I celebrated him here on July 29, 2011, his 100th birthday:
Here's video of him performing in 2011, when he was 97:
And the video below comes from way back in 2007, when the President of the United States was George Bush, and Professor Irwin Corey looked much more than 5 years younger. He criticizes the President in both videos, and perhaps the years weigh very heavily as you approach 100 — I'm saying "you," but do you really think you'll have the opportunity to feel the increasing weight of the years leading up to 100? — but perhaps for a true left-winger like Professor Irwin Corey, the experience of disappointment in Obama hurts far more than getting what you knew you were going to hate from George Bush.
Poverty-stricken, his parents were forced to place him in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, where Corey remained until his early teens, when he rode the rails out to California, and enrolled himself at Belmont High School in Los Angeles. During the Great Depression, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and while working his way back East, became a featherweight Golden Gloves boxing champion.Listen to that speech here.
Corey supported left-wing politics. "When I tried to join the Communist Party, they called me an anarchist." He has appeared in support of Cuban children, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the American Communist Party, and was blacklisted in the 1950s, the effects of which he says still linger to this day.... During the 1960 election, Corey campaigned for president on Hugh Hefner's Playboy ticket....
When the famously publicity-shy Thomas Pynchon won the National Book Award Fiction Citation for Gravity's Rainbow, he asked Corey to accept it on his behalf. The New York Times described the resulting speech as "...a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax which left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed."
In the Robert A. Heinlein science fiction novel Friday, the eponymous heroine saysHere's an interview with him (with photos). The interviewer's first line is: "Damon Runyon once called you the funniest man in the world." And:
At one time there really was a man known as "the World's Greatest Authority." I ran across him in trying to nail down one of the many silly questions that kept coming at me from odd sources. Like this: Set your terminal to "research." Punch parameters in succession "North American culture," "English-speaking," "mid-twentieth century," "comedians," "the World’s Greatest Authority." The answer you can expect is "Professor Irwin Corey." You’ll find his routines timeless humor.For an October 2011 interview, Corey invited a New York Times reporter to visit his 1840 carriage house on East 36th Street. Corey estimated its resale value at $3.5 million. He said that, when not performing, he panhandled for change from motorists exiting the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Every few months, he told the interviewer, he donated the money to a group that purchased medical supplies for Cuban children. He said of the drivers who supplied the cash, "I don’t tell them where the money’s going, and I’m sure they don’t care." Irvin Arthur, Corey's agent for half a century, assured the reporter that Corey didn't need the money for himself. "This is not about money," Arthur said. "For Irwin, this is an extension of his performing."
Kliph Nesteroff: I have a clipping from 1936 that says you were performing with the Lionel Stander Vaudeville Tour.Later:
Professor Irwin Corey: Yeah, I did a tour with Lionel Stander. He fired me after three weeks to save fifty dollars.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Professor Irwin Corey: (laughs) He did a vaudeville act and we were hecklers. I don't remember exactly what we did, but he was on the bill with a couple of people. He said on New Year's Eve, "Don't even bother telling jokes. Tonight the audience are the funny ones."
I did a show with Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, Dick Cavett, Dick Gregory and Bill Dana. I told this joke. "A bum walks up to a very wealthy woman and says, 'Madam, I'm broke. Can I borrow a buck?' Madam looks at the bum and says, ' Neither a borrower nor a lender be! - Shakespere.' The bum replies, 'Fuck you!' - Tennesee Williams.'"Much more at that link, and many more names dropped, e.g., "that woman that had her head cut off. What was her name? Jayne Mansfield?" and "George Carlin. I also helped get Carlin a job early on." and "Woody Allen used some of my material. He was no good at the... he died at the Hungry i..." and "Ed Sullivan was an anti-Semite and a very dull person in reality."
... Mort Sahl used some of my material. I always said, "The future lies ahead!" And then he put out a record called The Future Lies Ahead - and that had been my line. In fact, I was the one that coined the expression, "You can get more with a kind word... and a gun, than with just a kind word." Many people thought that Al Capone had said that. Al Capone couldn't even write his first name.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did anybody every go after you because of your progressive politics?
Professor Irwin Corey: I was never aware that I was a political commentator. It just happens. You just do it. You breathe, but you're not conscious of breathing. When I did my act I wasn't conscious that it was political.