February 7, 2017

Goodbye to Professor Irwin Corey — one of my all-time favorite comedians.

"Comedian and actor Irwin Corey, for whom the word "however" was the perfect opening line, has died at age 102. With an impish grin and wild hair, Corey was a nightclub and talk-show fixture who worked with stars from Jackie Gleason to Woody Allen. His admirers ranged from Damon Runyon to Lenny Bruce."

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.

From Wikipedia:
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.

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."
Listen to that speech here
In the Robert A. Heinlein science fiction novel Friday, the eponymous heroine says
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."
Here'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:
Kliph Nesteroff: I have a clipping from 1936 that says you were performing with the Lionel Stander Vaudeville Tour.

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.'"

... 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.
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."
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.


traditionalguy said...

He is brilliant. He early on was pointing a finger at Bush II for cooperating with the inside job done on the Twin Towers demolition to justify a War on Iraq. And he called it right about the first man who really single handedly made America Greater in size, President James K. Polk, a true disciple of A. Jackson.

Amadeus 48 said...

However, he was one funny leftie, exceeding the most heinous expectations of his followers, acolytes, and detractors, knowing as they did that the magniloquence of a demented genius is half the essence of wit, and also isn't, and loosening the bands and bounds of rationality, he left his hearers in doubt as to whether it was he or they that were hearing what they or he thought that he or they were hearing, or weren't...

Roughcoat said...

Did he believe that 9/11 was an inside job? That's obscene ... and sad. If it's true.

campy said...

Can we impeach Trump over this?

Rob said...

I'm pretty sure I saw Bernie Sanders panhandling outside the Midtown Tunnel. Or a dead ringer.

Sigivald said...

How could he die at 102 if his 100th birthday was six years ago?

EDH said...

I always liked Professor Irwin Corey's self-awarded title as "The World's Foremost Authority."

RIP you Commie.

madAsHell said...

He was always in character.....or maybe it wasn't an act.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Roughcoat said...
Did he believe that 9/11 was an inside job? That's obscene ... and sad. If it's true.
2/7/17, 4:56 PM

He was a communist, and nothing is obscene for a communist except resistance. I'm glad he's dead. All Communists should be brutally murdered, or if they're going to have long lives, not in good health.

What is, however, both obscene and sad, is that traditionalguy is unironically parroting his remarks. Traditionalguy, do you want to walk that back, or should every decent person on this board write you off right now?

traditionalguy said...

OK, he wasn't brilliant. And I really believe the Twin Towers came down because of the fires that burned after Airliners were flown into them. To believe otherwise is too terrible.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Hey, don't let me twist your arm, if what you said is what you believe, I just want that clear. I don't understand people who say things they don't believe, that's all.

FleetUSA said...

Loved him in Carwash

FleetUSA said...
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FleetUSA said...
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harkin said...

When I was a kid I loved his appearances on the old Local LA Steve Allen TV show during the late 60s.

I don't remember him ever getting political.

Jack Wayne said...

Never liked him.

Michael K said...

Not very funny. A friend of mine was sent to live with relatives from Cuba back when he was about 8. His parents could not get out for several years and he ended in an orphanage until they could come and reclaim him.

He applied to medical school at UC in the 80s and his application lingered for weeks. Finally he drove to SF and went to the admissions office at UCSF. They told him his application was in the "Hispanic committee." He asked if they could just call him "White" and forget the Hispanic thing. He was afraid of what the committee might consider.

Two weeks later he was accepted.

Trumpit said...
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Trumpit said...

His death had absolutely nothing to do with old age. Professor Corey was horrified by the election of a jackass, know-nothing, humorless president who rejects climate science, global warming, and Muslims. It was more than his ultra-illogical, intoxicated scientific mind could take: a human banana in the Oval Office. Dr. Corey died watching Trump on TV muttering to himself, "You're no Jezebel" over and over again until he lost hope, and consciousness. Paramedics tried to revive him, but he shouted a couple of "impeach her!" and "DNR" and that was it. He was a learned idiotic comic genius & scholastic buffoon who knew everything there is to know about clowns and blithering idiots, not to mention a walking Encyclopedia(tm). He finally met his unequal match in Trump. This is a tragic loss for mankind because he was one of the few who could translate Trump's three-stoogery into plain nonsense. He finally misunderstood at long last that every word that he ever spoke was pure genius eloquent blather, and the world was doomed to a cruel twisted joke that even he, a man of letters in an age of email, could not unwind, decipher or fathom. I wish I could have his cool tennis shoes as a memento of his towering stature and athlete's feat.

bagoh20 said...

Didn't he write The Magna Carta?

Trumpit said...

That was a truly incredible eulogy Professor Althouse. If you did nothing but compose eulogies the world would be a truly enchanted. better place. Thank you!

Trumpit said...
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Quaestor said...

Irwin Corey did nothing but a demented version of Pangloss — over, over, and over again. Big fucking deal.

If the election and inauguration of President Donald Trump actually killed the guy as per the sourpuss Trumpit, rather than chronic decrepitude, then Trump should take gleeful credit. I suggest an Irwin Corey silhouette painted on the nose of Air Force One. Four more leftish non-spring chickens and he's an ace!

Quaestor said...

Trumpit wrote: If [Althouse] did nothing but compose eulogies the world would be a truly enchanted. better place. Thank you!

Suck up.

I'm looking forward to yours, Trumpit.

Jon Ericson said...

Don't be so subtle.

Jon Ericson said...

What the hell are you?
Do you believe the shit you write?
Do you need some sedatives?
Calm down, bro.
Here's a doobie through the usb port.
Smoke it and calm down.
Peace Brother.

Trumpit said...


You are nothing more than a hateful troll. Who don't you hate? You'd fit right in in the odious Trump Administration. Your good buddy Bad Lieutenant wrote in this tread,
"All Communists should be brutally murdered ..." I would ban an evil criminally-minded commenter like that from my blog permanently. I don't think I'm sucking up to Prof. Althouse to suggest that.

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Bad Lieutenant said...

Hey Trumpie! How you doin' man? Have a good breakfast? Gotta keep up your strength doing all that mobying!

No, Jon, Little Trumpie ain't serious. He's a moby like Alex, only more so. A conservative moby, so he plays commie lib on TV. But don't tell on him! He's really a big Trump fan. Has a custom pair of socks, one with Ivanka's picture embroidered on it, one with Tiffany's. He switches off each time he has to send one to the laundry. IYKWIM, AITYD.

It would be a mean trick to swap them for ones with Hillary and Michelle, or maybe Chelsea and Lil' Lena on the potty eating her first cake of the morning.

Bad Lieutenant said...

And yes, if Trump blows up the world, at least we can thank him for killing Erwin Corey. In four years we can dig him up for Trump's reelection.

Trumpie, if I scared you before, the commies don't have to be bludgeoned or necklaced. They can just go out like Professor Corrie. Or be hanged. Hanging is about right. I was hasty with the beating and the burning and flaying and disembowelment and all.

Bad Lieutenant said...

That's why he wants Kori's sneakers, to put the socks in!