AMBLER, Pa. — To some, they were underappreciated comic geniuses; to others, slap-happy sadists, the lowest of lowbrow buffoons. But whatever your take on their unique blend of topical and physical humor, there’s no denying the Three Stooges’ immense popularity and pervasive influence on 20th-century popular culture.
It was only a matter of time, therefore, before they got their own museum. That day arrived in 2004 with the opening of the 10,000-square-foot Stoogeum in suburban Ambler, Pa., about 25 miles north of Philadelphia.
The Stoogeum is the brainchild of native son Gary Lassin, who married fellow Philadelphian Larry Fine’s great-niece in 1981. (The three Howard, formerly Horwitz, brothers — Moe, Curly and Shemp — were from Brooklyn.)
Five years later, Lassin took over the reins of the Three Stooges Fan Club and began amassing nearly 100,000 pieces of Stooges memorabilia. Eventually he found a place suitable to display roughly 3,500 of them at a time.
The museum is open Thursdays, plus some Saturdays during the summer. It’s open by appointment Monday through Wednesday and Friday. The schedule changes around holidays, so check before you go.
Each year about 5,000 Stooges enthusiasts, many accompanied by their children or even grandchildren, drop by the former architect’s office for yuks and behind-the-scenes insights.
The former are dispensed in the 85-seat theater with a continuous screening of some of the boys’ early movie shorts. All feature Curly, the portly, shaven-headed dope and most well-known “third” Stooge, whose ability to amuse — even after 75 years — is still audibly apparent. In compensation, Shemp, who returned from his solo career to replace his younger brother after Curly’s 1946 stroke, is honored in his own Hall of Shemp.
A few interactive exhibits await visitors along with arcade games for kids, such as Stooges pinball and Whack-a-Moe.
The majority of the Stoogeum consists of traditional display case exhibits that trace the trajectory of the Stooges’ remarkable 50-year career, beginning with their formative years in vaudeville through their 24 years at Columbia and concluding with their 1960s feature films.
But there’s Moe: One room is devoted to their many supporting actors and actresses. Another contains hundreds of promotional posters and lobby cards in a variety of languages, and another still a stupefying collection of generally juvenile Three Stooges merchandise, starting with hand puppets from the 1930s.
The third floor is devoted to Stooge-inspired art and, naturally, there’s a gift alcove selling books, videos, shirts, bumper stickers and other Stooge-themed items.
Seeing it all takes at least an hour. Be sure to leave time afterward to return to the theater.
As informative as the Stoogeum is, it’s still all about commemorating comedy. It’s only fitting, therefore, that you leave laughing.