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Funny Boy

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Dying is easy; stand-up comedy is hard. Why do so many people want to do it?

Last winter, the Coronas watched their youngest son perform in front of a ballroom full of people in penguin suits. Corbin, at 14, was the opening act for a troupe from Second City, the Chicago comedy group, at a black-tie benefit for Gilda's Club (named after comedian Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer). His monologue, written by Corbin and his mother, was heavy on jokes about parents, siblings and school. Gary guffawed, particularly in response to the jokes at his expense. He was sitting on the edge of his chair, eyes fixed on his son with an intensity that lingered long after the laughs.

This may be the oddest family in Highland Park. You know another rich dad who dresses up for parties as Pee-Wee Herman? Whose kids don't hide in shame when he does the Pee-Wee dance? He didn't stop, by the way, when actor Paul Reubens got arrested for enjoying Nancy Nurse at a triple-X theater in Sarasota, Florida.

And then there are Gary's patents, two of which feature common themes: booze and his fear of germs. One patent is for a stainless steel contraption that fits into the ice bins in bars and restaurants. Instead of bartenders shoving wine bottles into the ice, possibly contaminating it with bacteria from their hands, the device keeps the bottles separate and cold. Gary says the invention is in the final stages of being approved by the National Sanitation Foundation.

"We tease Gary," Detta says. "He has OCD. The kids have to wash their hands a hundred times a day. We all make fun of him."

Gary's other creation is "Shot Party," a plastic contraption that solves the problem of how to get your shindig started. It holds 11 shot tubes in ice and includes alcoholic recipes ("Italian Valium"), drinking games and a spinner. It can be customized with a theme: "New Year's Eve," "St. Patrick's Day," "Mardi Gras," "Bachelor Party," "The-Divorce-is-Final Party." Look for it on the Internet and at gift stores in early 2004.

But when it comes to their kids, the Coronas' philosophy is anything but whimsical. If they want to reach for the stars, if they agree to work hard, Gary and Detta say, they'll put their love, time and money behind them 100 percent.

To call this family entrepreneurial is an understatement. When the Coronas got married 28 years ago, they immediately moved to Alaska to work on an oil pipeline. "We made a bunch of money and sent it home to a savings account," Detta says.

After a stint in Oklahoma, the Coronas moved to Dallas. Detta's perky demeanor and beautiful eyes--enormous, blue and shaped like a cat's--landed her a job as a flight attendant with Braniff Airlines. After graduate school at SMU, Gary started and sold four jewelry stores. He now handles his own investments and serves on the board of Internet America. Meanwhile, Detta learned court reporting and started her own business. She now has six other court reporters on contract.

The hard work has paid off. The Coronas and their three sons moved 10 years ago to a spacious house in Highland Park assessed at $1.8 million. It has 13 televisions, including one in the gazebo between the pool and the tennis court.

The kids worked, too. Oldest son Ben, now 23, started modeling for the Kim Dawson Agency at age 12. Adam, 18, now a senior at Highland Park High School, has always been a wheeler-dealer, Gary says. At age 12, he was downloading newly released DVDs from the Internet and selling them at school. "We immediately made him stop, because Adam was completely unaware of copyright infringement, " Gary says. "We did compliment him on his ingenuity."

When Corbin was 9, he, too, started modeling. "I saw how Ben was doing," Corbin says, home from L.A. for Christmas and sitting at a table in the family's den. "People would say to me, 'You're so cute. You should model.'" He started doing print and runway work, but when he discovered that the agency had an acting studio, Corbin begged his mother to let him take classes.

The class clown and a prankster, Corbin absolutely knew he wanted to be on TV. "If I'd see someone on TV my age in a role, I'd think, 'I can do better than that!'"

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Glenna Whitley

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