News & Politics

World’s Foremost Authority Hits the Boards

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

March 28, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 23

Dynamic Comic as Catalyst Schweik

By Sandra Schmidt

“Mrs. Corey and I were wandering around Mycenae — you know, in Greece — and we didn’t know anything about it, so finally she got me to go up to this other couple there and ask if they knew anything. ‘How should i know?’ he said, ‘I’m not the World’s Foremost Authority.’ Even there somebody knew me.”

He sat across the table in the Chinese restaurant, talking easily, the words worn easy by repetition. A small man who moves like a spritely panhandler, his eyes are in disagreement with his face: shiny appealing eyes in a somewhat shop-worn face. He’s Irwin Corey, night-club comic (“dull, lucrative work”), and he is playing the good soldier Schweik in “The Good Soldier Schweik,” opening April 3 at the Gate.

“I’ve always been an actor,” he says. “If you let yourself go, you are generally drawn to the kind of work that you can express yourself in. Sometimes it surprises you. I didn’t know until I got up on a stage how much I hated people, how disgusted I was by things.” Hatred and… “warmth. That’s why I don’t like Tennessee Williams. He’s got no human warmth. And comics like Berman, or Newhart, or Gregory. They don’t mean anything. They don’t change anything. They’re flat and superficial. My ‘professor,’ now, is a character to be assimilated by the audience. He’s a takeoff on pomposity, but he has dignity and reality.”

…Comics and members of all allied fields tend to pick the theatre as a goal, according to Corey. He started stageward in 1937 when he tried out for Huck Finn. He was too old for the part, but through his photographer he got an audition with Benjamin Zemach.

“I did a solilquy from ‘Hamlet’ — not the “To be or not to be’ one, some other — and he couldn’t stop laughing. The next year he called me to do ‘Eyes to the Hills’ with him. Then I was in ‘Pins and Needles,’ which he also directed.” It was put on by the garment workers union, and Corey was fired after six months for “disciplinary insubordination.” He’d been trying to organize the actors.

In 1942 he opened at the Village Vanguard. For three nights he auditioned free for the audience. When he got the job his salary was $40 a week for eighteen shows. “The first night I got paid I was nearly dead with stage-fright. It hadn’t bothered me before, but now I was getting paid. I wasn’t fired when my run ended, because they weren’t paying me enough to fire me.” In 1943 he appeared in “New Faces.” Then he appeared in the U.S. Army. After that he joked his way through a melange of media: nightclubs like the Vanguard, the Blue Angel, and the Cotillion Room in New York, and their counterparts across the country; summer stock; a stretch with Edgar Bergen on radio; five Broadway shows.

“Only one of them was a success. That was the one I left.” “Schweik” is his first play in eleven years.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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