Comedian and actor “Professor” Irwin Corey, has died in his prime at the age of 102. He was “The World’s Foremost Authority,” and arguably one of the oldest comedians alive. Corey transcended through Vaudeville, Broadway, radio, TV, and movies. He shared the big screen with Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason in the only movie the two ever made together, How to Commit Marriage. In 1960, he ran for president on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy ticket. And even at the age of 102, he still made stage appearances and panhandled for money to send Cuban children medical supplies. He was one of a kind. Corey’s daughter-in-law confirmed his passed away Monday evening in his Manhattan home. He had been sick earlier in the year but was sent home after seeming to recover. His son, Richard Corey, quipped that his father died “peacefully, at home, surrounded by his son.”
He had a mischievous grin and wild streak of hair that made him a fixture in night clubs and talk shows. He worked with Woody Allen and his admirers including everyone from Damon Runyon to Lenny Bruce.
Corey possessed a surreal brand of comedy, a guise as an absent-minded professer who would poke fun at multisyllabic jargon, and those who use it. He would deliver a stream of seemingly nonsensical stream of non-sequiturs monologues that aped blowhard pundits, pompous academics, and other know-it-alls. But the breadth of his career hints at his creative genius: Who else could have appeared in the 1976 film Car Wash, two years after accepting a National Book Award on behalf of the reclusive Thomas Pynchon?
Born in 1914, his father left the family early on, and his mother, stricken with tuberculosis, sent her children to be raised at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. For $30 a month, she paid for their stay there to avoid adoption. While at the asylum, Corey developed his knack for comedy by making the other children laugh. At the age of 15, he hopped on a boxcar to Los Angeles and enrolled himself in Belmont High School. After high school he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps where he was a boxer. He found his love for the stage while performing in Pots and Pans on the Borscht Circuit. He moved to New York City in 1938, and became a staple of the nightclubs. Corey had leftist political views, in fact he met his wife while in a communist camp. Later, he would mention how his affiliation with the party had him blacklisted. He also was drafted into World War II, but managed to get discharged by convincing a psychiatrist he was gay. By 1943 he was writing in a Broadway comedy revue, the New Faces.
The “Professor” persona cam in 1940s as he’s he’d wear a disheveled tuxedo with sneakers in his act, with hair standing in all directions. He’d pull out pieces of papers almost as if he had forgotten what he came to say. Sometimes, he’s reference the papers and smirk, like reading a secret joke. Always beginning his bit with “However…” confusing people as if in the middle of a rebuttal. He’d then dazzle his audience with doubletalk to provoke confusion and amusement. The use of big words without really saying anything gave him that nickname.