Niagara Gazette — It has become something of a rite of summer-becoming-autumn out here, and better than back-to-school preparations. It’s the Riviera Theatre’s traditional “Stoogefest” on Labor Day weekend’s Saturday evening. On one magnificent and laugh-filled night, the camaraderie of the legions of fans of the Three Stooges is evident. Appreciation of this durable and influential comedy act spans generations, unites families and provides a method of ending the summer exhausted by laughter.
The Three Stooges made 190 short films together from 1934 to 1959, true situation comedies (regular characters getting into, and out of, jams) with a lot of knockabout action and low-grade sadism. The Depression-era films take great pains to cast the wealthy as fools; the war-era films treat dictators and drill sergeants the same way.
Whatever the Stooges’ venue of operations, the films were sensations as television filler. Another generation grew up with them, then handed the appreciation off to the next, a la the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones. Today, when a boxed set of all their work is available on DVD, they can still be seen on cable television, joyfully confounding the young with phone calls that cost a nickel, cars with running boards and worries on the whereabouts of the next meal.
The epic night at the Riviera Theatre, North Tonawanda’s brilliantly restored movie house from the days the Stooges were vaudevillians, typically features seven or so Three Stooges shorts on the massive screen, as well as raffles, giveaways, informative commentary, random clowning around, a communal and redemptive “Act Like a Stooge” moment and a warm-up musical band of organizer Len Potwora and his friends.
Saturday’s event is Stoogefest 22. Potwora began this annual (now semi-annual) night of Stooge homage as a pizza-and-videos night at home with pals, and it has expanded to the point a really good (and large) auditorium is required.
“The Stooges’ popularity grows,” he said. “Now it’s kids attending who didn’t grow up with them.” Stoogefest is an all-ages party whose reputation has grown over the years. “We always get a lot of new people (at each event). There are always new faces.”
The on-screen comedy is base, basic and long-wearing. The sight gags, reflexive slap fights whenever something goes wrong and preciously antiquated wisecracks (“We’re filthy with money!” “You’re filthy without it.”) do not require a doctorate in popular culture to appreciate.
So you know what you’re getting into, here. What comes as a joyous surprise is the nearly tribal nature of these fans — some hardcore who anticipate every punch and punch line, some casual, some attending on a date night or as three generations of a family. All they have in common, it seems, is an abiding love of stuff that went out of style about the time modern comedy became more about relationships and insecurities and less about getting one’s self untangled from the innards of a piano.
Curley leaves his wristwatch in the turkey he’s stuffing. Larry nearly drowns in a bathtub after his lit cigar explodes a balloon. Moe falls into a tub of hot rubber and becomes a balloon himself, floating into the air. The crowd roars.
Not everyone appreciates what the Three Stooges have offered on film since the start of the Roosevelt Administration, but no one has ever done slapstick and jokes with this sort of effortless timing and grace. On Saturday night the Riviera will be rocking to the sound and sight of what made ‘em laugh, 60 and 70 and 80 years ago, as well as in the ‘60s and later, in living rooms across America.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Stoogefest 22, a celebration of the Three Stooges • WHERE: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda • WHEN: Saturday. The band takes the stage at 7 p.m., the films follow. • COST: Adults $10, children under 13, $7 • MORE INFO: 692-2113