I just heard that Professor Irwin Corey has died. I hadn’t thought of him for a long time, but he was one of my favorites during my younger years. If I heard he was going to be on TV, I would do my best to stop and watch. If you’re younger than forty or fifty years old, you might never have heard of him. He was 102 when he passed.
The Professor was actually a comedian and entertainer. By the time I first saw him, he was often billed as the “World’s Foremost Authority.” I think it was on the old Mike Douglas Show that I first discovered his routines.
He would come on the talk shows of the day and be interviewed. His answers were wild, wacky, and wonderful. The reason they were so enjoyable was the fact that he made fun of the intellectual elites by satirizing them (see video interview excerpt).
“Why do you wear tennis shoes?”
He would arrive, dressed as an absent-minded professor. His hair would be disheveled; his suit wrinkled and frumpy, his tie beyond description, and to top it all off, he’d be wearing sneakers. One of his standard routines was to answer the question, “Why do you wear tennis shoes?”
He would always answer that by saying it was a two-part question. The first part, he would say, was the age-old question of “why.” He would then go on a long rant about the quintessential problem of the ages, which caused men to ask why. When his pseudo-intellectual ramblings were over, he would move to the second part of the question (“Do you wear tennis shoes?”). His answer to that part was a resounding, “Yes!”
One of his more famous lines (one which I still use to this day) was, “Remember! Wherever you go, there you are!” It was typical of his adages and reminiscent of his never-failing logic. Doublespeak was his forte.
In answering a question, he would often launch into a seemingly never-ending speech of gobbledygook, only to stop halfway through and ask, “What was the question again?” Occasionally, he would begin a soliloquy or routine with a long pause followed by the word, “However…”
By the time I began watching him, his routine was very repetitive and often predictable. Still, I never tired of seeing him in action. I think his appearance had something to do with that. He just looked funny.
Most importantly, however, was the way he mocked the intelligentsia. By referring to himself as the World’s Foremost Authority, he always reminded us of someone we knew. You know the type. They think they know everything, and to prove it, they can drone on without end. By the time they’ve finished, your eyes have rolled back into your head and you’ve missed most of it.
These people try to reverse the Scripture that says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28) Professor Corey showed us how fools look (and sound). R.I.P., Irwin.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]