Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 25, 2014

Irwin and Fran

Filed under: comedy,Film — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Like “American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs”, another documentary about a long-time leftist, “Irwin and Fran” starts with its protagonist Irwin Corey walking down a city street with the aid of a walker. Each film is a deeply touching tribute to a personality who kept true to their beliefs over a lifetime at some personal risk. While Corey’s main emphasis was on making people laugh, there were some who did not find him funny at all. After performing at a fund-raiser for the Foner brothers, who were facing charges of being “subversives”, Corey ended up on the blacklist himself.

Professor Irwin Corey in his prime:

His wife Fran had more in common with Grace Lee Boggs although her loyalties were to the CPUSA rather than the Trotskyist movement. Made 5 years ago, when she was 92 and he was 95, they reminisce about the 1930s. She was out organizing demonstrations against Franco while he was performing in leftwing musicals like “Pins and Needles”. Seen smoking pot (she prefers cigarettes), Irwin says that the CP rejected his membership application. Taking a hit off his pipe, he says between coughs, “They thought I was an anarchist.”

The CP probably had a point. Like Lord Buckley, another comedian I grew up loving in the late 50s, Corey did not tell jokes. Instead he worked in what came across as stream-of-consciousness riffs on high culture, with the emphasis on high. As “the world’s greatest authority”, Corey could be relied upon to mangle references to Shakespeare or the Bible, mocking the sort of people who define the parameters of high culture. In one scene from this deeply touching documentary directed by Jordan Stone, we see Corey in his standard issue frock coat bumming a cigarette from an audience member and then smoking it as if it were a reefer. He quips, “I hope we don’t get arrested”. Considering that this was from 1958 or so, that took a lot of balls.

Irwin Corey was born to a poverty-stricken Jewish family in 1914. So desperate were they that they were forced to put him in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, the same place that the Trotskyist Sol Dollinger and his brother ended up and for the same reason.

Lenny Bruce considered Professor Irwin Corey, as he was known in performance, as the greatest comedian of his age. When Thomas Pynchon won an award for “Gravity’s Rainbow”, he sent Corey to receive it on his behalf. According to the NY Times, his speech was “…a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax which left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.” Over on the Irwin Corey website, you can read a loving tribute to Corey by Kenneth Tynan, one of those people who the comedian likely had in mind when he was telling those bad jokes in mangled syntax: “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.”

“Irwin and Fran” opened last night at the Anthology Film Archives in New York. If you care about the left, popular culture, and America’s true values, don’t miss this wonderful documentary.



  1. Reblogged this on 21st Century Theater.

    Comment by 21st Century Poet — April 25, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

  2. The Updated trailer is here: http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi562080537/

    Thank you for understanding and enjoying the film Mr.Proyect.
    Jordan Stone

    Comment by CinemaStone — April 26, 2014 @ 4:06 am

  3. Comment by CinemaStone — April 26, 2014 @ 4:07 am

  4. does anyone know how to access videos of Irwin Corey as the disheveled Professor Irwin Cory, The World’s Foremost Authority?

    Comment by uh...clem — April 26, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

  5. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be anything from Corey when he was in his prime in the late 50s through the 60s, but you can watch him perform here:


    Comment by louisproyect — April 26, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

  6. Irwin Corey got me my Actor’s Equity Card a few years ago. He was as sharp as a tack. Amazing intelligence, humor and human being.

    Comment by Laurie — April 26, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

  7. I worked with Irwin Corey during the 1970’s, producing/directing a short film with him, to assist the Sierra Club in trying to save the Santa Monica Mountains from landfill destruction. He was, Needless to say, quite political (as well as politically incorrect), sensitive, humane and funny. Because of his monologue, it was quite difficult obtaining airtime for the project. Nevertheless, psychologist/celebrity Dr Joyce Brothers championed the cause and aired the film many many times on her KCAL, Los Angeles show, when no other station would touch it. To wish Irwin a (belated “Happy 100th”, can anyone please tell me how to reach or write to this fine human being? Sincerely, Dr Elliott Gabler

    Comment by Elliott Gabler — September 27, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

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