I would categorize myself as a "casual Three Stooges" fan. I don't hate the Three Stooges, like a lot of people. I actually like the Three Stooges. I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to study the TV listings to find when the next showing of a Three Stooges short would be, but, If I came across a Three Stooges short while scanning the channels, and I knew there wasn't anything else on (like The Andy Griffith Show)... I'd watch it. However, I don't quote the Three Stooges. I don't argue about how funny they were. I don't call anyone "Porcupine" or say "Soitenly!," but I've enjoyed the Three Stooges in my day.
You know what I don't like about the Three Stooges, though? Joe Besser. I can't stand Joe Besser!
After joining his brother Moe and friend Larry Fine for a second stint with the famed comedy trio, Shemp Howard died unexpectedly in a taxi cab on his way home from attending a boxing match. Although the Three Stooges were now into their third decade of slapstick merriment, the boys were not ready to hang up their monkey wrenches. According to the contract he signed with Columbia Pictures, Moe had approval of any new addition to the group. Actually, he pitched the idea of just he and Larry continuing as "The Two Stooges," but Columbia executives had other ideas. They recruited studio contract player Joe Besser to round out the threesome. Besser was already an established comedic actor, with roles in feature films, as well as part of an ensemble of actors on The Jack Benny Program and The Abbott and Costello Show on the radio. As the newest Stooge, Besser made the decision to refrain from imitating Shemp or the beloved fan-favorite Curly. Instead he relied on his established character of the high-strung, easily-irritated, tantrum-throwing whiner that had proved popular throughout his career. Besser also had it written into his contract that he would accept limited physical abuse from the other Stooges. Since "cartoon violence" was a staple of the Three Stooges repertoire, Larry Fine graciously offered to take the brunt of Moe's wrath. Besser's tenure with the troupe lasted two years.
After his departure from the Three Stooges, Joe Besser tended to his ailing wife, but soon joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show, a sitcom that ran on NBC. Besser played Joey's inept and excitable superintendent for four seasons, a role that, by no means, expanded on his minimal talent. Besser moved on to guest roles in many sitcoms and eventually lent his distinctive voice to animated cartoons. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 80.
I never understood Joe Besser's appeal. His character was more annoying than funny. Okay, maybe someone thought he was funny, but that type of negative character didn't have a long-term, endearing quality of — say — mischievous Harpo Marx or childlike Lou Costello. Joe Besser was brash and disruptive and... not funny.
Before both members of the "Joe Besser Fan Club" launch an all-out attack on me, I cite "Stooge-a-Polooza" TV host Rich Koz (otherwise known as horror-move host "Svengoolie"). Koz often apologized on the air before showing Three Stooges shorts featuring Joe Besser. During the show's tenure, Koz received more than a few letters from viewers expressing their outrage over his airing them.
Find me one person — even a rabid Three Stooges fan — who likes Joe Besser. You can't! And if someone claims they actually enjoy Joe Besser's work — well, they're just craaaa-zy!
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