The Stooges Are Back, And Nyukking Things Up Again

The Farrelly brothers have long been known for their gross-out humor and their shocking comedies. After writing and directing movies like Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal -- where agreeable idiots get caught up in all sorts of trouble — Peter and Bobby Farrelly decided to tackle another set of goofy doofuses: The Three Stooges.

Their new movie places Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Curly (Will Sasso) and Larry (Sean Hayes) in the present day, where they try to save the orphanage they lived in from financial ruin. The film may be set in today's world, but it retains the slapstick humor and visual effects from the original Stooges routines — except, of course, for the black-and-white film.

"We tried to keep it looking exactly like the Stooges did it," Peter tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "We talked to the studio and said, 'Maybe we can shoot it in black and white. Or make it where it looks like it was shot in black and white, and then it was colorized later.' And the studio said, 'No way. Modern kids won't go for it.' And I'm glad we set them in modern day with crisp colors."

The new movie is also considerably longer than the original Stooges shorts, which were typically 18 minutes long.

"It was sort of an arc-less 18 minutes — hit, hit, hit, hit, end," says Peter. "They didn't have the time in those 18 minutes to tell a real story. So we knew we needed a story. We wanted you to know where they came from, we wanted to set up a situation, we wanted to build heart, and we wanted you to understand the characters so that you would enjoy it more."

In the film, the Three Stooges are forced to go out and raise money to save their childhood orphanage from financial ruin. Along the way, they meet zoo animals, the cast of Jersey Shore, a woman trying to kill her husband and the guy from the Old Spice commercials. They also, as you might imagine, find themselves in Stoogelike scenarios, complete with flying punches, poking and slaps. (Which, Bobby notes, are all real.)

"They literally had to slap each other," Bobby says. "When they do it, they want to make it look real. They were so intent on making it authentic that they'd take it to a riskier level than probably Pete and I were comfortable with. They wanted to keep it very real. But they practiced enough so nobody got hurt seriously."

For the eye pokes, the actors even worked with stuntmen on proper eye-poking technique.

"You do the eye poke just over the eyebrows, and it happens so fast that it does look like the eyes," says Peter. "And at the end of the movie, we have a brief thing where two actors pretending to be Bobby and myself explain that the hammers [in the movie] are rubber. And the eye pokes, we show how it's done in slow motion."

On set, the actors and stunt doubles were cautioned against doing anything that could truly injure them.

"We are not making action movies; we are making comedies. And if there's a possibility that somebody can get truly hurt, [we have] no interest," says Peter. "I'd rather do anything but that."

Interview Highlights

On using the original Stooge-era sound effects in the film.

Peter Farrelly: "We literally tried to make those sound effects again just to clean up the sound, and we could not duplicate the sound just the way they did it. So, we had guys come in and clean up the original sound effects — and those are the ones we used."

On remaking The Three Stooges

Peter Farrelly: "I think the main reason that we wanted to remake The Three Stooges is because young kids don't really have any familiarity with the Stooges. They don't really know them like the older generation. And we just felt like it's a shame that these kids don't know them."

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.


GROSS: That's the Three Stooges: Moe, Curly and Larry, as they sounded in 1940, slapping, poking and bonking each other, the kind of antics that made them perhaps America's most famous halfwits. And this was their theme song.


GROSS: It's kind of strange to talk over this music, since I'm not the type who would grab a frying pan and whack someone over the head. The Three Stooges started out in vaudeville and in 1934 made their first of over 100 short films that were later repackaged for television.


GROSS: Among the many people who watched the Three Stooges on TV were Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have now paid tribute by writing and directing the new Three Stooges movie. The Farrelly brothers' other films include "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary," "Shallow Hal" and "Hall Pass."

The new Three Stooges movie is set in the present. Moe is played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Curly by Will Sasso, and Larry by Sean Hayes. In this version of their story, the Stooges live in the orphanage where they grew up. It's run by nuns who have largely learned to tolerate their mayhem. In this scene, the Stooges have accidentally driven a maintenance car into a guy on a ladder who falls over, knocking down several nuns and a visiting monsignor.

But the Stooges are oblivious to the fact that they're the ones who caused the nuns to be lying on the ground, and they think the monsignor is just a strange man trying to take advantage of the nuns. The Mother Superior, played by Jane Lynch, has just arrived on the scene and speaks first.


JANE LYNCH: (As Mother Superior) What are you doing?

UNDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) We caught this lounge lizard getting all handsy with the nuns.

LYNCH: (As Mother Superior) This is no lounge lizard. He's here on official business.

MAN: (As character) Official business? Why didn't you say so?

(As character) Pick me up. I'll clip your hedges.

(As character) I'll hedge your clippers.

(As character) I'll fix your slippers.

(As character) You idiots. I'm not here to adopt.

LYNCH: This is Monsignor Ratliffe from the diocese.

MAN: (As character) Oh, sorry about that, Senor Rat Lips.

GROSS: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you came up with a back story about how the Three Stooges got to be the way they are, and the back story is they are three orphans left in a basket at this orphanage, and they grew up in the orphanage, and they never get to see the outside world, and they're, you know, morons.


GROSS: But everybody knows them and puts up with them for better or worse in the orphanage. But then they have to go out into the world and try to raise money to keep the orphanage going because it's threatened because it can't pay its bills.


GROSS: So how did you come up with that as the back story?

FARRELLY: You know, one reason that...

BOBBY FARRELLY: Well - go ahead, Pete.

GROSS: I'm sorry.

FARRELLY: I apologize.

GROSS: I should mention you're both talking to us from separate studios. Peter's in California, and Bobby's in the Boston area. So the good thing is - I mean, the bad thing is sometimes you collide in answering a question because you can't see each other, but the good thing is you cannot poke each other in the eye.


FARRELLY: That's correct.

FARRELLY: Clearly there's something about the Three Stooges that is anachronistic. You know, those guys came from vaudeville. They started in the 1920s and made their shorts in the '30s, '40s, '50s. So they really - they saw the world differently than, you know, people see it today. It was a different world. They came from the Depression era and all that.

We wanted to be true to those guys, and so we had to create a world where, well, why are these three guys so, like, old school? And we thought that by having them grow up in an orphanage, where they were sheltered from the world and didn't have any of today's luxuries or any of those kind of modern-day accoutrements, that we could have them be old school.

And I think it works pretty well for the story that that's where they grew up, and they never left the orphanage until they have to set out and save the day.

FARRELLY: We also wanted an arc in this story. We wanted to have a beginning, a middle and an and. One reason that a lot of women didn't particularly love the Stooges growing up was because it was 18 minutes of - an arc-less 18 minutes, just flat, you know, hit, hit, hit, hit, end - because they didn't have the time in those 18 minutes to tell a real story.

So we needed - we knew we needed a story. We wanted you to know where they came from, we wanted to set up a situation, we wanted to build heart, and we wanted you to understand the characters so you would enjoy it more and it would - you know, this is way more of a story, a real story, than the Three Stooges shorts ever were.

Originally, Terry, they were shorts on the front of B-films. Back in the '30s and '40s, you know, that was - that was normal. A movie that didn't have a huge star, they would give them a couple shorts up front just to give them a better experience. And many, many movies had that back then.

But the Stooges were the last ones to survive that, and it was only because Harry Cohn, the head of the studio, was such a fan of theirs that when other studios started dropping the shorts, he kept them just because he happened to be a fan.

FARRELLY: He was a fan, but he never really - he never really gave them a good contract. So they kind of - for many, many years, they worked really for very cheap wages doing what they do, and they didn't have any residuals or anything like that. So their own story was a little bit sad.

But Harry did allow them to make all those shorts, and for that we are very grateful.

GROSS: You had to figure out how to do the Three Stooges slaps and punches and flying objects and getting hit on the head and all that stuff without really hurting anybody. So I imagine that's kind of hard to do because I think your stunts are a little more ambitious than the Three - than the actual, original Three Stooges ones. I mean, you do a lot of, like, simple eye pokes, but it gets way more ambitious than that.

So what are some of the things - let's start with the simple things like the eye pokes. How did you learn - how did the actors learn how to do that without really hurting each other?

FARRELLY: I don't think anyone ever said that they didn't get hurt a little bit, because, you know, what we had to do was actually, like when they slap each other, they literally had to slap each other. We weren't going to do it where they would miss and - you know, and you could see that, and you put a sound effect in and it kind of sells.

You know, when they do it, they want to make it look real. So they kind of were slapping each other. It's just that they were so intent on making it authentic than they'd take it to a riskier level than probably than even Pete and I were comfortable with. We were like come on, we can re-do it, we can add sound effects. But they wanted to keep it very real. So they came as close as they could.

But they're such professionals that they practiced enough, and nobody, you know, got seriously hurt. But I wouldn't say that they didn't annoy each other a little bit, where they - you know, when someone's slapping you, it's going to sting a little bit.

GROSS: Did someone almost get hurt? And this is a scene - I think it's Larry David who is playing a nun.



GROSS: Sister Mary Mengele, and he's at the bottom of the orphanage, I guess, and the big bell on top falls on top of his head because the Stooges are doing the wrong thing, they're all on the roof. So did he get hurt?

FARRELLY: No, Larry, he would have walked.


GROSS: Right.

FARRELLY: He doesn't suffer fools. But no, nobody - he did not get hurt, but we had to be very careful that he didn't. And by the way, like the eye pokes, for instance, we did have them working with stunt men who were showing them that you do the eye poke actually over the - just over the eyebrows. And it happens so fast that it does look like the eyes.

And at the very end of the movie, we have a brief thing where two actors pretending to be Bobby and myself come out, and they explain to kids that, you know, these hammers are rubber. You don't go hitting anybody with a real hammer. And the eye pokes, we show how it's down in slow motion. And it's over the eyes. And we went out of our way to make sure that kids didn't try to, you know, do what they were doing in the movie.

GROSS: So that little disclaimer at the end, that's not really you guys?



FARRELLY: It's an interpretation of us.

GROSS: You know what? Because one of them, I forget if he's playing Peter or Bobby, he's bare-chested, and he's so buff, and his nipples kind of can - he moves his nipples. And I thought: OK, this is a prosthetic chest. I was going to ask you about that later.


FARRELLY: No, no, that's the real deal.

GROSS: So it's a whole prosthetic person, actually, it's not really even you.


GROSS: Why didn't you do it yourselves?

FARRELLY: Couldn't get the nipples to move?


GROSS: And really, why didn't you do it yourselves?

FARRELLY: Just for comic purposes. We thought, you know, if we're going to go - we've never been in any of our own movies. We don't do any Alfred Hitchcock walk-by's or anything, and for good reason. You know, we're not pleasant to look at. And these guys, we thought if we're going to go on at the end, we should, you know, do it in a funny way.

So we decided to have a couple of, you know, incredibly good-looking guys come out and pretend to be us and explain to the kids, you know, how we did these stunts and why they shouldn't be doing them at home.

GROSS: Now, since the Stooges' films, the old ones and yours, are so much about slapstick and about, you know, hitting and getting hit and getting bonked, where is the line between that kind of slapstick and cruelty?

FARRELLY: I would say it's when people are truly hurt and there's blood, and there's cuts, and there's repercussions, and there's hurt feelings. And the Stooges, it's cartoony humor. It is hitting, but there's never a cut. There's never blood. There's - you know, we learned something on "Dumb and Dumber" early in our careers.

We had a scene where Jeff Daniels throws a snowball and hits Lauren Holly in the face, and it always - it got a huge laugh immediately. But when we had initially shot it, when she came up after being hit, she had a little dab of blood that we'd put under her nose, and boom, no more laughter. It just stopped. And not only did it stop, it stopped for about 10 or 15 minutes because people were shaken by the fact that she was bleeding from this snowball, and they weren't in a good mood for a few minutes.

So we learned something. We went in, by the way, with a computer, and we fixed it and got rid of the blood, and that laughter continued for a couple minutes. People want to laugh, and they want to laugh at the dumb things that people do and, you know, somebody tripping down stairs is hilarious if they hop right up and keep walking.

If they don't, it's not funny, and that's what the Stooges do.

GROSS: And one of the things that you need to make all the hitting and slapping and bonking comedic is the sound effects. So what did you - can we talk a little bit about the sound effects for the slapping and the getting hit on the head and everything?

I know you were trying to come close to what the Stooges use in theirs, but you have such more advanced sound technology now at, you know, at your fingertips. So...

FARRELLY: Yeah, but we didn't use it.



FARRELLY: We used the Stooge sound exactly. We literally tried to, you know - we always knew we needed sound effects like that, and at some point we tried to make those sound effects again just to clean up the sound because there was hissing and, you know, it came from a different period when sound was recorded differently and there's a lot of problems with it.

We could not duplicate the sound just the way they did it. We had a very hard time. So we had guys come in and clean up the original sound effects, and those are the ones we used. And again, going back to that snowball in the face of Lauren Holly, when we put that sound effect of that snowball hitting her in the face, we must have tried 100 different sound effects before we found the exact one that made everybody laugh. And that sound effect is - was the sound of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th homerun, the crack of the bat. That's true.

GROSS: That's really funny. If you're just joining us, my guests are Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the Farrelly brothers. Their new brother is "The Three Stooges" movie, and why don't we just take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the Farrelly brothers, whose films include "Dumb and Dumber," "There's Something About Mary" and "Kingpin," and of course they made the new movie "The Three Stooges."

So the three actors who play the Three Stooges are not that well known, with the exception - Sean Hayes is pretty well-known for "Will and Grace," and he not too long ago did "Promises, Promises" on Broadway. But Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Will Sasso as Curly. They're not that famous.

Initially you were going to have big stars - Sean Penn, Jim Carrey, Benicio Del Torro were, I think, supposed to be attached to the film. What happened?

FARRELLY: We were very specific in what we wanted from the Three Stooges, the performances, and it was - we wanted them to be very specific. We wanted Moe, Larry and Curly exactly as we remembered them. We, of course, were writing all new material, but we wanted those characters perfect.

And we didn't want somebody coming in saying I have a good take on Moe or a good take on Larry, because this isn't, you know, Batman, where you bring your own thing to it.

That turned off a lot of actors. You know, it was a lot of guys who said, well, you know, that's sort of a daunting task to come in and play something very specifically. So frankly, people were passing left and right.

But by the way, that's nothing new for us. We've always had that in our careers, starting with "Dumb and Dumber," where we had probably offered 150 or 200 people, you know, the roles before Jim Carrey jumped on.

And so we always - we never worry about it. We - in fact, when we are talking to actors, we give them the big spiel why they should do it, what it's going to do, how we're going to do it. And at the end, we say: Listen, if it's not - if your heart's not in it, you feel it's not for you, don't do it and don't worry about it, because we love you. We'll work with you any other time you want to work on something else. That's our approach.

We also had experts with us. Mike Cerrone, who wrote the screenplay with us, knows way more about the Stooges than we do. He could tell you every episode's title, and he could tell you seven minutes in what happens. He's awesome. But we also brought in other Stooge experts.

Billy West came on to help us pick the Larry character because he's - he knows how to do Larry, and he knows exactly why Larry's Larry and what the difference is and that he's from Philly and why he's a little nasal and this and that.

Chris Diamantopoulos walked in the room, and he had a suit on, and he was looking like Moe, and what we would find out later that I would never have thought of, he had a bodysuit on under his jacket. And you wouldn't think you'd need a bodysuit for Moe, but what he told us later and what really made a difference was that Moe had no neck. Moe had a very short neck. He was all shoulders, and the shoulders came right up to the neck.

And if he walked in there with his, Chris' long neck, it wouldn't look like Moe. And he showed me afterwards. I thought: Oh my God. The difference was night and day.

GROSS: And what did Will Sasso do to convince you that he was Curly? Because he certainly got the voice down and all the gestures and everything.

FARRELLY: Yeah, well, Will was, without question, the best Curly that we saw. The only reservation we had with Will, if we had any, was that he's a big guy. He's about - you know, Will Sasso is about 6'3". He's like an NFL lineman, a very big guy.

The original Stooges were all very short guys, and that was one of the reasons why they could get away with doing what they were doing is because they were always a lot smaller than everyone else. So when they were hitting each other, even the ladies in the episodes would always tower over them.

And there was something about that that would let you know that they're not going to hurt other people. They're going to do what they do amongst themselves, but they're not a threat to other people.

And a 6'3" Curly is like, uh-oh, is this guy, is he going to seem menacing? You know, there was a little bit of concern there. But the way Will Sasso played it, so gentle and so funny that you completely forget that he's a different size than the original Curly. I think he really nailed the role.

GROSS: I think he maybe was trying to make himself seem slightly smaller too, like shorter.

FARRELLY: He looks like a baby the way he dresses and his whole attitude. So you never really - he's obviously not frightening in any way. By the way, when Sean Hayes came in - now, we knew Sean Hayes, "Will and Grace," I loved "Will and Grace," and I loved Sean Hayes in "Will and Grace." He's hysterical. But I didn't see how he was going to do Larry.

But he came in, and then - and knocked it out of the park. And what I didn't know about Sean Hayes is Sean Hayes is - he's like Jim Carrey. I mean, Sean Hayes could do anything.

GROSS: So can I ask you, obviously all the actors came out of it, you know, like they didn't hurt each other. But was the biggest, like, surprise mishap on the set?

FARRELLY: You know, there wasn't any - oh, OK, I'll tell you what it was. There's a scene at the end of Episode One - this is broken up, the movie is broken up into three episodes. Each episode picks up where the last one left off, but it's done sort of like the shorts.

And at the end of Episode One, they are going off, leaving the orphanage, and they're going into the real world to try to raise money to save the orphanage. And they're on a bicycle built for three, and a truck comes by, and they throw a grappling hook onto the fender, and they're thinking they're going to get pulled into town somehow.

But in their stupidity, Curly has tied the grappling hook to the rear tire instead of the handlebars. So when the rope, you know, runs out, it just flips them backwards and they get dragged up the street.

Well, when were shooting it, we had our props guys make this bicycle built for three that was on a lever that would spin around really quickly and then go backwards for about 30 feet. And then we were going to put stunt guys in and have it cut as they're getting dragged up the street.

However, the thing turned so fast with our actors on it - Chris, Sean and Will - that it busted and fell over. And not only did they land on their sides and on their wrists, but they get dragged up the road a little bit. So that was a little frightening. But everybody came out of it OK. I think Chris Diamantopoulos had a sprained wrist, and everyone else was fine.

GROSS: Wow, because that scene - that's one of those scenes that, like, really hurts because they're getting - you know, the bicycle gets thrown on its side, and they're kind of dragged on the road.

FARRELLY: We're very careful. All our movies, you know, we get it. We're making movies and we're not making action movies, we're just making comedies. And if ever we've been - and when this has happened, a couple times where the stuntman says, hey, I have a good way of doing this, and he has a stunt that has some degree of danger, we just say forget it, don't want to do it.

I mean, if there's a possibility that somebody can get truly hurt, no interest. You know, I really don't. I'd rather do anything but that. I don't want to get at the end of a movie and have - realize that somebody was seriously injured in the making of what is just, you know, supposed to be a lot of laughs.

GROSS: OK, well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

FARRELLY: Thanks a lot, Terry.

FARRELLY: Thank you, Terry, great to talk to you, thank you.

GROSS: Peter and Bobby Farrelly directed and co-wrote the new Three Stooges movie. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.