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June 30, 2009


You know, the Three Stooges always seem to end up getting the short end of the stick, whether it's accidentally getting drafted in the army, or trying to survive in the cut throat world of Hollywood. In their day the Three Stooges were considered low brow humor, never getting the proper respect they deserved from either the critics or the studios. And unfortunately today’s generation probably isn’t even aware of their existence. It’s sad because they are truly brilliant comedians and you can see their influence in the early work of such comic icons as Harold Ramis and John Landis, who in turn paved the way for such comedies as There’s Something About Mary and Old School.

And beyond their role in the evolution of comedy, the stooges are also ground breaking pioneers, ahead of their time for their portrayal of the first openly gay character in popular culture. People often credit Ellen Degeneres, the cast of Will&Grace, and Dane Cook for making it okay to laugh at gay comedy. But no, it was the Three Stooges who first embraced the idea of a homosexual funny man.

Now I’m not talking about anyone in the original line up, which consisted of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. And I’m not talking about Moe and Curly’s brother Shemp Howard either. Or even Curly Joe Derita, who’s best known for being the serial scat lover of the group.

No, instead I’m talking about Joe Besser, the impish man child who became the second replacement for Curly Howard, when Shemp died of a heart attack in 1956.

After the death of Shemp, Moe Howard was left with a tough decision – how to reinvent the stooges for a third time. He considered going with a black stooge, a Native American stooge, and even an albino stooge, but in the end felt a homosexual stooge could reach out to a gay audience that often over-looked their particular brand of slap stick comedy. And fortunately for Moe, beating up a gay man wasn't considered a hate crime yet, so he was able to abuse Joe Besser as much as he abused any other stooge.

Because of his success with the stooges, Joe Besser was able to parlay his gay character into other roles including Stinky, the spoiled mamma's boy in The Abbott and Costello Show, and Jillson, the maintenance man in The Joey Bishop Show. And as a result, the term “straight man” was coined to describe any actor having to act opposite Joe Besser.

In his later years, Joe Besser voiced many gay cartoon characters including the fat Genie in the 1970’s I Dream of Genie cartoon who was famous for yelling out the “yaba-daba-doo” like catchphrase, “abble-dabble”, whenever he cast a spell.

It seems just like his gay Genie character, Joe Besser was also able to cast a spell on the hearts of America. And thanks to the Three Stooges, the gay movement was able to take a gigantic step forward ahead of its time.

Here’s a little taste of Joe Besser: