At the ripe age of either 98 (per Wikipedia) or 100 (per his faded driver's license), Professor Irwin Corey, "The World's Foremost Authority," is still a man of many words, usually multisyllabic and unintelligible. No other comedian is so eloquent in his use of vocabulary and so incoherent through his abuse of it.
Mostly self-educated, a voracious reader, still spry, hip, impish and still performing, albeit not as often as during his glory days, Corey built a thriving career on the synthesis of erudition and gibberish. Actually, he knows the meaning of every word he misuses. He appears on stage disheveled, wearing a cutaway, string tie, baggy pants and sneakers and wanders anxiously around. To remind himself why he's there, he removes some notes from his pocket, laughs silently at their hilarity, replaces them, pulls them out and reads them again before holding up his index finger for attention. He always begin by uttering the same word, However, followed by as many minutes of improvised madness as his hosts will allow before having him carried off the stage. His more comprehensible axioms (often attributed erroneously to lesser wits) include "If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going," "You can get further with a kind word and a gun that you do with just a kind word" and "Marriage is like a bank account. You put it in, you take it out, you lose interest."
Corey had a hard childhood. He and his five siblings were longtime wards of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum where Corey spent his first 13 years and started doing comedy. Jenny, his mother, was a gifted dressmaker, who copied Bergdorf's designer fashions for her clients at Lower East Side rates. Deserted by her husband, diagnosed with tuberculosis and unable to both financially support her brood and physically care for them, Jenny paid the orphanage $30 a month for their care to prevent them from being put up for adoption.
When Corey was 13, he went back to live with his mother, but he was soon riding the rails to California with other unemployed members of the proletariat. From LA, Corey worked his way back to New York with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal Works Project, and won a Golden Gloves Featherweight Title -- "I was the champ! I never lost a fight!" -- before sensibly retiring from the ring. His youthful privations turned him into a soft touch for left and left of left wing causes. In the '60's Corey sent a $40,000 shipment of medical supplies to Cuba and met Castro when Fidel came to NY. Corey also ran for president in 1960 on Hefner's Playboy ticket. "Vote for Irwin and get on the dole!" was his campaign slogan.
After stints in the Catskills, in 1938 he was back in New York, writing and performing in Pins and Needles, a revue about a garment union organizer. Ironically, when Corey tried that unionize the show, he was fired by the producers, which gave him time for love. He met his wife Fran Berman, an artist, in 1939, at a communist camp in the Berkshires, Camp Unity. She married him, but "the communist party blackballed me. They said I was an anarchist!" And they were right. Can you imagine Corey following orders? Fran Corey died last year after 71 years of marriage and here's Corey's explanation for their years of connubial bliss, "I wasn't around that much. I was on the road half the time." Their devoted son Richard, 65, a talented artist/musician, and Corey's 14-year-old artistic grandson Amadeo live nearby.
By 1943 Corey was writing and starring in New Faces on Broadway and performing standup three times a night at the Village Vanguard after being classified 4F three times. "The fourth time they called me, I brought along a letter from the producers saying I was indispensable. The guy wasn't impressed. He put me right in the army without even giving me a physical, but I managed to get discharged six months later after I convinced an Army psychiatrist I was homosexual."
Once again, Corey picked up where he left off with a tsunami of doubletalk that satirized political and academic pretensions. He sold out everywhere he worked and was even extended in London where theater critic Kenneth Tynan described him as "a parody of literacy ... Chaplin's tramp with a college education." From the '50's to the '80's Corey became a mainstay on radio and then on television game, variety and talk shows from Steve Allen to Johnny Carson, Cavett, Gleason, Griffin, Mike Douglas and Ed Sullivan. Corey became a mentor to the smartest young comics -- Mort Sahl, Shelly Berman, Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Tom Smothers, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Dick Gregory, a close friend, became the first African-American comic to work in a major white club, The Playboy Club, because Irwin, who like God only worked six days a week, told Hefner to let Gregory fill in for him on Sunday nights.
Corey was cast in a Francis Ford Coppola's film where "all my scenes but one were cut. Still I made more money from the residuals than I did from the movie." His most recent film was Woody Allen's 1991 Curse of the Jade Scorpion and he stole the stage from Richard Dreyfuss in the 2004 production of Sly Fox, in which Corey had almost no lines, just a irresistible on-stage presence.
Corey still gets paid for making people laugh. If you've never seen Corey, go immediately to YouTube and check out Professor Irwin Corey at the Cutting Room, a 2008 performance which has received 50,000 hits, mostly from people younger than half his age, simply because people his age are literally out of this world, unlike Irwin who is figuratively out of this world. You can frequently see him in the flesh at 35th Street and Third Avenue where he hawks newspapers to passing vehicles and gives his gains to charity.
As for the Professor's masterful advice to aspiring young comics, here goes:
However ... we all know that protocol takes precedence over procedures. This Paul Lindsey point of order based on the state of inertia of developing a centrifugal force issued as a catalyst rather than as a catalytic agent, and hastens a change reaction and remains an indigenous brier to its inception. This is a focal point used as a tangent so the bile is excreted through the panaceas.
When asked to translate those concepts into English, Corey replied, "My suggestion is to marry a rich woman."
And that ain't double-talk. And neither is this. May you live to at least 120, Professor. The Village Voice needs you to sell the newspaper they are giving away.