Prof. Irwin Corey, a comedian who billed himself as “The World’s Foremost Authority” and was the master of authoritative-sounding meaningless double-talk, has died at 102.
In a long career devoted mainly to standup comedy, he made seven Broadway appearances, debuting in Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1943, and being featured as Abou Ben Atom in the cult 1951 musical Flahooley. He played Marlo Thomas’ father in Herb Gardner’s 1973 comedy Thieves, and made his final appearance as the Court Clerk in the 2004 revival of Sly Fox.
He played those roles with only a taste of his “Professor” persona, but when he appeared in clubs or on TV shows like The Tonight Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he would don a rumpled long coat, a crooked tie, and wild Albert Einstein-like hair, earnestly holding forth on subjects including Greek classics, marriage, politics, and philosophy, loading his speeches with polysyllabic buzz words, portentous phrases, and non-sequitur literary references. He often began his harangues in mid sentence, with the word “However.”
He was tirelessly devoted to left wing political causes, activities that led him to be blacklisted during the anti-Communist witchhunts of the 1950s.
British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan described Corey thus: “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 clown with a college education.”