Irwin Corey, 102, the comic maestro who endeared himself to generations of audiences as the World's Foremost Authority, whose nonsensical monologues aped blowhard pundits, pompous academics and other know-it-alls, died Feb. 6 at his home in Manhattan.
His son, painter, songwriter, singer and comedian Richard Corey, quipped that his father died "peacefully, at home, surrounded by his son."
Under the moniker Professor Corey, the self-described rebel comedian spent eight decades perfecting a mock-intellectual routine laced with malapropisms and non sequiturs.
"Protocol takes precedence over procedure," he quipped in a typical self-satisfied insight.
Such fractured wisdom earned him requests to perform his act on radio and television news shows.
On an election-year outcome, he once pronounced, "I'm sorry, the returns are fragmentary, but the indication is that there will be a turnout that won't come up to the expectations of those who, through their own analyses, have proved the percentages will only relate to the outcome."
On a morning show's weather report, he explained that the day's temperature could be attributed to "a weather mass coming from Canada, a country we don't own yet" clashing with "a hot-air mass coming from Washington."
Corey debuted on Broadway in 1943 and became a staple of nightclubs such as the Copacabana in New York and the Silver Slipper in Washington, with a monologue that usually commenced with "However . . ."
He was instantly recognizable for his disheveled appearance, frazzled hair sprouting in all directions. His signature outfit was a black tuxedo with tails, a string tie and a ratty pair of high-tops.
He was a household name to generations of Americans through his appearances on late-night television talk shows from the 1950s onward and on the college circuit starting in the counterculture 1960s.
Onscreen, he usually played street-smart hokum artists in comedies such as How to Commit Marriage (1969) with Jackie Gleason, Car Wash (1976) with Richard Pryor and Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001).
Theater critic Kenneth Tynan once described Corey as "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 clown with a college education."
Corey grew up mostly in an orphanage and did not have a college education. In an act tinged with politics, his were squarely on the far left, although he claimed he was disallowed from membership in the Communist Party USA for being an "anarchist."
He was best known for a rambling, absurdist routine that satirized pontificating bar-stool philosophers.
"Why do you wear tennis shoes?" he was once asked.
"Well, that's a two-part question," he began. "First you ask why. Well, why has been plaguing man since time immemorial.
"Statesman, philosophers, educators, teachers, scientists have been asking the ultimate why. And in these few moments allocated me, it would be ludicrous on my part — for the sake of brevity — to delve into the ultimate why.
"Do I wear sneakers? Yes."
Irwin Eli Corey was born July 29, 1914, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His father was a waiter, his mother was a dressmaker, and at times the family was desperately poor.
The six Corey children — Irwin was the youngest — spent much of their early lives at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. They gradually returned to their parents' care.
During the Depression, Corey was a button maker for the International Ladies Garment Union before launching a stage career with Borscht Belt and left-wing theater groups.
He once auditioned for a play by reciting the soliloquy from Hamlet only to have the casting director doubled over in laughter. His advice: "You should be a comedian."
He debuted at the Village Vanguard nightclub in 1942 and first reached Broadway in a musical revue called New Faces of 1943. He was drafted into the Army during World War II but claimed he was discharged after convincing a military psychiatrist he was gay, despite being married.
During the war, he appeared as the peddler Ali Hakim in a production of the musical "Oklahoma!" for a U.S.O. tour of Europe. He had supporting roles on Broadway in shows including the musical Flahooley (1951), as a genie called Abou Ben Atom.
Subsequently, he performed in nightclubs from London to Los Angeles and was a fixture at many Playboy clubs. He launched a short-lived presidential campaign in the 1960 election on Hugh Hefner's Playboy ticket with the slogan: "Professor Corey will run for any party and bring his own bottle."
"That was a lot of fun," he told the Cincinnati Post in 2004. "We had parades. They put my campaign manager in jail for disturbing the peace."
His career reached its peak of absurdity in 1974 when he was called upon to accept the National Book Award on behalf of the reclusive author Thomas Pynchon for the novel Gravity's Rainbow.
Corey gave a wandering acceptance speech on behalf of Pynchon, offering thanks to Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — whom Corey called the "acting president of the United States" — and author Truman Capote.
Since Pynchon had never made a public appearance, many in the audience assumed the prattling Corey to be the mysterious author. (Corey did not, in fact, know Pynchon, but they had mutual friends who arranged the comedian's book award talk.)
His wife, Frances Berman Corey, died in 2011. Survivors include a son, Richard Corey of Manhattan; two grandsons; and two great-grandchildren. A daughter, Margaret Corey, died in 1997.
In his later years, he found a way to combine politics with performance art.
The New York Times reported in 2011 that Corey, dressed like the street philosopher he played onstage much of his career, had been panhandling for 17 years in midtown Manhattan. Meanwhile, he lived in an 1840 carriage house on Manhattan's East Side that he estimated would sell for $3.5 million.
Corey told the Times he had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in spare change while begging and that he had donated the money to a charity providing Cuban children with medical aid.
Corey was sharp-tongued about fellow comics who he felt did not rise to his standard of iconoclasm. Only close friends such as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Jonathan Winters made the cut as comic artists in the truest sense.
"The role of the artist is to be a rebel," he told The Washington Post in 1970. "That's what the great ones have always been."