A gathering of slapstick aficionados turned violent Saturday, requiring dozens of city police bearing shields and batons to quell the riot. It was the first conflict in the 13-year history of the Three Stooges Enthusiasts and Impersonators Annual Convention, held every year at the Westport Heights Sheraton & Conference Center.
The yearly event is part reunion, part workshop for the small but intense group of people from across the country who “want to live the Stooge way the right way,” as the convention’s mission statement says. “This is the worst thing to happen since the 2005 protests,” said convention founder Howard Dewey, referring to a handful disruptive picketers that year, angry over the exclusion of devotees to Stooge replacements Shemp and Curly Joe.
The fracas broke out during a class on how to successfully block an attempted double eye poke. Instructor Bob Silver demonstrated the proper technique — it entails holding your hand at a perfect 90 degree angle from your face — and then paired off participants to practice the move. A fight started between attendee Lewis Oster, a member of the Moe group, and Curly group member Morris Heinz, who claimed later that Oster poked too hard and actually gouged both his eyes.
According to convention tradition, an attendee is supposed to utter the safety phrase “Woo-woo-woo-woo,” if he is uncomfortable with how his practice partner is attempting a bit of slapstick. Instead, multiple witnesses say, Heinz shouted, “Oh, a f****** wise guy, eh?” and punched Oster in the face, sending him tumbling into a group of fellow Moes.
The 36 seminar participants in conference room 9-W quickly ganged up into their assigned Stooge character groups, with several of the Moes making threatening backhanded slapping gestures, and the Curlys responding by smacking and pulling down on their faces, dancing on their tiptoes and uttering high-pitched, guttural squeals. The Larrys, meanwhile, tried to make peace between the two groups, which just resulted in many of the Moes yanking their hair almost out of their roots.
Chaos broke out when one of the Moes threw a cream pie filled with quarter rolls at Curly impersonator Howard Klein, shattering his nose and left orbital. As a group of Larrys carried away the injured Klein, the Curlys, many of them making doglike “woof” cries, attacked the Moes. But witnesses say the Moes quickly routed the Curlys, employing many of the techniques they’d learned at the convention: mesmerizing the Curlys by fluttering their hands in front of their faces before smacking them; tricking the Curlys into slapping the tops of their outstretched fists, sending their arms into a windmill spin that ended with them bashing the tops of the Curlys’ heads; and ducking at precisely the right moment, inevitably resulting in one Curly punching another.
Hotel employees called police, who arrived in riot gear to break up the confrontation. But the extra armament proved largely unnecessary: Once police entered and formed a cordon around the room, the Stooges momentarily froze and then tried to escape, in different directions, sending them crashing into one another. The officers quickly cuffed the writhing mass of arms and legs and loaded them into police vans for processing.
Police spokesman Sherman Larris said most of the Stooges would be charged with assault and destruction of property. The only other possible charge — threatening a law-enforcement officer — would be against Moe group member Richard Weinman, who allegedly said, “Why I oughta …” to the policeman who was handcuffing him.
“We’ll have to talk to Mr. Weinman down at the station,” Smith said. “The key question is, he oughta what?”
- Craig Gaines