Moe impersonator shares gift from God Minister uses humor to preach

August 10, 1993|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

The Rev. Kenneth R. Heath, the pastor of Elders Baptist Church in Eldersburg, believes that one of God's greatest gifts is a sense of humor.

"In John 10:10 it says, 'I am come so that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,' " he said. "When you translate the word 'abundant' in Greek, one of the definitions is 'hysterical.' "

Once a year, Mr. Heath leaves them hysterical at the Three Stooges Annual Convention in Philadelphia when he dons makeup and a costume to transform himself into Moe Howard.

His fascination with the Three Stooges, the legendary vaudeville troupe formed in the 1920s, began when he was a child in Maysville, N.C.

"The first thing I remember on television was the Three Stooges," Mr. Heath said. "When I was in high school, the Stooges were back on TV, so two friends and I started doing them."

His two friends mimicked Curly and Moe, and since he thought being Larry would be boring, Mr. Heath opted to be Shemp. The three high school buddies didn't dress as the Stooges. They just imitated the skits and did "a lot of cutting up," he recalled.

They all attended Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and seminary together. The act expanded to full impersonation, with the group adopting the name the Campbell Stooges.

After graduation in 1984, Mr. Heath said, he put away the costume and stopped doing the imitation.

While working in California as an associate pastor in 1984, he met Joe Besser, who was Curly Joe with the Three Stooges from 1957 to 1958.

"I went to a phone book in North Hollywood and looked up his address and went to his house," Mr. Heath recalled. "At first he was hesitant to speak with me, but I told him, 'Mr. Besser, I've come all the way from North Carolina to see you.' "

In 1988, he heard about the Three Stooges fan club in Philadelphia having its second annual convention. Present at the convention would be several of the Stooges' relatives. Mr. Heath had corresponded with Moe's daughter and thought the convention would be a perfect opportunity to meet her. On a whim, he packed his costume and makeup.

"I figured they would have a professional [Moe impersonator]," he said. "They had one, but he was doing Curly.

"I went up and put on my stuff and came back, and everybody went wild," he recalled.

Being a comedian is serious work. Along with George "Mr. Larry" Liker, and Dave "The Man Who Would Be Curly" Knight, Mr. Heath learns complicated comedy routines that can include the eye-poking, head-bopping physical humor the Stooges were known for.

One of the former Larry impersonators, Billy West, is a voice actor who has been on the "Howard Stern Show" and is the voice of Stimpy on the Nickelodeon cartoon "Ren & Stimpy."

Mr. Heath has been featured on CBS News and will be on the magazine show "Now" with Tom Brokaw.

At this year's convention in July, he was also able to combine his hobby with his life's work. He preached, in costume but not in voice, a worship service prior to the convention activities.

"I asked to do it," said the pastor, who has been preaching since he was 14. "It's been something I've been wanting to ask for a couple of years now, and it's like God said this is the year to ask."

He said that convention organizers never questioned his desire to preach and were helpful in securing a room for him to deliver his sermon. The congregation at Elders Baptist was also supportive.

"They were all praying for me," he said.

Mr. Heath has a radio show, "Your Saturday Serenade," from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on WWLG 1360 AM. He plays selections from his collection of 600 big-band records and encourages requests.

"Some people have called in and we've got to talking," he said. "Some I have even prayed with over the phone."

He enjoys his multi-faceted life: "God has blessed me with wonderful opportunities."

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