In Robert A. Heinlein’s 1982 SF novel Friday, the main character, Friday Baldwin, discovered the work of Professor Irwin Corey whilst researching something else. She declared his comedy routines “timeless.” For some of Heinlein’s readers, this was a tip of the hat to a favorite performer. Younger readers were surprised to learn that Professor Irwin Corey was real and not made up for the novel.
“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.” Friday, Robert A. Heinlein
Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority, died Monday, February 6, 2017, in his home in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. He was 102.
The comic genius who would become Professor Irwin Corey was born Irwin Eli Cohen on July 29, 1914, in Brooklyn. He sadly became a ward of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, along with five of his siblings, before embarking on a career that would include vaudeville, nightclubs, radio, legitimate theater, movies, record albums, television, and stand-up comedy.
His first theatrical endeavor was writing and performing in “Pins and Needles” in 1938, a musical show put on by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He soon went on to vaudeville, especially on the Borsht Belt. He found success at the “hungry i” in San Francisco, and went on to radio, movies, and Broadway. He played many roles, from the Mad Bomber in Car Wash to a gravedigger in Hamlet to the genie in Flahooley. However, the role for which he was best known was an absent-minded professor who was the World’s Greatest Authority on any subject you cared to mention. As the professor, he was a master of double-talk, combining sesquipedalian phrases with pithy one-liners, confusing and delighting audiences. He wore a shabby suit, which had obviously seen better days, with sneakers, and his hair was uncombed.
Irwin Corey ran for president in 1960 on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Party ticket. Unfortunately, he didn’t win. Although that campaign was merely a gag, in real life he was very politically active and very left-wing. Like many other performers, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Irwin Corey was responsible for several phrases that have become popular, most of which have been attributed to someone else.
- “Wherever you go, there you are.”
- “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”
- “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll wind up where we’re going.”
Corey was predeceased by both his wife of 70 years, Fran, and their daughter, Margaret C. Davis. He is survived by his son Richard Corey, two grandsons, Amadeo Corey and Corey Meister, and two great-grandchildren.
Theater critic Kenneth Tynan: “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.”
Lenny Bruce: “One of the most brilliant comedians of all time.”
Krypton Radio’s own Gene Turnbow: “Well respected, much beloved, and played a geek/nerd his entire career.”
Susan Fox (also of Krypton Radio): “His whole act WAS alternate universe fiction!”
The character he created was the summation of all the misanthropic missteps of otherwise intelligent and gifted people. It is, perhaps, his holding up a mirror to geekdom that makes us laugh even now. Rest in peace, old friend. And well done, sir.