "Magic Genius") who interprets the Stooges' vaguely-worded wishes in a very accommodating way with no strings attached.
  • Berserk Button
    • Curly has 4 of them, each of which turns him into a wrecking machine.
      • Hearing the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" in Punch Drunks. When the music stopped, so did he.
      • Seeing a mouse in Horses' Collars. The only way to stop him was to stuff cheese into his mouth.
      • Smelling a perfume fragrance called "Wild Hyacinth" in Grips, Grunts and Groans. In this short, the only way to stop him was to tickle his feet.
      • The sight of tassels in Tassels in the Air. The only way to calm him down there was to tickle his chin.
    • In-Universe, "Gents Without Cents" has the boys performing a comedy sketch where every time Curly mentions "Niagara Falls", Moe and Larry go nuts and beat Curly senseless.
    • The Wolf Man in "Idle Roomers" was fairly peaceful until he heard music, causing him to go berserk.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: In "A Missed Fortune", Larry states he likes his hotcakes slathered in ketchup. Even Moe doesn't find it that odd. Meanwhile, Shemp prefers paint over coffee. And of course there's the "burnt toast and rotten egg" running gag.
    • (Scene from Beer Barrel Polecats, right after they finish bottling their home-brew beer and they are ordering some lunch...)
    Larry: Say, how about some Dutch Lunch?
    Curly: Certainly! I'll get some apple pie and whipped cream!
    Larry: I'll take some burnt toast and a rotten egg.
    Moe: Burnt toast and a rotten egg?!
    Larry: Yeah! I got a tapeworm and it's GOOD ENOUGH FOR HIM!
    • Another running gag of the series was the Stooges would often end up eating fruit peels/nut shells and discard the actual food.
  • Black Comedy: Happens occasionally, such as in An Ache in Every Stake when Moe tells Larry to fill a cake with gas to make it look bigger. Larry misinterprets the command, "Take the gas pipe," to mean he himself should suck on the gas pipe. Moe, naturally, gets annoyed and ends his scolding with, "I'll kill you later. Personally!" Larry actually looks scared; he believes Moe might actually do it!
  • Bloodless Carnage: Particularly the scene in "They Stooge to Conga", in which Curly pierces Moe's scalp, ear, and eye with a climbing spike, and somehow Moe is relatively unscathed.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played with in "Three Pests in a Mess". Curly hits a bolt action rifle against the wall and it fires. He hits the rifle against the wall a second time and it fires again. Bolt action rifles only fire one shot at a time; one must use the bolt to eject the empty cartridge and load in another bullet.
  • Bound and Gagged: this tended to happen a lot. Often to the Distressed Damsel of the day, but the Stooges themselves weren't inmune to it:
    • At the end of Horses' Collar, Moe, Larry and the female guest star, Nell; are kidnapped and bound/gagged by the villains while Curly is busy opening a safe.
    • One short has Larry and Moe bound and gagged by the villains in a bed by the climax. Often Larry and Moe would be captured by the villains during the climax so the third Stooge (Curly/Shemp) would end up saving the day.
    • In Who Done It?, the Stooges appear at the start bound and gagged in their office. Victims of a robbery, of course.
    • The climax of Crime on their Hands has Shemp bound and gagged on a table by the villains as they're about to perform open surgery on him.
    • In Scotched in Scotland/The Hot Scots, Larry is bound, gagged and hidden in the closet by the mysterious skeletal villain.
  • Bowdlerization: The shorts have been subject to varying levels of censorship over the years (including the above scene under Bloodless Carnage), but one particularly baffling cut exists in many versions —both in syndication and home video— of the fan favorite "Three Little Beers", with the gag of Curly dropping dozens of stolen golf balls from under his outfit after Moe bonks him on the head. It's a mystery as to why this short moment is often cut, since it's perfectly innocuous (they spill from his jacket, not his pants), and the resulting pile of golf balls also sets up a later gag.
  • The Boxing Episode: "Punch Drunks".
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • In Oily To Bed, Oily To Rise, Curly mentions about taking their brides to a honeymoon in Canada, then winks at the camera cleverly!
    • A later Curly-era short, ''Rhytym and Weep", has the boys kissing and hugging a trio of women. At one point, Larry pauses, looks directly at the camera and exclaims, "This I like — and I get paid for it, too!"
    • In "Oil's Well that Ends Well," Joe Besser silently mouths the words "I hate him" after Moe is mean to him.
    • Another of the Curly-era shorts, "I'll Never Heil Again" has Curly lean towards the camera a little and say something.
  • Broke Episode: The Stooges are always low on cash and often stuck with menial jobs like holding signs for an event and catching ants. In real life, many of their films came out during the Great Depression.
  • The Bully: Moe
  • Burp of Finality: One short has the trio as rulers of a fictional country, Moronica (what else?). When the people revolt, the Stooges run to hide and wind up in a pit with three lions. They run into an opening, followed by the lions. One by one, the lions emerge wearing the Stooges' accoutrements, and one of them licks his lips and burps.
  • The Bus Came Back: A duo of con-men (portrayed by Lew Davis and Nick Copeland) once appeared in "Cash and Carry", then had another appearance in "Playing the Ponies"; which is a following short to the former.note 
  • The Butler Did It: In the short "If a Body Meets a Body", except it was crossdressing crook that did it.
  • Butter Face: Curly or Shemp often ended up with one of these while Moe and Larry got attractive women.
  • Butt-Monkey: The worst things would usually happen to Curly. Then again, contrary to the public perception of the stooges, Moe often seemed to get the worst of the beatings, mostly due to accidents caused by himself or Larry and Curly's stupidity, and he'd then take it out on them whether it was their fault or not.
  • The Cameo:
    • Moe, Larry and Curly Joe appeared in the 1963 film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. They are on-screen for maybe ten seconds, don't speak or even move, and it's still one of the funniest jokes in the entire movie.
    • Curly himself also appeared post-retirement in the short "Hold That Lion" as a sleeping train passenger who would make dog noises (as Curly would). This would be the only short to include all three of the Howard brothers, Moe, Curly, and Shemp. The scene was also used in "Booty and the Beast".
    • Shemp has a wacky cameo as "Wacky" in Another Thin Man. Shemp in fact had cameos in several films throughout the 30's and 40's, though movie audiences had yet to come to know him as a Stooge.
    • Moe, Larry and Curly show up in a last-minute cameo in 1942 screwball comedy adaptation of My Sister Eileen. The central joke of that film involved two sisters whose basement Manhattan apartment is routinely invaded by all manner of hilariously outlandish pests. The final moments of the films see the Stooges (apparently employed as subway maintenance workers) literally drilling their way into the apartment from below.
    • Moe and Curly appear in 1936's Broadway to Hollywood as Otto and Fritz, two clowns in makeup.
    • invoked For reasons unknown the 1960s western film 4 for Texas, which followed a semi-dramatic plot about a man running a riverboat casino and avoiding being killed in the process, stops dead near the end so that Larry, Moe and Curly-Joe can put on a brief routine, after which they disappear from the film as abruptly as they arrived.
      • Perhaps explained by the fact that co-stars Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were both fans of the Stooges. Sinatra also had the Stooges as guests on his 1950's TV show, as did fellow Rat-Packer Joey Bishop on his later 1960's late-night talk show.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': In "Three Smart Saps," the Stooges set out to spring their prospective father-in-law from prison. In order to get access to him, they deliberately kick a cop in the rear end, but he cracks their heads together instead and tells them, "Our jail is for important people!".
  • Car Meets House:
    • The climax of The Three Stooges Go Round the World in a Daze
    • Also the ending of Yes We Have No Bonanza.
    • Possibly inspired by a real-life incident: When Moe tried to teach Shemp how to drive, Shemp crashed the car through the glass storefront of a barbershop. Shemp was too terrified to ever try driving again.
  • Carrying a Cake: A running gag in "An Ache in Every Stake".
  • Carnival of Killers: The Outlaws Is Coming.
  • Catchphrase: Most of Curly's dialog, but particularly remembered are his Catch Whinnies.
    • Moe's "Why I oughta..."
      • "Spread out!"
      • When he and another try to leave a too-small corridor: "Recede."
      • "Oh, a wise guy, eh?"
      • "Remind me to kill you later."
      • Any other Stooge: "I'll make a note of it."
      • "What's the matter with you?"
      • "I'll moider you!"
      • "Pick two!" (Two fingers on Moe's extended right hand, picked by Larry or Curly [always the pointer and middle fingers, which would then poke the finger-picker's eyes)
    • Curly's "Soitenly!"
      • "I'm a victim of soicumstance!"
      • "Moe! Speak to me! Say a few syllables."
      • "Hey, Moe! Hey, Larry!"
    • Larry's "Leave him alone!"
      • And short-lived "What's goin' on around here?"
    • And for a supporting character... Emil Sitka's 'Hold hands, you lovebirds!' from The Brideless Groom. Sitka was often invited to weddings to say this.
  • Character Outlives Actor:
    • A variant occurs after Shemp died. Moe and Larry still did four shorts, referring to Shemp — and occasionally "meeting up" with him via archive footage filmed when he was still alive.
    • They also did some new scenes where a stand-in was used for Shemp, making sure (not always successfully) to keep his back to the camera. They had to do it for contract reasons, which had to be heartbreaking for Shemp's younger brother, Moe.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In "Crash Goes The Hash", Flint the butler tells Moe, Larry and Curly that they remind him of the Three Stooges. Curly even takes that as an insult!
  • Circling Saw: In Pardon My Scotch, a door falls on Moe and pins him to the floor. Larry and Curly use a power saw to cut a Moe-shaped hole in the door. However, they don't notice that they're cutting straight through to the floor below, and when the hole is cut Larry gently pats the cut-out section, causing it and Moe to fall through. ("Gee, Moe, ya only fell fourteen feet! No need to be sore about it!")
  • Close-Call Haircut: In many shorts, gun shots might leave a bald, steaming trail from the front to the back of Moe's or someone else's head, or else blow their hats (or toupees) off.
  • Comic Trio: Moe (The Leader), Larry (Only Sane Man), Curly/Shemp/Joe/Curly Joe (The Fool)
  • Concussions Get You High: Used frequently, by having whoever was hit on the head take on a silly facial expression and slump over to the sound of chirping birds.
    • In "Blunder Boys," Larry is knocked senseless by an army helmet and starts acting drunk.
  • Cooking the Live Meal: Evoked in the two-reeler "Violent Is the Word for Curly—after the title character hides in an ice cream truck and is frozen solid, Moe and Larry try to thaw him out by attaching him to an improvised rotating spit above an open fire.
  • Cool Old Guy: In Real Life, Moe became this in his later years. Larry as well, to a lesser extent.
  • Courtroom Episode: "Disorder in the Court".
  • Cowboy Episode: Several, most of which featured Shemp.
  • Crooked Contractor: In one way or another, the Stooges have a tendency to fall into this trope when solving household problems for hire. Sometimes they're just out of their league, sometimes they're forced into the job, and other times it's Engineered Heroics (see below).
  • Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Moe and Larry would usually give Curly the short end of the stick. In the short I Can Hardly Wait they even make Curly feel guilty for being so ungrateful for his meager piece of the food when he complains.
    Moe: We each took half a slice of ham and half an egg apiece, and gave you a whole bone and a whole egg shell, and you're squawkin'!!
  • Darker and Edgier: The Stooges' approach to slapstick was much more openly cruel when compared to that of contemporaries such as The Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Larry, when he wasn't acting as goofy as Curly in order to annoy Moe.
  • Dem Bones: Almost every time the Stooges did a "horror" short, they met with either walking and talking skeletons or with cackling, flying skulls (their live parrot or owl inhabitant the cause), or both.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    Larry: You shot that guy!
    —>Moe: And killed him, too!
    Judge: You face charges of attempt to commit mayhem.
    Curly: You mean murder!
    Larry: Yeah! He tried to kill us, too!
  • Disguised in Drag: Used quite often. Especially blatant in these cases because most of the Stooges not only have very obviously male faces, but are... well, exceptionally goofy-looking, even as men. Also, Curly, the largest Stooge, is the one who most frequently has to do this.
    • In fact, in one episode, Curly dresses up as a female Native American to fool a French hunter, who actually goes so far as to marry this "fat Indian momma" and take him/her to his bedroom. Hilarity ensued, although since this was before Black Comedy Rape could get through film censors, the disguise was revealed before anything truly unfortunate could happen.
    • Moe and Curly disguise themselves as female nurses in the movie in order to sneak into the hospital. Curly even flirts with a male employee, who falls for "her" charms!
    • Whenever the Stooges disguised themselves as children, Larry would dress as a girl.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Moe constantly beats the crap out of the other Stooges, usually just for making bad jokes, or misunderstanding something he says, or for causing him minor injuries. Moe's violent punishments for these actions are usually much more vicious and cruel than whatever the other Stooges have done to provoke him.
  • D.I.Y. Disaster: In A Plumbing We Will Go, the boys pose as plumbers; their attempts at plumbing had water coming out of the stove, the light bulbs, telephones, and a very primitive television set. Notably, Moe actually managed to fix the pipe, having a rare moment of justifiable pride, right before Curly drilled a hole on the floor above, tumbling down and breaking it beyond repair.
    • In Goof on the Roof, the stooges trying to set up a television somehow results in their completely ruining the house they'd been renting a room in.
  • Dodgy Toupee: Cropped up in a few shorts, such as "Disorder in the Court".
  • Dope Slap: Essentially Moe's job. Interestingly, when Moe wasn't around, Larry tended to take his place dishing out Dope Slaps, as he was next in the vague pecking order dynamic the stooges had. Occasionally, Curly or Shemp would hit Larry, again, provided Moe wasn't around. Lampshaded in their dope slap lineups, where Moe would turn to slap Larry, Larry would turn to slap Curly and/or Shemp, and Curly/Shemp would turn to slap...nobody, emphasizing their place as the low man.
  • Doorstop Baby: Played straight in "Sock-a-Bye Baby" and subverted in "Mutts to You".
  • Double Take: About once every minute.
  • Downer Ending: A few of the shorts ended with the stooges either getting some comeuppance they didn't really deserve, getting arrested, or even being killed. Subverted in that it always came off as darkly humorous.
  • The Dog Bites Back: There are rare moments where the other Stooges actually, and intentionally, get some revenge against Moe. Either, it doesn't end well for them or they actually get away with it.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Stanley Blystone in "Half-Shot Shooters", Richard Fiske in "Boobs In Arms".
  • Drop the Cow: The shorts had to be strictly two reels and comedy was valued more than plot. So many shorts end with a big bang rather than a bunch of loose ends tying up. This, far from being dissatisfying, is often as funny as the gags themselves!

  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The Stooges' first film for Columbia was The Captain Hates the Sea, a 1934 feature comedy about the various passengers on a cruise ship headed to South America. They play the ship's band. Larry is the only one to have a line.
    • Ted Healy's presence in the early shorts given that he was the leader of the group and the headliner.
    • All the dialog in the first Three Stooges short "Woman Haters" is in rhyme.
  • Edible Theme Naming: Many minor characters have names based on food; the best example would be Italian organ grinder Antonio Zucchini Salami Gorgonzola DePizza.
  • Einstein Hair: Larry. A running gag would be Moe plucking out chunks of hair from Larry whenever he got mad.
  • The End: Every episode of The Three Stooges had a "The End" card, many with Greek Comedy/Tragedy masks.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Occasionally, the Stooges would actually get injured on set. Some notable examples:
    • "Pardon My Scotch" (1935): After Curly saws through the table Moe is standing on, Moe performs a painful-looking pratfall onto solid ground, before getting back up and smacking Curly and Larry. During the take used in the final product, Moe actually broke three ribs and production had to be delayed while he recovered in the hospital.
    • "Gem of a Jam" (1943): During a scene where Curly almost falls out of a window, the operating table Curly was on leaned back too quickly and Curly banged his head on the window frame. The resulting gash required several stitches.
    • "Heavenly Daze" (1948): One scene features Larry being stabbed in the forehead by a flying pen. Despite director Jules White's assurance that the gag wouldn't result in injury, the pen actually punctured Larry's skin. Moe did not take kindly to this.
    • In "Brideless Groom" (1947): After several poor looking takes where she was supposed to look like she was assaulting him for impersonating her cousin Basil, Shemp told Christine Mc Intyre to just go ahead and hit him and that he could handle it. She ended up hitting him so hard that she broke his nose, much to her horror. However, true to his reputation for being easy going, Shemp comforted her as he was being tended to by softly saying, "Aw, it's alright, honey."
  • Engineered Heroics:
    • The Stooges flirt with this in "Pest Man Wins" when they infest a mansion with common household pests in order to exterminate them and get paid.
    • It also happens in "Ants in the Pantry" when the Stooges' boss at a failing extermination service orders them to "drum up business" by putting pests in people's homes.
  • Epic Fail: Simply put, if they gave out awards for spectacular failures, the Stooges would be the undefeated champions.
  • Everything Explodes Ending: Three Little Sew and Sews
  • Extreme Doormat: Larry comes across as the most sensible of the three in most of the shorts but apparently only goes along with what the others do — and puts up with Moe's abuse — because he's just very passive. The fact that Curly and Shemp also put up with Moe's abuse makes them examples of this as well.
  • Expressive Hair: When Moe gets scared horribly, his hair would stand on end!
  • Extreme Omnivore: Curly, when hungry.
    • At a fancy dinner, he was presented with a crab ("Ooh, a tarantula!") and ate it, shell and all.
    • In A Pain in the Pullman, all three of them eat crab shells, leaving the meat aside. Interestingly, Moe's crab shell is a rock candy fake; he had a dislike of shellfish (either from keeping kosher himself or growing up in a family who did) and didn't even like the smell left on a real crab shell.
    • One episode has the three working as riveters on a construction site. Larry is grilling hot dogs on the rivet fire, but is caught by their boss, and quickly switches back to heating the rivets. However, Curly catches the next rivet, thinking it's a hot dog, and eats it. He doesn't even notice what it really is.
    • A big running gag of the shorts would entail the Stooges gleefully discarding fruit and nuts in favor of the wasteful peels and shells. According to them, they were exquisite.
  • Eye Poke: Moe's signature move (actually performed by poking the eyebrows).
  • Face Fault: In Men In Black, though, granted, they fall backwards.
  • Fake Band: One of The Stooges' many signature gags. Inverted since the Stooges, notably Larry, were actually musicians.
  • Fake Shemp: The Trope Maker, for their use of a body double after Shemp Howard died. (The actual Trope Namer is director Sam Raimi, who coined the term in regards to the Stooges when he used this trope during filming of The Evil Dead (1981)).
    • Technically can be applied to the 2012 film since the original actors are impersonated.
  • False Reassurance: In "Rumpus in the Harem", Larry is afraid that the villain, a dreaded cutthroat, will cut his throat. Moe says it'll just look like he has two mouths.
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: In "The Tooth Will Out," they have to make an upper-and-lower set to graduate from dental school, with incredibly freakish results.
  • Fat Idiot: Curly resembles that remark, as does Curly-Joe.
  • Femme Fatale: Christine McIntyre would often play one of these, opposing and fooling the Stooges to get away with her crimes.
  • Flower-Pot Drop: Curly ends up on the receiving end of one in "Nutty but Nice", apparently as a result of someone becoming annoyed with his yodeling. He's reluctant to yodel again afterwards, fearing something bigger might be in store for him.
  • Flowery Insults: Take a shot every time Moe calls one of the other stooges a "chowderhead", "numbskull", "mental midget", "muttonhead", "porcupine", or some other creative insult.
  • Food Fight: They always had an uncanny ability to make a formal party regress into the formerly snobby, cultured rich people partaking in an epic food fight.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: In Real Life: Moe was melancholic, Larry was sanguine, Curly was phlegmatic, and Shemp was choleric.
  • Freudian Trio: Curly (later Shemp) is the Id, Larry is the Ego, and Moe is the Superego.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: The Screen Gems prints censored all alcohol references, including in "A Bird in the Head" and "Three Sappy People".
  • Gargle Blaster: Seems to be the only type of alcohol available to the stooges.
  • George Jetson Job Security: The Stooges would get fired at the drop of a hat, whether deservedly or not. Justified in that most of their shorts took place during or just after the Depression, which had job security that makes modern day Right To Work laws look postively draconian.
  • Giggling Villain: Played with. "Malice in the Palace" has the stooges sneak into the palace of the main villain. After they dispatch of the guard, he walks into the room laughing evilly as the stooges hide. One would think he still can't get over nabbing the diamond; cut to a close-up to reveal he's reading the Comics section from a newspaper.
  • Grande Dame: A very common character in the shorts, the stuffy Society lady whose party (for example) is invaded by the Stooges and becomes the venue for a gigantic pie fight. Often played by Symona Boniface, sort of a budget studio Margaret Dumont.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In "From Nurse to Worse," the Stooges decide to commit insurance fraud by declaring Curly to be insane, so they can get easy money. Curly does so by pretending to be a dog, and his performance is so convincing and over the top that the doctor declares him dangerous and decides he has to operate on Curly's brain.
  • A Handful for an Eye: In "Studio Stoops", done to a henchman by Shemp with ashtray sand after getting grabbed and asked, "Who're you?". His reply? "I'm the sandman."
  • Hard Head: A standard gag was to have Moe take a saw or a hammer to Curly's head, only to have his head bend and warp solid steel.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Invoked Scripts would often contain the generic instruction Moe punishes Curly, leaving it up to them to come up with an appropriate sequence of bits of physical schtick. (Which eventually were so ingrained and codified that they were referred to in shorthand by reference numbers; e.g., an eye poke might be a "number 16," a tweak of the nose a "23," etc. This is referenced in the feature film The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze when, having turned the tables on their would-be Chinese communist brainwashers, Moe calls out numbers to them, and they perform the called-for actions, now looking and acting like the Stooges.)
    • According to The Other Wiki, writer Jules White would also often leave gaps in which Curly could improvise. Many of Curly's most famous mannerisms, such as his trademark "woob woob woob" or spinning in a circle on the floor, were originally improvised by Curly in the Stooges' vaudeville days when he would forget his lines.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The Stooges belonging to what was pretty much an adult version of the Trope Namer made up the plot of "Women Haters". A similar organization appeared in two Shemp shorts.
  • He Went That Way: nearly inevitable whenever a Stooge short included a chase scene.
  • Hidden Depths: Moe was a devoted husband and father and sold real estate when not filming or touring; Larry was a concert-quality violinist; Curly was extremely shy and introverted when not performing; Shemp had a solid career as a character actor in both comic an serious roles between his two gigs as a stooge.
  • Hollow-Sounding Head: Curly's head is apparently Made of Iron and hollow.
  • Hollywood Healing: All three Stooges had the endurance of a typical cartoon character.
  • Homage: The minor 1984 hit "The Curly Shuffle" is all about watching the Stooges on late night TV.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: "Idiots Deluxe" and "Guns A Poppin" see Moe taken on vacation to the woods to calm his nerves. Three guesses as to how well that works.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: While the Stooges usually mess up and cause mayhem, half the blame really have to be placed on their employers, who always just assume that three random bozos off the street can do the job competently.
  • Hot Potato: Used often, normally with something explosive like a grenade or a stick of dynamite.
  • How Many Fingers?: A common gag would be Moe asking one of the stooges how many fingers he was holding up, and when they answered "two" he'd poke them in the eyes.

  • I Ate WHAT?!: A Running Gag had the characters, whether a stooge or a supporter, to drink brown paint instead of coffee.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: "A Merry Mix-Up" had Moe, Larry, and Joe playing three identical sets of fraternal triplets from the same family: the eldest trio were happy bachelors who wore striped neckties, the middle-group were henpecked husbands who wore rumpled shirts with unbuttoned collars and no ties, and the youngest set of triplets were happily engaged and wore bow ties.
  • Immune to Slapstick: Joe Besser infamously refused to take part in the Comedic Sociopathy during his tenure with the Stooges, though eventually relented.
  • Impossible Leavening: Done with beer instead of bread. In Beer Barrel Polecats, each of the Stooges add the prescribed amount of yeast to their beer, not knowing that the other two stooges have done (or will do) the same. They end up with enough beer that they have to move it to a bathtub to contain it all.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: In the 30s up to the 40s, the Stooges cameoed in animated cartoon form, usually from other studios. Warners used them in Porky's Hero Agency and Hollywood Steps Out.
  • In One Ear, Out The Other
  • Insane Troll Logic: When Moe asks Curly, Larry or Shemp what time it is, they'll roll up their sleeve revealing three wristwatches: one running 10 minutes fast every 2 hours, another runs 20 minutes slow every 4 hours, and the one in the middle that's broken; Larry/Curly/Shemp will roll up their sleeve and check the time on a fourth wristwatch.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Most famously, instrumental versions of "Listen to the Mockingbird" and "Three Blind Mice". In both cases, doubles as a Real Song Theme Tune.
  • Invisible Holes: Should one of the Stooges get shot or punctured with needles, expect this to occur.
  • Iron Butt Monkey: Though this applies to Curly most of all, all three Stooges have their moments.
  • Isophagus: Played straight in Disorder in the Court, where Moe accidentally swallows a harmonica and Larry and Curly respond by making him play "Ach Du Lieber Augustine" by pumping his arm and squeezing his stomach.
  • Is There a Doctor in the House?: In the episode From Nurse to Worse, a doctor shouts this frantically while in a hospital surrounded by other doctors, after accidentally giving another doctor sleeping gas when he was supposed to give it to Curly, before slowly realizing that he is a doctor.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Should a short have some sort of paranormal or mystery theme, Curly and Shemp will usually be the first to come across something frightening, which conveniently disappears when Moe gets involved. Moe will eventually witness it himself, however.
  • Jerkass: Moe. And then some.
    • In Pop Goes the Easel, his jerkass attitude gets cranked up to eleven when, following a clay fight, Moe demands to know who started it, Larry says "YOU did!", Moe responds by angrily yelling "Oh YEAH?!", and then promptly spins around with his hand extended, slapping Larry, Curly and three or four other guys with one continuous slap.
    • Most of the stooges' antagonists, played by the likes of Bud Jamison, Vernon Dent, Kenneth MacDonald and Richard Fiske are of course also Jerkasses.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Moe's character on-screen would sometimes reveal his heart of gold whenever a woman or a child was somehow in trouble.
    • Referenced in the 2012 film, in spades.
    • This was actually a large part of what made the Stooges likeable. They're all incredibly stupid jerks (Moe just happens to be the biggest one), but underneath it, they never display any malice to anyone. Not even toward their antagonists, until they start actively doing something incredibly underhanded or hurting someone helpless.
  • Juggling Loaded Guns
    • Disorder in the Court introduces a gun as evidence. Curly is told to try to pull the incredibly rusty trigger, after being told "Never fear, it's not loaded." After one harmless click, he then accidentally shoots off the baliff's toupee when his finger gets stuck in the trigger guard.
    • Any time the Stooges or someone around them insisted a gun wasn't loaded, it was. In "3 Loan Wolves" Curly gives a baby a pacifier. When Moe sees that it's a revolver, he reaches in to get it, but is stopped by Larry, who warns that the kid might pull the trigger. Curly insists it isn't loaded, and seeks to prove cocking the hammer and thoughtlessly discharging it in an enclosed space. Pretty much every rule of gun safety is blithely disregarded.
  • Just for Pun: Often overlooked by their physical slapstick humor is their witty way with words and puns. Examples can be found in any short- and the movie.
  • Karma Houdini: Quite a few shorts feature the Stooges being hopelessly outfoxed by a much smarter antagonist, assuming said antagonist doesn't disappear from the short altogether. Examples include con artists Blackie and Doyle ("A Ducking They Did Go") and gold digger Mabel ("Corny Casanovas").
  • Kavorka Man: All three. Curly was this off-screen as well.
  • Killer Gorilla: Gorillas were always bad news in Three Stooges shorts, though they often took a liking to Curly or Shemp.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: The Three Stooges Go Round the World in a Daze
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Moe is arguably best example ever of this trope. As the "boss" stooge he often rudely bullies Larry and Curly (and Shemp) around for goofing up and considers himself smarter than them but is clearly every bit as dim as they are.
  • Kung-Foley: The Stooges had the most ridiculous and creative foley artists in the history of film. In fact the main reason their aborted 1949 TV pilot and their live guest appearances tended to fall a bit flat was that they didn't have those ridiculous sound effects. Those noises that went with their unique slapstick were an essential part of their comedy. Without them their classic comedy slapstick is reduced to violence for violence' sake. Remember that "slapstick" doesn't refer to the stick you use to slap someone. It's the stick you use to create the slapping sound.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: In true Stooge fashion, it's usually to smack the guy who just said it.
  • Large and in Charge: The Stooges were all rather short (Moe and Larry were each 5'4", Curly at 5'5 and Shemp (barely) the tallest at 5'6"), to good comedic effect as therefore their adversaries, both male and female (the latter especially when in heels), tended to tower over them.
  • Lazy Mexican: In one short, the guys are in Mexico looking for a woman named Esther. Every time they ask if anyone's "seen Esther", they think they said "siesta" and go to sleep. One man who's particular grumpy about being disturbed from his nap gives directions in Spanish on how to get to the nearest river and advises the Stooges to drown themselves and he goes back to sleep.
  • The Law Firm of Pun, Pun, and Wordplay: The aforementioned "Dewey, Cheatham and Howe."
  • Lethal Chef: None of the Stooges were portrayed as very competent chefs, but Curly was by far the worst, which of course meant that he was the one who usually had the role of cook. One Running Gag had him frying eggs by breaking them in the pan shells and all, and his hotcakes were impossible to cut with a knife.
  • Lethally Stupid: In the real world, the Stooges would be accidental mass murderers. And they would have been dead several times.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Probably in every short.

  • Made of Iron: A Stooge prerequisite. The Movie takes this up a notch by having Curly survive a chainsaw to the head — after which the chainsaw breaks.
  • Malaproper: The Howard brothers in general were masters of this.
  • Manchild: All of the Stooges, but especially Curly.
  • Meddlesome Patrolman: Usually played by Bud Jamison, this character was a common foil for the often vagrant Stooges.
  • Medium Awareness: A rare and very subtle (blink and you miss it) example. Curly hides in a big console radio to elude the bad guys, disabling the unit in the process. When his pursuers try to use the radio, Curly is forced to become an ad hoc one-man band (playing a set of pipes, strumming wires like a harp, playing tubes like a xylophone, etc.). At one point, he seems to end his performance with a flourish and takes the pipes down from his mouth. The pre-recorded soundtrack, of course, continues, and Curly does a "take" and quickly resumes his miming as if nothing had happened.
    • Another instance of this is when Moe tells Larry to pick up Curly's footprints in "Some more of Samoa".
  • Mirror-Cracking Ugly: Larry finds himself to be this in "Gypped in the Penthouse".
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: This was a staple of their comedy.
    • How much would being bopped on the nose actually hurt when Moe's got his fist around it to absorb most of the shock? Curly certainly makes it look agonizing.
    • There's also this recurring joke in their shorts:
      Larry: (after receiving an eye poke) I can't see! I can't see!
      Moe: What's the matter?
      Larry: (smugly) I got my eyes closed. (gets slapped by Moe)
    • One short has a frog jump down Shemp's shirt, and he later tells the others that it felt like "Six lions were tearing me apart bit by bit!"
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: In "Saved by the Belle", the Stooges are salesmen in a foreign country and have a telegram that says "Do not leave until you get rid of present wardrobe". Naturally, the country's leader is named President Ward Robe.
  • Moral Guardians: When the Stooges' shorts were released to TV, many groups such as the PTA condemned the violence of the trio, leading them to tone it down a notch when making their 1960's feature films. This is actually referenced satirically in The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze when they turn the tables on their would-be Chinese communist brainwashers, who now look and act like the Stooges. At one point one of the ersatz Stooges pokes another in the eyes, prompting Moe to paternally admonish him, stating "We don't do that anymore."
  • The Movie:
  • Murphy's Bed: How many times have their bunk beds collapsed? It doesn't help that they always put the heaviest person, Curly, on the top bunk. Curly often steps on Moe's and Larry's heads on the way up to the top. The trio have often had bad luck with beds that fold into the wall as well.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: Inverted in Idle Roomers, which features a Wolf Man who is relatively tame until he hears music. The stooges, mistakenly believing in this trope, decide to play music when confronted by him, activating the Wolf Man's Berserk Button.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Two professors tested this on the Stooges in Hoi Polloi, long before Trading Places used much the same plot.
  • Negative Continuity: One short ends with the Stooges dead, put in jail, or earning money for whatever task. Then in the next short, they're either alive, in a dead end job, or otherwise homeless tramps.
  • The Neidermeyer: The drill sergeant in Boobs In Arms.
  • Never My Fault: Moe would punish Larry and Curly for accidents that were actually his fault.
    • Example: Moe tries to kill a pair of moving pants with a wooden board. On the back swing, he breaks a priceless vase. To Larry: Why didn't you bring me a softer board!?
  • Never Trust a Title: "Violent Is the Word for Curly" is not one of the "Curly goes crazy whenever he sees/hears/smells something" shorts.note  The title is a Pun-Based Title and references the long-forgotten 1936 film Valiant Is the Word for Carrie. It has no relevance whatsoever to the plot of the short.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: The stooges are basically doing something different in every episode, that is when they actually have a job. Justified in that they are constantly fired due to their bumbling, and there's no continuity between shorts.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Curly/Joe/Curly Joe (nice), Moe (mean), and Larry/Shemp (in-between)
  • No Ending: A lot of the shorts just end suddenly without resolving the plot.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: A rare live-action example used in a slapstick manner.
  • Not So Above It All: Not only is this the ending to Hoi Polloi, but the audience is often reminded that Moe (the "boss" Stooge) was not really that much smarter or more sensible than Curly.
  • Obviously Evil: The villains of the WW2-shorts, who were usually Japanese spies, fifth columnists and Nazis. Even the ones who didn't think it was a good idea to run around in full uniform on American soil still walked around doing the Hitler salute in broad daylight, and one Nazi spy in particular wore a giant Iron Cross medallion.
  • Offscreen Crash: Sometimes used straight and sometimes averted.
  • On One Condition: If one of the Stooges is going to earn an inheritance, there will always be some stipulation that will become the situation for the short.
  • One-Episode Wonder: Jerks of All Trades, a 1949 TV show that never went past the pilot stage. Columbia had stipulated in the Stooges' contract that they were not to perform in a TV series that could compete with their short subjects, and threatened to cancel their contract and sue them if they tried to sell the show. As a compromise, Columbia sold a package of 30 shorts to ABC (the network the pilot was intended for), making it the first time the shorts would air on television.
  • One Extra Member: There were actually 6 of them, though only 3 in any given short. (Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, Joe Besser, and Curly-Joe)
  • One-Steve Limit: There were several characters that had the name "Joe" throughout the shorts. And let's not forget Joe Besser and Joe DeRita.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard." Which has become a very common Shout-Out in hospital scenes throughout media.
  • Overly Polite Pals: The Stooges often do an overly-bumbling version of this whenever they wish to attempt to blend in with high society.
  • Paddleball Shot: Two 1953 shorts ("Spooks" and "Pardon My Backfire") that were made to cash in on the contemporary 3D craze are filled to the brim with these. Both shorts are available in their original 3D formats on the Internet, but for those watching on television or home video, the already-forced gags aimed at the camera look entirely out of place.
  • Pantomime Animal: Done in a few shorts, most notably as a bull in "Cookoo Cavaliers". Naturally, this became a problem when a real bull showed up.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: This trope is quite commonplace in Stooges' shorts. In one, the boys end up cooking/catering at a party for a judge who wants to send them up the river. Moe: "Oh, he'll never recognize us in these outfits!" (Apparently, just wearing a white jacket and chef's hat renders you totally unrecognizable.) In another Western-themed short, Curly masquerades as a Justice of the Peace, but is not recognized by Christine McIntyre until he lifts the tiny (and we mean tiny) little toupee off his head, points at his face, and mugs.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": In one short, when Moe asks Larry to think of a password to enter their room, he deadpans "Open the door!" Cue Moe's standard pretend-to-be-pleased-then-dope-slap-the-idiot routine.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Happens quite a bit in If A Body Meets A Body with Curly's recently deceased uncle Bob O. Link.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Many shorts started with the Stooges either losing a crappy job or having no job at all. Likely a reflection of the times. This is a main theme in the movie.
  • Pie in the Face: If not the Trope Codifiers, they definitely took this trope and ran with it, several times. Although, as some Stooges historians have noted, not nearly as often as the general public might think. Something like 10 or 12 out of almost 200 shorts actually feature pie-throwing. It wasn't always pie either, sometimes it could be mud, cake, sculpting clay (in an episode where the Stooges start a fight at an art school), or any other messy substance. Also, these weren't actual pies, more like whipped cream in a tin.
  • Pig Latin: One of the many running gags.
  • Plank Gag: A favourite of theirs.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Used in multiple shorts. In one notable instance, Shemp and the villainess take turns distracting each other and swapping their wine glasses. The villainess, however, simply taps the glasses together when it's her turn, causing Shemp to swap the glasses around again and give himself the poison.
  • The Pratfall: Curly in particular made regular use of this.
  • Priceless Ming Vase: With an actual vase in "Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb" and its remake, and a Chinese cabinet in "Slippery Silks".
  • Primal Chest-Pound: Larry does this in "Disorder in the Court" after removing a wad of gum from Moe's nose and stomping it on the ground. It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context.
    Moe: You're in court, not the woods, Tarzan. (smacks Larry)
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: Grips, Grunts and Groans
  • Pungeon Master: Curly, again. He'd usually say this in response to a question Moe asked, and Moe would either just be annoyed and ignore it, or in some cases, slap Curly. Example:
    Curly: (after hearing a roar in a pipe they're trying to fix) Sounds like a bear!
    Moe: How's a bear gonna fit down there?
    Curly: Well, it's bear-ly possible!
    (Moe nods like Curly made a good point before realizing he just made another stupid pun and gives him an annoyed look)
  • Pun: Many of Curly's jokes, which invariably earn some abuse from Moe.
  • Punny Name
    • The law firm of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe, (president I. Fleeceum) among others.
    • Many minor characters have ones related to their profession. For example, the dentist in All The World's A Stooge is named I. Yankum.
    • The map in "You Nazty Spy!" has several, such as the Look Sea and Doublecrossia
    • A map in "Malice in the Palace" has the Giva Dam
      • There are actually several maps that appear in a few shorts. It's harder to find something that isn't a punny name. Thankfully the shorts will linger on the map just to give viewers a chance to read it.

  • Reaching Between the Lines: Moe somehow did this with an eye poke in "False Alarms", and his shaving brush in "I'll Never Heil Again". Including Swing Parade.
  • Right Behind Me: Done often, usually with Moe. Though it wasn't usually Moe overhearing Larry and Curly talking about him, rather, it'd be when they're doing something like squirting a hose in his face or mistaking his hand for a slab of meat and putting it in a sandwich. He'd wait until they noticed before administering a Dope Slap.
  • Rump Roast: Happens in many shorts.
  • Running Gag: More than you could shake a schtick at.
    • However, many so-called "running gags" are actually recurring/recycled gags. One example of a bona fide running gag involves a piece of shtick in which Moe holds his clenched fist out to Curly, asks "See that?" and then either Moe or Curly slaps the fist which arcs Moe's arm around in a circle to bonk Curly on the head. This gag is repeated, with slight variations, in many consecutive shorts from 1934 onwards. However, in the 1936 short "False Alarms", the use of "See that?" becomes the subject of a running gag-breaker. When Moe first tries it, Curly says "We don't have time for that now" as the Stooges have to get away from the approaching fire chief. Then, when Moe tries it a second time, Curly grabs the fist and sticks out his tongue, "Nyah!" (but he still gets bonked). The "See that?" gag becomes less frequent after this film.
  • Running Gag Stumbles: Occasionally, the shorts would subvert Moe's signature eye poke by having Moe accidentally break his fingers (often on the back of another Stooge's head) and spend a moment nursing his injury... before proceeding to poke the intended recipient in the eyes anyway.
  • Saving the Orphanage: The plot for the video game and the 2012 movie.
  • Say My Name: In A Pain in the Pullman:
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A lot of episodes end with the Stooges fleeing in the commotion caused by their latest escapades.
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: Chase scenes involving the Stooges running between sets of doors show up in a few shorts, like "Loose Loot" and "Square-Heads of the Round Table".
  • Scooby Stack: Prone to striking this pose when peering around corners or from behind trees.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: In-story, the trio tried two 3-d shorts, Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire. To help enhance the gags, some shots were done at the camera. Which means Moe Is About to Poke Your Eyes! Weirdly, the sight gags in their public domain shorts tend to work just as well, if not better, in 3D despite having been originally made in 2D, Disorder in the Court being a prime example of such sight gags in play.
  • Self-Deprecation: More than once in their shorts, such as this exchange in Crash Goes the Hash.
    A butler: Such levity. You remind me of the Three Stooges.
    Curly: Hey! That's an insult!!
  • Separated by a Common Language: The insult "muttonhead" is associated with two things: the Stooges, and the UK, where the insult is most common.
  • Shoehorned First Letter: In the short Sing a Song of Six Pants, the stooges are trying to guess the name of the owner of a suit when they know his initials are TH. They come up with Thomas Hedison and Teddy Hoosevelt.
  • Shot in the Ass: This often happened to them. They reacted to it in about the same way a cartoon character would.
  • The Show Goes Hollywood: "Movie Maniacs".
  • The Show Must Go On: That scene with the crab and Curly? It cut up the inside of his mouth terribly. Another time when hit on the head Curly's scalp split open. They glued it together on the set. When they ran out of pies in a throwing sequence, they scooped the remains off of the floors, loose nails and all. One of Moe's falls onto a Saw Horse and broke several ribs.
    • Shemp died? You still have four shorts left to film...
  • Sick Episode: "Scrambled Brains", "Pardon My Clutch", and "Wham-Bam-Slam!", all of which featured Shemp.
  • Signature Laugh: Curly's "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk".
  • Slapstick: One of the acts that made it famous, they pretty much perfected the art in the '30s.
  • The Smart Guy: Though none of them were really that gifted intellectually, Larry was probably the marginally most intelligent and sensible of the three in most of the shorts, even if he came off somewhat eccentric. Though it usually displayed itself with him being more street than book smart.
    • Moe was at least smart enough to know that one person getting a handle on the situation could make it work... and then push the blame when it didn't.
  • Smelly Skunk: Quite a few times, like when Curly had a cold while they were fox hunting and captured a skunk by mistake. Also in many shorts Curly wears a skunk-fur cap while Moe and Larry are wearing a raccoon-fur cap.
    • One turns up in "Cuckoo on a Choo Choo."
  • Snake Oil Salesman: The Stooges become this in Dizzy Doctors.
  • Snipe Hunt: In "Tassels in the Air", the boys are painting a house. The kibbitzing owner makes a nuisance of himself, so Moe gets him out of their hair by sending him off to mix a batch of "spotted paint."
  • Space Episode: A few during the Joe years.
  • Spanner in the Works: In some shorts the Stooges, through their well-meaning blundering, would disrupt criminal activities. "Three Dumb Clucks" has the Stooges, while working to prevent their father from divorcing their mother and marrying a Gold Digger, halt an attempt on the old man's life from the Gold Digger conspirators.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Some of the Three Stooges title cards, such as the one in this page image, spell Curly's name as "Curley."
  • Stage Name: All of them. Moses Harry Horwitz became Moe Howard, Jerome Lester Horwitz became Curly Howard, Samuel Horwitz became Shemp Howard, and Louis Feinberg became Larry Fine, Joseph Wardell became "Curly Joe" DeRita. Averted with Joe Besser, who was born Joseph Besser.
  • Stand-In Portrait: A rare three-dimensional example, seen in The Hot Scots as well as other shorts.
  • Sticky Situation: The Stooges use glue to sabotage the guns of the Carnival of Killers in The Outlaws Is Coming.
  • Stock Footage
    • Many later shorts recycle material from earlier ones. Only less funny. Curly's failing health towards the end of his career is part of the reason this was done.
    • Most of Shemp's later shorts were remakes of earlier shorts, a cost-cutting measure by Columbia's short subjects department.
  • Stock Shout-Out: Dozens of times.
    • Any comedic fight scene in which one character attempts to poke another character in both eyes at the same time, only to be foiled by the second character holding up a flattened hand in front of their nose. This gag appears in Army of Darkness, during the scene where Ash is being beaten up by skeleton arms rising out of the earth.
    • Many trios who possess or somehow acquire hairstyles (or the equivalent) reminiscent of the Stooges'.
    • Short Circuit includes a brief appearance by Numbers One, Two, and Three, sent out to retrieve Number Five. "Johnny" reprograms them after a battle and they re-appear before their controllers engaging in Stooge-like shenanigans.
    • During the "Beware the Creeper" episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker's henchmen-of-the-episode sported Stooge-like haircuts, and the bald one even engaged in Curly-like self-face-slapping. They were even named "Moe, Lar, and Curl".
  • Straight Man: Larry, to a certain extent, and various supporting characters.
    • Moe in the 2012 film.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: Rhythm and Weep. The short starts with the down-on-their-luck Stooges on the verge of suicide meeting three female dancers in similar straits. Before they can jump, they meet an eccentric millionaire who has them join him in a musical performance and decides to hire them. He rents a theater for them, and after a rehearsal he likes them so much he announces he's doubling their salaries. "The way I throw my money around, you probably think I'm crazy." he says, before suddenly bursting into deranged laughter and getting taken away by the men in the white coats. Realizing their benefactor wasn't a millionaire after all, the short ends with the Stooges laughing/bawling and hitting themselves on the head with sandbags. Hilarious.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Three actually — Joe, then Curly-Joe, and finally Emil. Joe and Curly Joe were Curly subs and Larry was replaced by Emil (whose stage name was to have been Harry.) Curly-replacing-Shemp-replacing-Curly was an aversion since Shemp and Curly were fundamentally different characters. The two Joes were subversions as well, as they had their own style and never tried to parody Curly, despite looking like him.
  • Styrofoam Rocks: Used quite often, though it helped sell their slapstick humor by having them survive being hit in the head with rocks or bricks with only minor pain.
    • This is even lampshaded in Beer Barrel Polecats, when Moe and Larry are breaking rocks over Curly's head in prison while he nonchalantly sews a uniform. He stops them at one point when Moe is grabbing another rock.
    Curly: Hey wait a minute, that's a real one! I'm no fool.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Moe. Possibly the Trope Namer, though Moe usually said "I'm surrounded by morons" instead. Played with because Moe was an idiot too.
  • Take That!:
    • Back from the Front has an epic one toward the Nazis near the end.
      Moe (disguised as Hitler): You fail to catch three spies. Blow out your brains!
      Nazi: But mein Führer, we're Nazis. We have no brains.
    • "Movie Maniacs" had this gem of an exchange:
      Curly: How are we gonna get in pictures? We don't know nothin' about makin' movies!
      Moe: There's a couple of thousand people in pictures now who know nothing about it. Three more won't make any difference.
  • Tap on the Head: Always accompanied by chirping birds afterwards.
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: In "Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb", Curly wins $50,000 in a radio sweepstakes, and the Stooges think they have it made. That is until they find out that after taxes Curly is only left with $4.85, leaving them unable to pay for the damages to the expensive hotel they're living in. This scenario was repeated in "A Missed Fortune", a remake featuring Shemp.
  • There Is Only One Bed: In episodes where they weren't sleeping in three stacked bunk beds that were almost certain to collapse, the Stooges all shared one bed (even if there were 3 beds available), which usually resulted in more hilarity.
  • The Runt at the End: In a brilliantly timed and executed visual gag in "Calling All Curs," the boys are forced to beat a hasty retreat when the dinner bell sounds at their dog hospital and a massive group of pooches stampedes down the hall... followed after a brief delay by one lone scrawny little pipsqueak of a mutt.
  • Think of the Censors!: In Gypped in the Penthouse, a beautiful woman takes Shemp's ring and hides it in her cleavage, leaving Shemp with a problem:
    Shemp: There must be a way to get that ring back without getting in trouble with the censors.
  • Thinking Tic: Shemp would often start going into spasms when he tried to think, and might request Moe to bonk him in the head to help get the thought to come out.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: You Nazty Spy! claims that "Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle."
    • Its sequel, I'll Never Heil Again, states "The characters in this picture are fictitious. Anyone resembling them is better off dead."
    • The "don't try this at home" message at the end of the 2012 film probably qualifies.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: You Nazty Spy!! was the first movie ever to mock the Nazis. Not only do they have that Moment of Awesome, but the balcony scene where they parody Hitler's unique oratorical style with nonsense and weird noises is perhaps the biggest Funny Moment in all the Stooges' copious work. Certainly justified mocking on the Stooges' parts, since they were all Jewish.
  • Thought Bubble: A rare live-action one in I Can Hardly Wait, while Curly is dreaming.
  • Three-Dimensional Episode: Two of The Three Stooges shorts, Pardon my Backfire and Spooks, were shot in 3-D in the 1950's, during the first big 3-D craze.
    • The fact the 2012 film, released during the 2010's 3-D fad, was produced and issued only in 2-D, probably counts as an inversion.
  • Thumbtack on the Chair: Though it rarely happened with actual thumbtacks, the Stooges and their antagonists were often on the receiving end of this kind of gag.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Used in I Can Hardly Wait, where Curly gets a toothache after breaking his tooth on a hambone. The rest of the short consists of Curly moaning in pain, and Moe and Larry trying to get it out.
    • And then there's The Tooth Will Out in which the boys train one whole week to become dentists. It ends pretty much the way you'd expect.
    • Also done in The New 3 Stooges. A live-action framing sequence shows the boys training for a day of dentistry with Larry as the guinea pig for their practice. (Larry refuses to continue any further when they try the drill, so they switch to using Curly Joe instead.)
  • "Too Young to Die" Lamentation:
    • This is a common exclamation for Curly and Shemp when they're placed in especially lethal predicaments. They initially claim that they're also "too handsome," but after some (literal) reflection, they settle for "too young."
    • A variation: Larry once complained that he couldn't die because he hadn't yet seen The Jolson Story.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Burnt toast and a rotten egg: "I've got a tapeworm and it's good enough for him." Hotcakes and pizza (in the movie) are also implied to be some of the Stooges' favorites. Overall, they're Extreme Omnivores so don't be surprised if they go crazy for things as bizarre as nutshells and banana peels.
  • True Companions: Moe, Curly, and Shemp considered Larry to be their brother.
    • In-universe as well. The Stooges may quarrel constantly but always stick together and try to help each other.
    • A major plot element of the 2012 film.

  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Scads of attractive actresses played love interests for the Stooges. Later in an autobiography Moe would say that producers and directors would butter up a woman by telling her she could be in a Stooge short. That many of them had no acting abilities and little stage presence didn't seem to matter.
    • Yes, but one of them was Lucille Ball! (In her first credited role, no less.)
    • Not to mention the lovely and talented Christine McIntyre, whom many Stooge fans fondly dub "the female Stooge".
  • Vacation Episode: "Idiots Deluxe" and "Guns a Poppin''.
  • Vagabond Buddies: The characters are homeless more often than not.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Stooges themselves in "Income Tax Sappy", in which they (ultimately unsuccessfully) attempt tax evasion. Larry also plays a uniquely antagonistic role in "He Cooked His Goose" as a ladykilling Smug Snake who tries to play Moe and Shemp against each other in order to get with their respective women.
  • Visible Invisibility: When Shemp returns to Earth as a ghost in "Heavenly Daze" (and its remake, "Bedlam in Paradise"), he's fully visible to the audience, but no one else can see or hear him unless Uncle Mortimer allows otherwise. However, his hat and coat become visible to others when he removes them and hands them to Moe and Larry's butler.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Type 1. Moe Howard sure seemed to hate the first Joe, Joe Besser. While Besser seemed to reflect on his time with the Stooges fondly and thought Howard was a good sport for taking the hits for Joe Besser.
  • Verbal Tic
    • A large portion of Curly's shtick involved his odd vocalizations like "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk," "woo-woo-woo," barking, and so on.
    • Shemp would often go "heebebebebebebeee", usually while snoring but in certain situations while he was awake too.
  • Wacky Sound Effect: The Three Stooges may have been the Ur-Example of using strange and eccentric sound effects to punctuate slapstick on screen; a whip crack for slaps in the face, the pluck of a ukulele string for pokes in the eye, the bang of a bass drum for punches in the stomach, a high-pitched "bop" for someone being hit on the head, the sound of liquid being poured out of a jug when someone drinks something, and birds chirping whenever someone is unconscious immediately come to mind.
  • Wartime Cartoon: Though not cartoons as such, the Stooges made several shorts supporting the war effort ranging from from the sublime (You Nazty Spy) to the cringeworthy (The Yolk's on Me) which used actual Japanese-American internees as extras.
  • Weird Trade Union: The Amalgamated Association of Morons local 6 7/8 (Half-Wits Holiday).
    Stooges: We are morons tried and true! And we'll do our yell for you! (start making weird faces and noises)
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In Even As I.O.U., the plot of the first half of the short, where the stooges are helping a homeless mother and her child, is forgotten after they go to the horse races to raise money for them.
    • A tragic inversion of the trope occurs midway through Half-Wits Holiday when Curly walks off camera and is never seen nor referenced again, even during the short's climactic pie fight. This is due to Curly suffering his stoke between scenes and the decision being made to complete the short without him.
  • "Where? Where?": Played with from time to time in the shorts; whenever someone would refer to the three as 'gentlemen', all three of them would turn around and say "Who came in?"
  • Who Is Driving?: In "Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise," the boys somehow all end up in the back seat of a moving car, the driverless condition of which is only noticed as they approach a cliff, and Curly calmly and chirpily remarks, "Hmm...don't look now, but I think we're about to be killed!"
  • Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: At the end of "Three Little Sew and Sews", Curly accidentally strikes an air bomb dropped earlier into the submarine, and after the explosion occurs, the Stooges are seen as angels flying to heaven, being chased by an angry Admiral Taylor who is also an angel.
  • Working-Class Hero: Well, "Working Class Anti Heroes" would be more accurate, but the Stooges in early shorts often embodied the class divisions and economic hardships gripping Americans during the Depression — they were usually shown working low-paying jobs if not unemployed, and they were most often shown either homeless or living in a shanty.
  • Work Off the Debt: In the short "Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise", the Stooges accidentally damage a farmer's saws; he orders them to work for him until they can pay for new saws. However, in the next scene, they aren't shown doing said work and are back out wandering the countryside. It's never established if they did work off their debt or ran off when the farmer wasn't looking.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: Inverted in "Scotched in Scotland"; the Stooges have graduated from an American detective school, but since they graduated with the lowest possible honors, no American detective agency would hire them so they had to transfer to Scotland.
  • Would Hit a Girl: While they didn't subject women to the same kind of violence they used on each other and other men, they had a common routine using a judo flip when they were getting back at women who hit them. And of course in food fights everyone was fair game.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In "Three Pests in a Mess", Curly calculates that, charging a penny for each fly caught, they would have to catch 100,000 flies with their flycatching machine to make 100 bucks. They would actually have to catch 10,000.
  • Yellowface: In No Dough Boys, a wartime short, the stooges are dressed as Japanese soldiers for a photo shoot, and later stumble upon a hideout with Nazi spies and have to take on the identity of the Japanese spies they were expecting to meet with.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: The Stooges were fond of jokes whose punchlines were best appreciated by Yiddish-speakers:
    • It's common for important bigwigs to have the initials "A.K.," a reference to the Yiddish expression Alter Kocker.
    • In "Mutts to You," Larry tries to fool a cop by disguising himself as a Chinese laundryman and answers a question with a string of untranslated Yiddish:
    Larry: "Ech Bin A China Boychic Frim Slobatkya-Gebernya Hak Mir Nisht Ken Tshaynik And I Dont Mean Efsher". (Translation: "I'm a China boy from Slobatkya Gebernya stop annoying me and I don't mean maybe.")
    • In "Pardon my Scotch," a liquor supplier is about to sample the Stooges' brew, and they toast him with "Ver geharget," which roughly translates to "Drop dead."
    • In "Three Little Twirps," Larry calls Moe a kibitzer, which is a Yiddish term for a non-participant offering unwanted advice or commentary.
  • You Can Say That Again: In Micro-Phonies, as they see a beautiful woman:
    Curly: My, ain't she pretty!
    Moe: Boy, you can say that again!
    Curly: My, ain't she pretty!
    Moe: Shut up! (slaps him)
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Curly and Shemp often ended up in these situations in mystery or horror-themed shorts, earning them a Dope Slap from Moe. Then Larry would see the same scary thing, but Moe would think they're both being morons until he sees it for himself.
  • Young Gun: Billy the Kid in The Outlaws Is Coming.
  • You Wouldn't Hit A Guy With Glasses: Shemp tries this in Who Done It? Of course, Moe hits him anyway without bothering to remove the glasses.
  • Zany Scheme: In many, many shorts.

Dum-dada-dum-da-dum. Da!


Video Example(s):


Fake Shemp

The trope maker. When Shemp Howard died in 1955, the Three Stooges still owed Columbia four short films under their current contract. Along with much stock footage, the remaining four shorts were completed using Stooge regular Joe Palma as a stand-in for Shemp.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / FakeShemp

Media sources: