Here’s an odd stream of consciousness piece, I suppose. Back in the mid-1970s, I was in a local production of Godspell in New Paltz. At some point in the dialogue, much of the cast is chanting: “Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch, until…” I knew it had to be a reference to something, but I had no idea what. I didn’t bother to search YouTube or Google, since they didn’t exist at the time. So I forgot about it…
…until I was reading Arthur’s recent stories about the COVID protocols in New Zealand, specifically The next steps have been announced. “Critics, as the Prime Minister pointed out today, will complain that the government didn’t move fast enough, or that it’s moving too fast.” And somehow, my mind conflated the “next steps” and “too fast” into “Slowly I turn, step by step…” What IS that a reference to?
As it turns out, it’s a bit by the Three Stooges called Niagara Falls, which you can see here. It’s part of the 1944 short film Gents Without Cents. But the routine has been used for decades, going back to vaudeville. See the variation on I Love Lucy.
I was never a big fan of the Three Stooges. Their comedy seemed mean-spirited when I’d occasionally see them on Saturday afternoons growing up.
Where everybody knows your name
But they are the punchline to one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue on the sitcom Cheers. It’s from the episode entitled What’s Up, Doc? which I have not seen since it aired in March of 1989. A therapist says to Sam Malone (Ted Danson), “You’re an aging lothario who uses sex to cover up massive insecurity, a fear of true intimacy, fear of a relationship…”
Sam believes the diagnosis. “Come on, answer the question. What do I have in my life that isn’t women or sex?” His friend Rebecca notes his job bartending, his car, and sailing, but Sam notes these are all ways to meet women.
At the end is this dialogue:
Rebecca: What about the Three Stooges?
Sam: Oh, yeah, great. I like the Three Stooges. That helps a lot.
Rebecca: Wait a minute, Sam. Think about this. Do women like the Three Stooges?
Sam: No, they hate them.
Rebecca: All right. Are women impressed that you like the Three Stooges?
Sam: No, some of them even think they’re stupid.
Rebecca: When you’re watching the Three Stooges, do you think they’re sexy?
Sam: No, when you watch the Three Stooges, nobody has time to think about sex or women. Hey, wait a minute. That means I do have another interest in my life. I like the Stooges for themselves. Hey, whoa, I’m okay. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
It’s funnier in full context.