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Slapstick? Why soitenly! Riviera Theatre marks 20th anniversary celebrating the madcap, over-the-top silliness of the Three Stooges

"Funny is funny. Funny then is funny now."

In those few words, the lasting appeal of the Three Stooges is explained by Eric LaMond, director of marketing at C3 Entertainment, the company started by the Stooges.

From knuckleheads to nyuk-nyuks to "The Curly Shuffle," the Stooges' comedy has been enjoyed by generations. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Three Stooges Film Festival at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. Historic theaters in Hamburg and Lockport have Stoogefests, too.

All this to honor a trio of slapstick comics and their films, all made between the 1930s and the 1960s.

"They loved what they did, they worked incredibly hard at their craft, they were the best at what they did because of that," says LaMond. And, as mentioned, "Funny is funny."

LaMond has a unique perspective on the original Stooges: Larry Fine and brothers Moe Howard and Curly Howard. LaMond is Larry's oldest grandchild.

"I got a real insight into how hard they worked when I was growing up," he says. "I would watch Moe and Larry on their off time, practicing schtick and bits that they had been doing for 30 or 40 years. They never quit working at it; they kept their edge. So decade after decade, they just stayed committed and were really good at it."

> Stooges versus the world

Beyond their physical slapstick -- the pratfalls and eye-pokes -- the Stooges' trademark was their usually disastrous interactions with cultured people and expensive property.

"Their foil was always the high-society types. They were kind of the Everyman," says LaMond.

"The Stooges in general and Curly in particular bring out the child in people," says Lenny Potwora, who has organized and hosted the Three Stooges Film Festival at the Riviera since it began. "How many people are in a really stuffy situation, and they just want to throw a pie or in some other way loosen it all up? You can't vent like that in real life, but the Stooges do it for you. You can identify with their childlike nature, the innocence and the bluntness."

Moe, who keeps the others in line with barked orders and violence, is the leader. "Moe was the enforcer, that was his defined role," says LaMond.

Curly, the usual victim of Moe's irritation, is almost universally loved for his light-footed moves, expressive face and unusual sounds. "Curly had such incredible physical skills," says LaMond.

Larry, who often played the innocent bystander drawn into disaster, added an additional layer of subtle comedy to his scenes. "One of his greatest talents was as the reactor," says LaMond. "You could see him sometimes in the background, and he was hilarious."

Despite the mayhem the Stooges wreaked on people and property, LaMond says, "Their hearts were always in the right place, and they were trying to make something good come out of their endeavor. They just went about it in a rather oddball fashion. And in the end, most often, the rightness came though. The damsel in distress was saved, the property was preserved, the evildoers were vanquished."

> A trio of festivals

The Stooge festival hosted by Potwora got its start about 21 years ago when a few guys got together in his living room after softball games to eat pizza and watch Stooges shorts on the VCR.

The first year at the Riviera, about 300 people attended, mostly men. "The next year, there were a few women, mostly wives and girlfriends of Stooge fans. Now there's everybody," Potwora says. "I've seen three generations together all enjoying it: child, father and grandfather. There are novices and experts, kids that didn't grow up with it, and there are people that know the next line coming up in the film."

Locally, there are two other Stooge festivals. The Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport runs its show on the weekend before Thanksgiving, while the Hamburg Palace's is the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Hamburg event, with Potwora as emcee, draws about 150 people.

This year at the Riviera, in addition to the popular Mighty Wurlitzer organ concert before the shorts begin, an impromptu group called the Knuckleheads will play classic rock from the 1960s onward, with Potwora on drums.

> Back to the big screen

In 2012, the Stooge body of work will be extended with the release of a new movie written and directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, directors of "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary."

The movie stars Chris Diamantopoulos of "24" as Moe, Will Sasso of "MadTV" as Curly, and Sean Hayes of "Will & Grace" as Larry. Also appearing are Jane Lynch, Larry David, Jennifer Hudson, Sofia Vergara and Carly Craig.

"It's the Three Stooges in modern times with exactly what you expect to see from the Three Stooges, adding of course the Farrelly brothers' twist," says LaMond. "And we were still able to make it PG. Originally we were looking at making it PG-13, but we thought, 'Let's make this truly a family-friendly feature.'"

email: aneville@buffnews.com

> A TALE OF SIX STOOGES

There were actually six Stooges. Moe and Larry stayed in the group from the 1920s until 1971, but other comics joined them in the early days and again after Curly had a stroke while filming "Half-wits' Holiday" in 1946. The replacements included Moe and Curly's older brother, Shemp:

Moe Howard

Real Name: Harry Moses Horwitz (June 19, 1897 to May 4, 1975)

Stooge years: 1922, 1926, 1929 to 1971

Larry Fine

Real Name: Louis Feinberg (Oct. 5, 1902 to Jan. 24, 1975)

Stooge years: 1925 to 1926, 1929 to 1971

Curly Howard

Real Name: Jerome Horwitz (Oct. 22, 1903 to Jan. 18, 1952)

Stooge years: 1934 to 1946

Shemp Howard

Real Name: Samuel Horwitz (March 17, 1895 to Nov. 23, 1955)

Stooge years: 1922 to 1925, 1929 to 1932, 1947 to 1955

Joe Besser

Real Name: Joe Besser (Aug. 12, 1907 to March 1, 1988)

Stooge years: 1955 to 1958

Curly Joe DeRita

Real Name: Joseph Wardell (July 12, 1909 to July 3, 1993)

Stooge years: 1958 to 1971

> TIMELESS STOOGE SCENES

The Three Stooges made 190 short films between 1934 and 1959, and needless to say, some are better than others. Three classics that never get old:

"Hoi Polloi" (1935)

Cast: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard

Watch for this scene: Curly gets a couch spring attached to his rear, falls on the dance floor and bounces up repeatedly.

"A Brideless Groom" (1947)

Cast: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard

Watch for this scene: Moe and Shemp get tangled up in a phone cord in a wooden phone booth as they rush to call the last woman in his little black book.

"Three Little Beers" (1935)

Cast: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard

Watch for this scene: The Stooges in their "borrowed" golf clothing, from their knickers to Moe's hat with pompom and Curly's tight-fitting striped jacket, is an iconic image.

> 20TH ANNIVERSARY THREE STOOGES FILM FESTIVAL

Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda, starts at 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute organ concert, followed by a 30-minute classic-rock set by the Knuckleheads. Tickets, $10; $7 for children 12 and under, available at Hollywood Collectibles at the McKinley Mall, www.rivieratheatre.org and at the door.