By Ed Adamczyk
Niagara Gazette — It has come to this: the Three Stooges tribute event at North Tonawanda’s opulent Riviera Theatre has securely become a twice-a-year event, and will take place again Saturday evening.
“It’s our second meeting,” says impresario and organizer Len Potwora of the winter “Stoogefest”. “We’ll do our 22nd version this summer.”
He refers to the night as a meeting. It is more like a convocation, a tribal gathering of fans of this remarkably durable and influential trio of film comedians, whose 190 short films, over 26 years beginning in 1934, have been a touchstone across generations. Available for years in theaters as pre-feature “short subjects”, then on television because their duration meshed perfectly with half-hour scheduling formats, and now on DVD, Stooges episodes are fast, loud, good-naturedly violent examples of what was known in American vaudeville as “knockabout comedy”.
Years after their production, they resonate with succeeding generations of fans. Available for sale, in a box the size of a small cinder block, is the complete work of the Three Stooges on disc (plus an assortment of other features), a 71-hour hour oeuvre that should keep any Stooge enthusiast happy and busy.
Yet, they come out to the Riviera, twice a year now, to commune with other Stooge fans, in a remarkable demonstration of a number of things: the joy of 1,000 people collectively laughing for two or more hours, the memories of watching this stuff on television many years ago, the pan-generational appeal of Curley Howard, Larry Fine and Moe Howard.
It is not unusual to see three or more generations of a family at “Stoogefest”, as well as couples on dates, college guys or old-timers. Other film comedians — Chaplin, Fields, the Marxes — may have more secure places in Hollywood’s pantheon and in the hearts of critics, but no one does it like the Three Stooges.
“People go out of their way not to miss this,” says Potwora of the audience that shows up every year, “but when I ask who’s here for the first time, many people’s hands go up.”
It’s like they come to see what the excitement is all about.
The typical “Stoogefest” offers seven or more episodes, chosen by Potwora, exactly what you see on television, but on the wide screen, in the elegant confines of the Riviera and in the company of fans who have spent their lives, however many years, enjoying this. To suggest the audience is dedicated understates the issue; the evening includes raffles, quizzes, freelance yelling-out of upcoming wisecracks and appreciative groans after random hammer-shots to the head. It is a night like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for a crowd with the Stooge ethos ingrained in it, and a splendid way to get through the winter.
IF YOU GO • WHAT: "The Winter Stoogefest" • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday after Peter DeGioia presents a workout of the Wurlitzer organ • WHERE: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda • COST: $10, children 12 and under, $7 MORE INFORMATION: 692-2113 and rivieratheatre.org