The Arty Semite

Comedian Irwin Corey Celebrates Star-Studded Centennial

By Jon Kalish

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Photo: Jon Kalish

I suppose that if a man lives to be 100, he has the right to recite a limerick about farting at his birthday party, even if it’s inside a synagogue. Which is exactly what happened Tuesday night when Irwin Corey was greeted by scores of well-wishers at the Actor’s Temple in Manhattan. That is, after all, the shul where Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman and two of the Three Stooges davened.

Because the Forward has a long, proud commitment to verse, we present the limerick here in its entirety:

There was a young girl from Sparta
Who was a magnificent farter
She could fart anything
From God Save the King
To Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

The Professor, as he has come to be known during a decades-long showbiz career, wore his signature black tails, string tie and high-top black basketball sneakers. Fans and friends, many of them north of 90 themselves, snapped photos with their cell phones as he struggled to unwrap gifts. At first he wore a baseball cap bearing such slogans as “9/11 was a psy-op” and “Uncle Sam is a big bully.” But replaced it when given a black baseball cap with the word “however” embroidered on it. “However” has been a catchword in Corey’s act, which was summed up as “double talk and nonsensical observations” in a proclamation issued by Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer.

Throughout the celebration, Corey cracked one-liners and spewed political slogans.

“Sometimes I forget what I’m talking about in the middle of a word!”

“Solomon had 700 wives. Each wife had sex every three years.”

“I’d rather be a son of a bitch than a son of a Bush.”

“We can solve the marijuana issue with Congress having a joint session,” said the Professor, who was known to be a toker into his senior years.

“The World’s Foremost Authority,” as Corey came to be known, seems to have an equal fondness for old-school shtick and political humor. He informed the crowd surrounding his wheelchair that he wrote away requesting a copy of the Declaration of Independence under the Freedom of Information Act and proceeded to hold up a sheet of paper with heavily redacted text.

One of his jokes stopped being historically accurate this year but still got some of the biggest laughs: “Ten years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs,” Corey croaked. “Today, 10 years later, there’s no cash, there’s no hope and there’s no jobs.”

An outspoken ant-Zionist, Corey did not directly refer to the war in Gaza but took pains to point out that “the Zionists” were using weapons that came from the United States.

“The Palestinians have lived there for 2,000 years. In 1914 there were 570,000 Arab Palestinians and only 80,000 Hebrews. It wasn’t a land without people or a people without land because 570,000 are people. Tomorrow you get another lesson,” he said in all seriousness. There was no applause or reaction from the assembled throng.

Among the bold-faced names in attendance were Kenny Kramer of Seinfeld fame, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, Ervin Drake who penned the Frank Sinatra hit “It Was A Very Good Year” and talk show host Joe Franklin.

Franklin told the Forward, “I go back with Irwin Corey about 200 years and I’ve been to many banquets but I gotta tell you that in all modesty this is the most recent. Thank you very much.”

Professor Corey has failing vision and hearing. His audiologist Jeff Stegman showed up and presented a gift of hearing aid batteries.

“He gave me some hearing aids that don’t understand English,” Corey cracked. “Do you think I’ll live long enough to use these?” he asked pointing to the batteries.

Stegman said that because Corey assumed he could repair his electric shaver, he’s been bringing it in to the audiology practice for repairs, which the office has been happy to do.

To prove that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Corey’s son Richard noted that he had recently been diagnosed with a severe case of hypochondria and had been prescribed a massive dose of placebo.

Richard Corey, a grandfather himself, does a mean impression of his father’s late friend, the 1950‘s hipster comedian known as Lord Buckley. When asked if he remembered Buckley, Corey said he once gave the man $500 to buy an overcoat.

One of Corey’s middle-aged fans mentioned that his parents saw The Professor perform in Greenwich Village on a night they were to see Lenny Bruce perform. The comic could not do his act that night on account of his being arrested for obscenity.

“I got Lenny that gig,” Corey recalled.

When asked who his favorite comedians were, Corey cited Bruce along with Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters and Dick Shawn.

Your Forward correspondent inquired whether Professor Corey was proud to be a Jew. He replied, “I’m not proud. I was born Jewish. Like homosexuals are born homosexual. It’s not a choice.”


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