He was "The World's Foremost Authority," and may be "The World's Longest-Lived Comedian." Professor Irwin Corey died at the age of 102. That beats George Burns. 102 is beyond being a ripe old age. It's pretty rotten.
I don't know in what state of infirmity Irwin spent the last two years of his life, but, happily, he was still spry when he hit 100. A party was held for him, and he offered up a few lucid jokes for the cameras. The only signs of age were a few missing teeth, and a gruesome cataract in one eye. He also was missing his wife, who had died a few years earlier. Their life together was the subject of a TV documentary.
Corey (July 29, 1914-February 6, 2017) was often described as "puckish." The little guy developed his persona as an eccentric, windy lecturer. Just as his contemporary Brother Theodore would come out garbed in black, and fully in character, he would arrive in a long frock coat, mussed hair, seemingly dazed and confused, the very picture of an oddball academian. He had the guts to ignore the audience, make them wait, and maintain a long silence while he pulled faces and seemed to be trying to think of the right way to begin his talk. He'd then utter a emphatic "However..." as if he'd already been on stage for 10 minutes. The crowd loved it. They loved him.
Corey had a strong, strong personality, and his sly wit and satire, snuck in under the guise of confusion, was a great gimmick. As the years went on, he became a very radical and outrageous comedian. From mainstream humor, he followed Lenny Bruce into political and religious jokes. The more he was asked to tone it down, the wilder he became. The hilariously rambling guy would keep right on pontificating on Steve Allen's show, while Steve cried out for a commercial break. He became a bit too uncompromising for network TV. You just weren't sure what he was going to say.
"Is there life after birth?" the seemingly innocuous and confused professor would ask. "Well, Richard Nixon...he's an example of afterbirth!"
He became pretty bitter when the TV talk shows stopped booking him, and he'd end up on SCREW's cable show "Midnight Blue" instead. Like so many older comics he admired, including Sahl and Winters, Corey wasn't getting the stand-up work he craved. The comedy clubs that booked Seinfeld, Emo, Tenuta or Kinison just didn't book the older stars.
Fortunately Corey was also a pretty good actor, and he could find some work in movies and on the stage. I don't know that he sang often, but one musical item survives: "Springtime Cometh," from the failed musical "Flahooley." This show, actually, was on the boards when Corey was a rising comic, not at all controversial. The show was a can't miss, with a wild cast that included an exotic sensation named Yma Sumac.
I actually saw a revival of the show, and it made no sense. I think it had something to do with a genie (played by Corey). It wasn't too musical, it wasn't a comedy, and the name of the show made it seem like it was a variation of "Fiorello" and about an Irish politician. I remember being pretty bored, and wondering if it would've been saved if the original cast was doing it. Below, you will find it, for your morbid curiosity. And to satisfy the blog's requirement that it BE a music blog, and no entry be an exception.
Corey was, as you might imagine, a very eccentric guy in real life. Married to the same woman since the 40's, he could seem quite normal, stable, and friendly. But he could also be irascible, feisty and stubborn. New Yorkers were sometimes startled to recognize him, in his 90's, seeming like a homeless man, selling used magazines to strangers. He simply didn't like to see the discarded magazines in his building go to waste, and with nothing much better to do, enjoyed hawking them at half price, or whatever, with the proceeds going to charity. His idea of a charity was sending it to the Cubans. Hey, Castro wasn't all bad.
The last time I saw him was when he performed in a revival of "Sly Fox." The guy who was known for mad ad-libbing and refusing to let Steve Allen break for a commercial, was an absolute pro in what was a small but running-gag role. He didn't "break the wall," wink to the audience, or put any excess "Professor" spin on his lines. He played it absolutely straight, and got huge laughs every time.
Irwin didn't quite make it to Springtime or to the summer that would've brought him to Jiminy Cricket's hoped-for age of 103. But he did reach a feverish 102, and he was a legend in his own time as well as, of course, in his own mind.
Irwin Corey sings... Springtime Cometh