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Comedian Irwin Corey Turns 100


Professor Irwin Corey is known as the world's foremost authority.


IRWIN COREY: Based on the state of inertia developing a centripetal force which is used as a catalyst more than a catalytic agent.

SIMON: He's a comedian. I hope that was obvious. And Irwin Corey turned 100 years old this week. Reporter Jon Kalish was on hand for the birthday celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Erwin. Erwin, look here.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Inside the actor's temple in Midtown Manhattan, Irwin Corey sat in his wheelchair dressed in his signature black tails, string tie, and high-top sneakers. His scores of well-wishers streamed by, some stopping to hand him gifts.

COREY: Wow, what the hell is in here?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, no, no. This is a gift.

COREY: Is that a book?


KALISH: Corey's scarecrow hair was covered with a baseball cap with however embroidered on it. The word was one he used frequently over the years in his comedy act which featured doubletalk and nonsensical observations. Friends of Corey, many of them north of 90 themselves, snapped photos with their cell phones while Corey cracked jokes.

COREY: Sometimes, I forget what I'm talking about in the middle of a word.

KALISH: This shtick was delivered in the synagogue where Jack Benny, Milton Berle and two of the three stooges once worshiped.

COREY: Ten years ago, we had Johnny Cash. We had Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Today, 10 years later, there's no cash. There's no hope. There's no jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Make way for the professor. Make way for the professor. Can you move your tuchus?

KALISH: Corey was wheeled to the front of the synagogue for the reading of a proclamation issued by the Manhattan borough president.

GALE BREWER: Professor Corey has shown himself through his comedic talents to be completely deserving of the title New York original.

KALISH: Pat Donovan (ph), one of his friends, said Corey was unique and could never be copied.

PAT DONOVAN: Irwin is the last of the Greenwich Village beats. He's in the same category as Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Winters and those giants that changed the face of comedy along with Richard Pryor and George Carlin. He was a beat, a comic beat.

KALISH: In an eight-decade-long career, Corey performed in nightclubs, on Broadway, in movies and on popular TV shows. He was blacklisted in the 1950s and isn't shy about voicing his political beliefs.

COREY: Today is kind of calm. There's only a hundred million people killed today.

KALISH: Cory's wife, Fran, passed away three years ago, but that hasn't stopped him from telling marriage jokes.

COREY: Marriage is like a three-ring circus. There's the engagement ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Engagement ring.

COREY: The wedding ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Wedding ring.

COREY: and then the suffering.



KALISH: A handful of boldface names attended Corey's centennial, including Kenny Kramer of Seinfeld fame, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, author Larry Ratso Sloman and Joe Franklin, a retired talk show host. Franklin estimates that Corey was on his show at least a hundred times.

JOE FRANKLIN: I go back along with Corey about 200 years. I've been to many banquets and that's very good. In all modesty, this is the most recent. Thank you so much.

KALISH: Also, on hand for Erwin Corey's 100th birthday celebration was his audiologist who willingly repairs the comedian's electric shaver. He gave the professor five boxes of hearing aid batteries. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.

COREY: He gave me some hearing aids that don't understand English. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Kalish