They're slap-happy pranksters, none too bright, kinda mean but well-meaning.
Their characters lack the emotional resonance of Charlie Chaplin, or the wit of Buster Keaton.
Their pratfall comedy is punctuated by slapping, nose-twisting, hitting in the head with a hammer, and a two-fingered poke to the eyeballs, making them the bane of mothers everywhere.
It also makes them say things like "Woo woo woo" or "Nyuk nyuk nyuk" or "Eeb eeb eeb" when excited or afraid.
The Three Stooges (actually, six guys were in the trio over the years) aren't really back, since they haven't left the public consciousness for eight decades.
But a new Farrelly Brothers movie, "The Three Stooges," opens Friday, bringing their unique brand of low-brow high jinks to contemporary audiences.
Here's a primer on all things Stooge.
The original six Stooges:
Real name: Moses Horwitz
Stooge years: 1925-1975
Hairstyle: bowl cut, black hair
"Why, I oughta"
"I'll murder ya!"
"Get outta here!"
Defining move: pie-tossing
Real name: Louis Feinberg
Stooge years: 1925-1971
Hairstyle: wavy curls, high forehead
"What's the idea?"
"I didn't wanna say yes, but I couldn't say no."
"I'm sorry, Moe, it was an accident."
Real name: Jerome Horwitz
Stooge years: 1932-1946
Hairstyle: buzzcut or shaved head
"Nyuk nyuk nyyuk!"
"Oh, a wise guy, eh?"
"Woo woo woo!"
Defining moves: Shoulder spin, shuffling dance step
Real name: Samuel Horwitz
Stooge years: 1925-1932, 1946-1955
Hairstyle: Parted, combed
"Eeb eeb eeb!"
"Hey, Moe! Hey, Larry!"
Defining moves: Quivering lip, fighter's dance
Real name: Joe Besser
Stooge years: 1956-1958
"Not so haaaard!"
"Oh, cut it ouuuuuuut!"
"You crazy, you!"
Real name: Joe DeRita
Stooge years: 1958-1979
Hairstyle: Shaved head
"Okay, buddy boy"
"One of these days you're going to poke my eyes out."
The new Stooges:
"The Three Stooges"
Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Will Sasso as Curly
Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe
Sean Hayes as Larry
Also starring: Jane Lynch (Mother Superior), Jennifer Hudson (Sister Rosemary)
Others in supporting roles: Craig Bierko, Larry David, Stephen Collins, Sofia Vergara
Rating: PG for slapstick violence, rude humor, language
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Synopsis: Left on the doorstep of an orphanage run by nuns, Larry, Moe and Curly grow up through a series of knucklehead adventures and mutual torture. As adult maintenance men at the foster home, they decide to come to the rescue when financial difficulties threaten to close it. In the process, they become embroiled in a murder plot while stumbling into starring roles on reality TV.
A Stooges Timeline
They begin as sidekicks to Ted Healy's raucous vaudeville act, called “Ted Healy and His Stooges” or “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen.”
Healy tries to tell jokes, while his noisy assistants — brothers Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine — interrupt. Their first film, “Soup to Nuts,” comes out in 1930, and MGM puts them in several more.
Shemp leaves the group, then it ditches combative Ted Healy. Moe and Shemp's brother, Curly, replaces Shemp. The Three Stooges are born, filming nearly 100 two-reelers (20- to 24-minute short films) for Columbia Pictures, from 1934-46, plus guest-appearing in features. The trio becomes wildly popular. Critics say their peak film years were 1935-41.
Curly suffers a debilitating stroke in 1946. Shemp takes Curly's place temporarily, but Curly can't return and dies in early 1952. Larry, Moe and Shemp go on to film 76 more two-reelers, many of which recycle material from earlier shorts as budgets are trimmed. Shemp dies of a heart attack in November 1955.
Joe Besser replaces Shemp, appearing in 16 shorts before television ends the market for two-reeler comedies. Columbia fires the Stooges in 1957, but they catch on with kids big time when the two-reelers are recycled on television, starting in 1958.
Besser's wife has a heart attack, and he withdraws. He's replaced by Joe DeRita, known as Curly Joe because he looks a lot like the original Curly. This threesome makes a series of popular full-length films aimed at the kiddie matinee market. The Stooges become one of the highest-paid live acts in America. They film new bits in color, used as intros to a Stooges TV cartoon show.
Larry suffers a paralyzing stroke in January 1970, ending his career. He dies after another stroke in December 1974. Moe plans to recast but falls ill from lung cancer, dying in May 1975. Joe DeRita continues to perform a Stooges act live, with Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell, until retiring in
1979. The Stooges remain on television to this day.
— By Bob Fischbach
Source: “Three Stooges FAQ” by David J. Hogan, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books