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Bobby Farrelly talks ‘The Three Stooges,’ Sister Larry David, and eye-raking his brother

Adam Pockross
This Week on DVD/Blu-ray
July 18, 2012

When Peter and Bobby Farrelly decided to focus their cameras on "The Three Stooges," a lot of naysayers immediately pegged the film for a bomb. Many thought the cartoon violence and slapstick humor perfected by the original Stooges wouldn't play for a modern audience. Others clamored that the comedy icons were total originals and should never be remade.

But when the film came out, moviegoers were treated to a spot-on representation of the kooky zaniness of the original Stooges. In creating such a tribute to their comedy heroes, the Farrelly Brothers gave the doubters a good stiff kick in the groin, taking home respectable box office while pleasing old fans and creating plenty of new ones.

Of course, looking back, it's a wonder anyone could question the Farrellys about comedy in the first place. Most people who tell jokes have a couple that fall flat, and the same can be said of making comedies. Sure, they've had a couple of duds, but as the writing/ directing team behind such comedy classics as "Dumb & Dumber" (1994) and "There's Something About Mary" (1998), the Farrellys have carved out their own iconic status. We should trust their comedic judgment.

[Related: The 100 Funniest Movies to See Before You Die]

Case in point: the Farrelly Brothers were right about the Stooges.

On the occasion of yesterday's "The Three Stooges" DVD/ Blu-ray release, I got the chance to speak on the phone with one half of the dynamic duo, Bobby Farrelly. Watching the movie should be enough to rekindle (or ignite) your love of the Stooges, but listening to Farrelly talk about his passion project is even more infectious. You might even find yourself nyuk, nyuk, nyukking!

Adam Pockross:  First of all, I have to ask, how did the incomparable Mr. Larry David get into this picture?

Bobby Farrelly:  Well, Larry is in a league of his own with just being funny. He's just one of those guys that when you look at him, he just has a body that you want to laugh. So when we're casting this role in our movie of Sister Mary Mengele, we always thought, "Who could play this nun who's such a shrew?" We were a little reluctant actually to cast a female actress, only because it's better if you make a joke of it so it's easier to laugh at this person. So we got it in our head that we were going to have some guy play her.

We didn't really think Larry would do it, but we always wanted to work with him. So we, my brother Pete and I, sort of put the full-court press on him, and he was like, "Yeah, I'll do it. That's funny. I like the idea." So, he came in and we had a great time. He was a joy to work with. He does mostly improv and stuff, but we had traditional roles, traditional lines and stuff.  He's wasn't used to that part I think, but he's awesome, very funny. He was the right guy to play the part.

[Related clip: Sister Larry David's face rings a bell]

AP: "The Three Stooges," there were a lot of naysayers early on, a lot of people were expecting it to fail before it came out, and then it came out and it shut them all up. How did you guys stay so true, I mean, how did you know to just quiet the riffraff and to just keep going forward with your vision? How did you know it would work?

BF: Well, they are comedy icons, the original Three Stooges. No one's ever done exactly what they've done, and no one's really ever even done close to what they've done. They had their own style of humor and their own style of slapstick. And we found that very funny growing up. We were just big fans of the Stooges and we always thought it's kind of a shame that young kids today don't really know much about them. So we had it in our head that we'd like to try to redo it for a new generation of kids who aren't as familiar with them.

That said, we didn't want to take them and update them in a way where it's not them. We made it our goal to try to do exactly the type of humor that they would do, but to come up with all new material. And that was the challenge. We just wanted to be true to them. We knew there would be a lot of people that would be resistant to that going in, resistant to us trying to redo these guys, because they were such icons. But we did it because we wanted young kids to be introduced to them.

We didn't think we could outdo the originals. We were hoping we could just kind of capture how funny they were.

AP: How did you create such authenticity to do that?

BF: A lot of it is the casting. Every name in Hollywood was bandied about over the years of who would play it, but I really do believe that the three guys we got -- Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Will Sasso -- were the exact three right guys for the role. If a guy was a more recognizable star or something, it may break that fourth wall a little bit, where you're thinking about who's playing the part. With these guys, they really captured it; they almost channeled the original guys so well that a couple of minutes into the movie, you're forgetting that it's three new guys and instead it's Moe, Larry and Curly. So, it's really a tribute to those three actors.

AP: Indeed. Now, the physical toll on them, did they -- I mean, it looked like they took a lot of shots. Did they take a lot of shots?

[Related clip: The Stooges take some lobster shots]

BF: They took a lot of shots. They took a lot of shots. Yeah, it was physically grinding. We shot in the summer in Atlanta. Everyday it was a hundred degrees and it was really physically taxing on those guys. But they never ever pulled back. They'd always be like, "I want to do another. I want to do another." And we'd be saying to them, "Guys we have it. It's not even worth doing another." Because some of the stuff is risky, stunts and all that. But they wouldn't have it. They wanted to keep doing it and doing it. They were having a blast, even though they were getting the crap kicked out of them.

AP: So, they're brothers right? It's kind of unclear why they don't look alike but --

BF: Well, in the originals, there were some brothers and some guys who weren't, like Larry Fine was never their brother in real life. In some of the shots they did, they'd all had the same mom or something like that, but then another one maybe three guys who seemingly had come from different parts of life or something. So, it was always unclear. But in our story of course they're three little orphans. So, we had to capture the look of Moe, Larry and Curly.

AP:  Perfectly too. So, as brothers, you and your brother, did you guys ever fight like the Stooges?

BF:  We tried not to hit each other on the head with sledge hammers and stuff, but pretty much everything up until up to that. Of course, brothers fight, but we were the type of brothers that we fight and two minutes later, it's totally forgotten and we're best friends again. We would fight, like any brothers, but we never carry a grudge or anything. That was the nature of it.

AP: How does that work professionally, like when you disagree on something about a story, do you give him an eye-rake? Is that how you make your point?

BF: The catch with having two directors is that sometimes there are differing opinions. But the thing that I've learned after doing this for so long is that if I don't see it exactly like he sees it, and he doesn't see it like I see it, it's generally because there's something in that area of what we don't see that's worth investigating. It's not like anybody wants to just get their way to just get their way. It's generally where there might be a little bit of a problem and someone in the audience may feel the same way. So, it's an area that you have to shine a magnifying glass on and see what's the right way to go. Ultimately, we do a lot of testing, we show it to audiences, and we kind of figure out from the audience what's the right way to do something if there are two separate choices.

[Related blog: This Week on DVD/Blu-ray]

AP: Last question for you, the kids today, they're kind of pansies, right? They're not as tough as they used to be, and the Stooges is certainly a throwback.

BF: It is. Yes.

AP: So how come you knew that the kids today would respond as well as to it? The cartoon humor that I grew up with, and the physical comedy that I grew up with, seems to have taken a back road. You guys at the end of the movie said, "Kids, don't do this," of course, but how is it okay? Why does it go away, and why is it okay?

BF: Well, with "The Three Stooges," I think, you used the keyword, it's kind of cartoon violence. It's like the way Moe can whack Larry in the head with a hammer and he goes, "Awww!" But that's it. Then he's okay. There's no welt, there's no mark, there's certainly no blood or anything like that, it's purely for comedic effect. There is a little bit of an "ouch" to it, but that's it, it goes away. Of course, that's not how it is in real life but that's what make the Stooges so funny is that these grown man seemingly living in a cartoon world with cartoon rules. That is what's always been so funny about them.

When they do some of their stunts in the shorts, you could clearly see that it would be a dummy flying out the window rather than a stuntman or one of the actors.  You could see that dummy. And it kind of like made it funnier, because you knew, "Oh, he's okay."  A guy would come out the building and land on his head, but you could see it was a dummy, and it would tell you -- even subconsciously -- that, "They're fine.  They're not really doing that." So, it's all to be laughed at. We certainly never wanted any kids to be attempting to do any of those kind of things at home, but I think kids have enough sense that that they wouldn't.

See 'The Three Stooges' Trailer:

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