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“Professor” Irwin Corey
Born July 29, 1914 (1914-07-29) (age 95)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Medium stand-up, film, television
Nationality American
Years active 1938 - present
Genres Wit/Word play, Improvisational comedy, Satire, Character comedy
Influences Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers
Influenced Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Tom Smothers[1]
Spouse Fran (ca.1940 - present; 1 son)

"Professor" Irwin Corey (born July 29, 1914, Brooklyn, New York) is an American comic, film actor and left-wing political activist, who is often billed as 'The World's Foremost Authority'. He is credited with inventing his unscripted, improvisational style of stand-up comedy at Enrico Banducci's San Francisco club the hungry i.

Lenny Bruce once described Corey as "one of the most brilliant comedians of all time".[2]


Personal life

Irwin Corey was born in 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. Born into a poverty-stricken household, his parents were forced to place him and his five siblings in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, where Corey remained until the age of 13, when he rode the rails out to California. During the Great Depression, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and while working his way back East, he became a featherweight Golden Gloves boxing champion.

Corey has always supported left-wing politics, and has appeared in support of Cuban children, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the American Communist Party, which resulted in his eventual Hollywood blacklisting in the 1950s, the effects of which he says still linger on to this day. (Corey never returned to Late Night with David Letterman after his first appearance in 1982, which he claimed was a result of the blacklist still being in effect.[3]) During the 1960 election, Corey campaigned for president on Hugh Hefner's Playboy ticket.[4]

He accepted the National Book Award Fiction Citation on behalf of Thomas Pynchon for Gravity's Rainbow in 1974. He is also briefly mentioned in Chapter 22 of the Robert A. Heinlein novel Friday, but as "the World's Greatest Authority."

Professor Corey resides in the Murray Hill neighborhood of New York City.



In 1938, Corey was back in New York, where he got a job writing and performing in Pins and Needles, a musical comedy revue about a union organizer in the garment trade in New York. He was fired from this job (he has said) for his union organizing activities—the irony of which was not lost on him. Five years later, he was working on another revue, New Faces of 1943 and appearing at the Village Vanguard, doing his stand-up comedy routine. He was drafted during World War II, but was discharged after six months, after (according to Corey) convincing an Army psychiatrist that he was a homosexual.

From the late 1940s he cultivated his "Professor" character. Dressed in seedy formal wear and sneakers, with his bushy hair sprouting in all directions, Corey would amble on stage in a preoccupied manner, then begin his monologue with "However..." He created a new style of doublespeak comedy; instead of making up nonsense words like "krelman" and "trilloweg," like double-talker Al Kelly, the Professor would season his speech with many long and florid, but authentic, words. The professor would then launch into nonsensical observations about anything under the sun, but seldom actually making sense. Changing topics suddenly, he would wander around the stage, pontificating all the while. His very quick wit allowed him to hold his own against the most stubborn straight man, heckler or interviewer.

One notable fan of Corey's comedy was Ayn Rand,[5] and influential theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote of the Professor in The New Yorker, “Corey is a cultural clown, a parody of literacy, a travesty of all that our civilization holds dear, and one of the funniest grotesques in America. He is Chaplin’s tramp with a college education”.[6]

In 1951, Corey appeared as Abou Ben Atom the Genie in the cult classic flop Broadway musical Flahooley alongside the likes of Yma Sumac, the Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes, and Barbara Cook in her Broadway debut. Corey's performance of "Springtime Cometh" can be heard on the show's original cast album.

Film and Television

Corey appeared occasionally in 1950s television as a character actor. He is memorable in an episode of The Phil Silvers Show titled "Bilko's Grand Hotel," in which Corey plays an unkempt Bowery bum being passed off as a hotelier by Sgt. Bilko. The Professor was a frequent guest comic on variety shows and a guest panelist on game shows during the 1960s and 1970s.

Corey became so synonymous with comic erudition that, when a Rhode Island TV station wanted a spokesman to explain changes in network affiliations, Corey got the job. Lecturing with pointer in hand, Corey manipulated magnetic signs to demonstrate how TV schedules would be disrupted. By the end of the announcement, the visual aids were in shambles and the professor, as usual, had meandered from his original point.

Corey often appeared on Steve Allen's late night show, syndicated by Westinghouse, The Steve Allen Show (1962-64), whereon he would end his rambling stand-up routine with Allen literally chasing him off the stage.

"Professor" Irwin Corey's stage persona bears some similarities to that of "Professor" Stanley Unwin.

Corey has appeared in Shakespearean theater; he was one of the gravediggers in a production of Hamlet. He is seldom seen on stage today, something he attributes to lasting effects of his 1950s blacklisting.


Married since circa 1940 to his wife, Fran, the Coreys have one son, Richard, a painter, and a grandson named Amadeo.[7][8]



External links

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