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Fake Shemp or simply, "Shemp," is the term for someone who appears in a film under heavy make-up, filmed from the back, or perhaps only showing an arm or a foot. Although use of the term is limited, it is frequently used in connection with Sam Raimi movies.


In the film Rumpus in the Harem, supporting player Joe Palma (far left in this promo photo) doubled as Shemp Howard.

The term references the comedy trio The Three Stooges. In 1955, Stooge Shemp Howard died of a heart attack. At the time, the Stooges still had four shorts left to deliver (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers and Commotion on the Ocean), by the terms of their annual contract with Columbia Pictures. By this point in the trio's career, budget cuts at Columbia had forced them to make heavy use of stock footage from previously completed shorts anyway, so they were able to complete the films without Shemp. New footage was filmed of the other two Stooges (Moe Howard and Larry Fine) and edited together with stock footage. When continuity required that Shemp appear in these new scenes, they used Shemp's stand-in Joe Palma to be a body double for him, appearing only from behind or with an object obscuring his face. Palma became the original "Fake Shemp," although the term was not officially in use at the time.

Stooge Shorts[]

For Rumpus in the Harem, Palma is seen from the back several times. The first time occurs in the restaurant when Moe declares that the trio must do something to help their sweethearts. Larry then concludes the conversation by saying "I've got it, I've got it!" Moe inquires with "What?" Larry replies, "a terrific headache!" Later, Palma is seen from the back being chased in circles by the palace guard. A few lines of dialogue appear — "Whoa, Moe, Larry! Moe, help!" — by dubbing Shemp's voice from the soundtracks of Fuelin' Around and Blunder Boys. Palma was later seen from the side when staring up at the Harem girls (they allowed half his face to be shown because he was farther from the camera than Moe or Larry).

Palma is seen one final time, making a mad dash for the open window, and supplying his own yell before making the final jump. This was one of the few times during his tenure as Shemp's double that Palma was required to speak without the aid of dubbing.

For Hot Stuff, Palma is seen several times. The first time occurs when the Stooges, disguised in beards, are trolling through office hallways. Moe instructs Shemp to pursue a suspicious looking girl, to which Palma grunts "Right!" He then walks off-camera, allowing Moe and Larry to finish the scene by themselves. This is the only time Palma allowed his face to be seen on-camera. As he was purposely wearing a beard, his face is successfully concealed.

Later, Palma is seen from the back while the boys are locked in the laboratory. Palma attempts to imitate Shemp's famed cry of "Heep, heep, heep!". Again, Moe directs Shemp, this time to guard the door. Palma obliges, mutters a few additional "Heep, heep, heeps!," and conveniently hides behind the door. This was another one of the few times during his tenure as Shemp's double that Palma was required to speak without the aid of dubbing.

For Scheming Schemers, Palma appears for the shot of "Shemp" honking a truck horn. Palma then gathers several pipes, obstructing his face. Palma then gets a line of dialogue"—Hold yer horses, will ya?"—by dubbing in Shemp's voice from the soundtrack of The Ghost Talks.

For Commotion on the Ocean, Palma appears in only one new shot during the newspaper office scene. After Larry says, "Oh, I know Smitty: 'Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smitty stands'," Moe slaps him. Palma gets involved in the slapstick exchange and shields himself in defense, obstructing his face. Other new footage throughout the film consists of Moe and Larry working as a duo, often discussing Shemp's absence aloud:

  • Moe: "I wonder what became of that Shemp?"
  • Larry: "You know he went on deck to scout out some food."
  • Moe: "Oh, yeah. That's right."

First usage[]

It was aspiring filmmaker Sam Raimi, a professed Stooges fan, who coined the term in the movie The Evil Dead. Most of his crew and cast abandoned the project after production went well beyond the scheduled six weeks. He was forced to use himself, his die-hard friends Bruce Campbell, Rob Tappert, Josh Becker, assistant David Goodman, and brother Ted Raimi as "fake shemps."

The term stuck. To this day, Sam Raimi's productions, both feature film as well as TV work, use the term to refer to stand-ins or nameless characters. However, the description is sometimes modified in the final credits. For example, in Darkman, Bruce Campbell's quick cameo in the final scene is credited as "Final Shemp," and Campbell also was credited as 'Shemp Wooley' when doing the voice of 'Jean-Claude the Carrier Parrot' in the short-lived TV series Jack of All Trades.Template:Fact

Classic Shemps[]

  • There have been many Fake Shemps over the years, but the most notable ones are Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi, who have "shemped" frequently throughout their careers. Both have had "shemp" cameos in nearly all of Raimi's movies, most notably in the Spider-Man franchise. Campbell is also known to shemp in many Coen brothers movies. The Coens were involved in the editing process of The Evil Dead.
  • In Superman II, there is a Fake Shemp standing in for Gene Hackman during scenes director Richard Lester re-shot in order to earn full director's credit after Richard Donner was fired during production. Hackman refused to come back and re-shoot scenes upon hearing of Donner's firing.
  • The term Shemp is also used on the San Diego radio show, Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw, on KGB. When the group talked about one of Shelly's boyfriends, they would call him "Shemp" instead of using his real name. Some of the Shemps were numbered or otherwise labeled, and her husband, Mike, was called Shemp before they became engaged. On the Dallas, Texas radio show, "The Pugs and Kelly Show" on KLLI, the "Shemp" nickname was assigned to Kelly's (now ex-) husband.


See also Dark Horse Comic, AOD #2 of 3, interview with Bruce Campbell