Growing up with The Three Stooges as my family has pointed out something to me: the immense, age-defying, life-changing effect that you can have on people. We’ve all witnessed that, I’d imagine, with celebrities we admire and artists and philosophers. We’ve seen what one man/woman can do (David Bowie, JK Rowling, Stan Lee…), but it’s distant. We are the effect of it, or maybe we’ve witnessed it, but we haven’t all created it.
For me, I’ve been a conduit for that effect. I have watched people light up and laugh and become filled with love and nostalgia just because I said that my great-grandfather was Moe. Men, women, strangers, friends, young, old… It’s like wielding a little bit of old, inherited power. “You made my day,” I’ve been told.
The Three Stooges were Jewish men in a time when parts of the world hated anything Jewish. They were their own kind of funny—an iconic kind of funny. They could be appreciated by anyone. They struck something, something I don’t think people strike often these days. Their humor needed no language. You could see it, quite literally. But it was more than that. They loved what they did, and so did others. Myself included.
And they knew. That’s the thing. I can’t speak as much for the other guys, but my dad told me that Moe would keep photos and things in the trunk of his car, so if ever he got recognized, he would have something to sign and give to them. That’s a kind of appreciation often lost these days. They knew what they had. They knew what that meant.
“I recall that every Christmas my dad played Santa to the children at an organization called the Spastic Children’s Guild. These were young children with spastic paralysis. Moe would go to downtown L.A. and haunt the wholesale houses. These were places owned by fans and people he knew from Brooklyn days. He would ask everyone he contacted to donate toys, clothing you name it. As payment for the donations, he’d tell a joke and have the donors in Stooge stitches. My dad was always concerned about helping “the underdog.” He would always say how lucky he felt to do what he loved to do and make a living while doing it.” – Joan Howard Maurer, my grandmother (read the original article here)
Despite the slapstick violent humor, that’s the kind of person he was. He saw the other side. He knew who was watching, and he cared too. I think that’s part of why they’ve endured so well.
I forget sometimes about the other side of art. I’ve always tried to be vocal about what I do, and about the fact that you just have to write and keep writing. Some of the younger friends I had back in my teens would come to me for advice—and they still do. They remember from back in the day. New ones too. And you know what? That’s so cool. Not everyone can say that.
It’s no Stooge-level impact. I will never be exactly what they were (which is totally fine), but I can see a small power forming, a small ability to impact other people.
It’s all the more reason and motivation to continue. I’ve come this far, and I’m starting to see that there are people on the other side of my art. I recognize that I’ve set myself up as someone who is going to “do things”. I can see it already, thanks to the Stooges and the stunning effect they created, and I know it is no small thing to matter in someone else’s world.
#1 – The Fam: A Brief History of Slapstick Comedians, Expectations, Ups, Downs & Drive
My name is Tessa Maurer. You probably haven’t heard of me, but there’s a very high chance that you have heard of my family. My great-grandfather was Moe Howard of The Three Stooges, and his bros, Curly and Shemp Howard, were my great-uncles. Wild, I know. You don’t know how strange it is to have a pencil growing up with your great grandfather’s head carved and bulging on top of it, to turn on the TV and every other comedian mimics your great-uncle. It’s surreal, when I stop and think about it. Mostly, it was absurdly normal. Laughably so. My family history is a Google search away. I can find my great-great grandfather’s photos online. I can ask Siri how old my grandmother is if I forget, which I have.
What the hell, right?
I was born to a family of artists—painters, writers, actors, musicians. In that regard, I was lucky, but I was also stubborn, so either way, I would have become an artist. It’s intrinsic. It’s always been there. That isn’t luck. There was nothing really to “become.”
It hasn’t all been fun and fame. There was a lawsuit back in…1994? We lost the bulk of our rights to a replacement Stooge’s family. I'm told that laws were made as a result of that suit to prevent it from happening to families in the future. Too late, of course. It was and is our legacy, and yet we don’t really control it. I'm not here to point fingers or stir anything up. Still, I’ve known how unfair the world can be since I was a little kid. Maybe someday, somehow, it’ll change. I hope so. I always have.
My grandfather, Norman Maurer, was a writer, comic book illustrator, producer… I’ve heard he was the youngest person to make comics. He was 12 or 13, I think. He and his brother, Leonard, along with his bud Joe Kubert, invented 3D comic books. Unfortunately, he died of lung cancer in 1986 at age 60. I was born in 1992. I’m told he would’ve loved me.
And closer to home, my dad was and is a freelance screenwriter. He’s worked on countless things for countless countries, but when you’re a freelance writer, work and money are not consistent. So, while I grew up with MASSIVE success a few generations away, I also grew up with money worries and woes close to home. In my home. And I knew that things were fickle, that the entire mountain you built from nothing could become someone else’s. I learned that movie deals fall through—more than half my life of falling throughs.
This gives me two options, right?
I can either say “fuck it” to all the bullshit, all the downs with the ups, and ride that passion in my blood, knowing that if they can do it, I can. Consequences be damned. Financial fears be damned.
Or, I can get a job—a 9-5, write in my spare time, and most likely slowly decay. That’s probably the easier route. I would be “safe.” I would be adequate. Maybe someday I’d be more. Maybe.
When I was younger, I had the idea that you should only write (or do art) on the side. That you should have something "stable" to catch you and save you.
But doesn’t that mean you don’t have to have success? That you don’t have to write and draw and make art to live? Doesn’t it stop being vital and start becoming…optional? Forgettable? Secondary?
Wasn’t gonna fly for me, and it still isn’t. Once I started writing, I knew I had to do something with it. I knew I could make something of it. My current circumstances allow me to keep creating as my primary function, but I can feel the pressures of life welling. The ease makes it easy to let my dreams be distant things—things that I don’t have to push for, and the looming financial dooms if I don't make it go right light a fire I often want to jump away from and pretend isn't there. I should push. I want to. I’m trying to. Other people are probably trying more, but they aren’t me, and that’s something you should never forget. No one else is you.
My family did it. So can I. But I’d do it anyway, even if none of them existed. I am an artist. I am a writer. It’s at my core of cores. It is my anchor and my guide; it is my fear and it is my love. I have that added push, though, that name to live up to, that extra spark in my blood.
So, I have to get my life together. I have to be what I’ve invested 13 years into. I have to make you know my name, too.
Hang on. It’s probably gonna be a bumpy ride.