RIFFS 2017
   
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NYT Obit
NPR Appreciation
 
 
 
 
Published February 9, 2017
However Forever
Professor Irwin Corey [1914 - 2017]

Beloveds, today those sad distant peals and those angry metallic resonances you hear do not emanate from any bells at the bullseye of our Cherryland – they come to you straight from Gotham where one of the finest and most original of our comedic deities has taken his leave. Irwin Corey, Professor of the Higher and Deeper, Wizard of the Ponderous Goof, and celebrated Giant Imp of the Multisyllabic ain't no more.

In his 102 years (that is correct a C note plus two and a half) he saw more action and floated more boats than any five of us mortals put together. Known primarily as a terrifyingly original comedian, the Professor was as equally at home on the stages of Broadway and network television as he was panhandling on the streets of the Lower Eastside to collect money to send to Cuba for various humanitarian efforts. He mixed the absurd with the political and wove words so adroitly, and so seditiously that you were forty-two miles out of town before you realized you ain't got the first biscuit.

I'll leave it to the High Sahibs of Published Culture to fill you in on some of the details and highlights of this great cat's span. Some of the links on the left will tighten you up with the bio jazz. But here is a short list of some of his pursuits:

Boxer, rail rider, CCC worker, button maker and gleeful member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Vaudevillian, Burlesquer, '50s blacklister,Thomas Pynchon avatar, film actor, Broadway actor, comedian, panhandler for Cuban causes.

In 2006 Michael Monteleone and Roger Mexico interviewed the Professor at his home in one of NYC's only remaining 1800's carriage houses:

 

IC
Well, I'll tell you something. Buckley's act was unique. It was so different that he had very few - he had no imitators. Whereas you had imitators for Jimmy Stewart or Edward G. Robinson or Eddie Cantor. James Cagney. They got imitators that can do the voice. Why do you have to pay so much to get imitation when you can see the real thing for nothin'? Nobody could imitate or derive any thing that would resemble what Lord Buckley did. I mean, the way he did The Nazz and he did Jonah and the Whale. 'He's the captain of dis heah mess!' You know, his words were...can I use the word darling? You just fell in love with the sound of his voice. Him and Lenny Bruce. Sounds that mesmerized you. And he had the dignity. The dignity which was something that very few people had.

MM
Now, some people have told me, like Jonathan Winters told me that he felt, and George Carlin as well, they said they felt that there was a lot of love in his voice. Does that ring true?

IC
Well, that's what I mean by when you mesmerize somebody. You have control over them and they are yours, not out of hostility, but of affection. I was listening to his records just recently. I got every one of his recordings. There was one record that was autographed to me and I don't know where the goddamn thing is.

MM
Irwin, Lord Buckley was a pretty successful Vaudevillian. I think he made good money in Vaudeville. But when he started doing his hip material, like Marc Anthony and things like that, he kind of scuffled for fifteen years or so.

IC
Well, I'll tell you, there's a limited audience for everybody that is - For instance, Richard Pryor had a limited audience. Lenny Bruce, a limited audience. Bob Hope, tremendous audience! And what did he do? Shit. I mean, people that amuse us like Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley, they are saying something. They are telling you something. Understand?

RM
Irwin, what can we learn from the 50's and that era, the so called Beat era, if you will, the era of experimentation, you know? Post war.

IC
What would I suggest? I suggest that everybody in 1950 buy ten shares of AT&T and Xerox and forget everything else. By the time '42 and '52 and '62 runs around they are multi-millionaires.

RM
But is there something we can learn from you and people who were doing comedy at that time. I mean, it was a kind of a tough time. The Eisenhower years. Buttoned-down. Man In The Gray Flannel Suit and all of that. There you were, and Buckley and these guys, you were kind of rebels, no?

IC
Yeah, but I don't think that Buckley consciously had a message to give. I wasn't conscious of things that I was saying. In fact, most people don't even know how the sentence is going to end that they start. You know, how's this thing gonna end?

MM
You're talking about comedians?

IC
Well, comedians tell you where to start, and they tell you where to go, but not consciously on their part.

MM
Would it be fair to say in the Fifties you had comics like Bob Hope, Henny Youngman, people like that. Then you had these really unique guys like you, like Buckley, like Lenny Bruce. Did that say something about things changing in America?

IC
No, I don't think things change. I think things stay the same, only they're worse. And if you say worse is a change, then it's a change. Change for the worse, that's it. I don't think that Lord Buckley or Lenny Bruce were conscious of the fact that they were really curing the taboos of our society. I don't think they were conscious of it. Because when you're conscious of it, you start to ask how shall I say it?You know. Be careful.

 

His last meal was reportedly ice cream and egg drop soup.

The word, however, will never, ever be the same.