Monday, April 05, 2010

The Three Stooges

Which stooge are you? Below is a penetrating social analysis by Ivan Stang, the brains behind the Church of the Sub-Genius.

There are three kinds of people in this world. I know you've heard that before. Everybody has their 'three types' of people, or their four types or five types. Many only list two types: those who divide people into two types, and those who don't. But there are three, and the models for these types come neither from psychology nor ancient religion. They come from Columbia Studios, and they are archetypal embodied in The Three Stooges.

 The Stooges unwittingly --of course -- left us a rich legacy of deft interpretations of the most primal human behavior patterns. Their short films, seen as a whole, form a tapestry in which the interactions of people as individuals, corporations and nations are distilled to a microcosm, a pure essence of existential folly.

 There is but a small percentage of Moes in any given population: perhaps 5%. There are even fewer Curlys. The vast bulk of humanity are Larrys.

(Though represented by male characters, the three types also apply to women.)


 Moe is the active personality, and if not always dominant, always striving to be. Moe is the one who spurs the others into action. He devises plans to better their lot, but when his plans fail the other two suffer the consequences. But is Moe any less the fool for that they follow his plans?

He is a natural manipulator, only partially because the others are waiting to be manipulated. He would want to manipulate them anyway, even if they weren't so willing.

But Larry is a born follower, a blank slate that only reacts (and slowly at that) to exterior stimuli. He never initiates action. He is Moe's absolute tool, the truest 'stooge.' When Moe's abuse finally does make him angry, he lashes out not at Moe, but at Curly. No matter how he suffers under Moe's yoke, he never really rebels. He argues, but gives up easily.


Were it not for the presence of his friends, Larry probably would live in peace -- a dull, flat, mechanical peace. Though clumsy, he is still the most employable of the three -- for the other two are incapable of following orders, although for different reasons. Most people are Larrys.

Larrys divide people into those who don't divide others into two types, and those who do. But they do so only because they grew up hearing it.


Curly is the only likeable one, a truly rare human model. He is the holy man, the Divine Fool. He is as creative and active as Moe, but it is a spontaneous and joyous kind of creativity, no good for the kind of plotting and scheming required by a Moe-dominated society. He is a free spirit, but correspondingly unable to function well in a world of Moes and Larrys. He, like Larry, is perpetually abused, but he intuitively understands what is happening to him and reacts far more angrily -- if equally ineffectually. He is everyone's favorite Stooge because he is the funniest; through his innate nobility and natural humility he constantly bests Moe, but it is in an unconscious way, and it is only apparent to the outside observer. Curly himself is hardly aware of his talents; his weakness is that he does not know his own strength, and cannot trust his own luck.

In real life, Curlys are usually branded by the Moes and Larrys around them as retarded, schizophrenic, mal-adjusted or just plain stupid, whereas in reality, it is only Curly who understands the truth. Remaining cheerful through adversity, he wins battles not by fighting, but by 'accidentally' unleashing 'accidents' in which his enemies injure themselves.

Alien to feelings of avarice or ambition, he is the opposite of Moe, yet the two are drawn together by some inexplicable balancing force of nature. The Larrys, though, are ever the in-between, slug like nonentities caught in the crossfire of cosmic dualities -- yet remaining there by some herding instinct that makes being a casualty of the Moe-Curly battle preferable to life alone with other Larrys.

Only the existence of the blameless, bovine Larrys makes that of Moe or Curly possible. They are able to maintain their level of glandular brutality and senseless destruction only at the expense of the unquestioning, loyal worker drone whose income partially supports their excesses. Were he not there to diffuse Moe's anger by becoming another recipient of his blows, Curly would have been killed long ago, and Moe would have committed suicide out of loneliness.

The horror of it all is that the three types need each other to survive. Of all nature's cycles of parasitic symbiosis, the one involving the three human types is the most nightmarish. It rages around us all the time in real life, spreading death and madness, yet when we see it on the screen we call it "comedy."

So where do I fall into this pantheon of Stoopids? Those of you who know me personally know that without a doubt I am MOE! Coincidentally I have a very good friend who is named Larry. I’ll let him decide if he is the “Larry” of the Three Stooges described in Ivan Stang’s treatise.

I happened across this article while reading a copy of Uncle John/s Second Bathroom Reader (yes, I’m one of those folks who reads in the John.) This article reinforced by belief that most people in this world fall into only a few categories. I really couldn’t articulate my beliefs any better than this article by Ivan Stang.

So, which Stooge are you?
My friends Larry (yes), Stuart and me October 1957


Nitewrit said...


Actually, the flaw in Ivan Stang's thesis is there are four personality types and the fourth can be found also in the Stooges. He has forgotten there are four distinct Stooges (not counting the two or three imitation fill ins for Curly after his death). The fourth is Shemp.

But of course one cannot take seriously anyone who wrote, "The SubGenius Psychlopaedia of Slack: The Bobliographon."


Ron Tipton said...


I thought he had the "Larry" personality pretty well nailed. I know "Larrys." :)


Nitewrit said...


One thing that struck me one day (and it wasn't Moe dotting my eyes) was how short all the Stooges were.

I just was watching some of their old shorts (no pun intended) and realized everyone in the films was about a head taller than they.

You know, my dad used to take me to the movies at the Silver in Coatesville when I was a young boy. That theater played a lot of Westerns, which were his favorites. The Stooges were often one of the short features before the feature. The opening always scared me. I don't know, something about those masks that were pictured behind the credits spooked me out.