Usually when I do a 100th-birthday salute, the subject of my adulation has long since cast off their mortal coil. Not so "Professor" Irwin Corey, who joins Bob Hope and George Burns in making it into 3-digit territory and proving that comedy is good for your health. Born in Brooklyn a century ago today, the self-proclaimed "World's Foremost Authority" is, as I write this, celebrating his 100th birthday not far from me in Manhattan. Yahoo!
I first saw Corey on television when I was a teenager and was blown away by his wildness, his double talk, and his improvisational flair. Okay, so he's not exactly a physical comedian, but in his dismantling of language and logic he certainly merits a place amongst the Pantheon of clowns and variety artists. Long before Robin Williams hit the scene, Corey was free associating faster than the speed of light. (I exaggerate only slightly.) He was a brilliant satirist with strong political views, and pretty fearless when it came to using his double-talk skills to mock the hackneyed verbiage of politicians. Here's a video sample of Corey performing at the young age of 94:
"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."
— theater critic Kenneth Tynan in The New Yorker
And here's a two-minute bit on The Smothers Brothers Show:
Corey also performed as a character actor in many movies and plays, including as the gravedigger in Hamlet. And according to our good friend Wikipedia, when Thomas Pynchon won the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow, he had Corey give the acceptance speech for him. If you've read any Pynchon, you'll get the connection.
Finally, here's Corey at 96 reminiscing on his career:
Click here to go to the official Irwin Corey web site.
Click here for a birthday salute from this morning's New York Daily News.