Funny Boy

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"We were trying to provide two parental environments," Detta says. "We'd eat at the dinner table each night wherever we were." That was easier because Ben was in college and Adam spent his junior year at boarding school, courtesy of bad choices and like-minded friends, as Gary tells it.

Making the casting rounds, the Coronas realized they were unusual. Most child actors came out only for the pilot season. And most of the parents are divorced.

The decision to move back was validated when Corbin got cast in an independent comedy film called Ticklish, which he calls a "messed-up film about a messed-up family." He plays the main character during his 12- to 18-year-old phase, which apparently occurs sometime in the '70s.

"They put a mullet on my head," Corbin says. He made $500, though he'll receive more when the film, now in post-production, is released. (All his money goes into a "blocked trust account"; his parents fund all of his expenses out of their pockets and say they expect nothing in return.) And the shoot provided an inadvertent eye-opener to the weirdness that is Hollywood, when a tattooed Bridget the Midget, dressed for her topless scene, strolled across the set in full view of a startled mother and son.

Then came the best month of Corbin's life: October 2002, when he hit the actor's jackpot in both TV and film. But one triumph would make Corbin think about giving up on his dream for good.

"As I say, children can make their parents crazy. In fact, it's our job. But I can remember one day when I had my dad at the end of his rope after a really long week of bad behavior. I had become curious and asked him where babies came from. He glared at me and said, 'SHEER CARELESSNESS, CORBIN. SHEER CARELESSNESS.'"

Leno's producer called in September, during Gary's stint in L.A. The show had been looking for young stand-up comedians, and they liked a tape of Corbin performing a monologue at the Ha-Ha Comedy Club, which capped a comedy workshop with acting coach Trisha Simmons of LAKidsAct.

Simmons started running classes at the Oakwood, where she met Corbin. "From the beginning, Corbin stood out," Simmons says. "His timing, his joy for life. You can't teach that. It's a gift. And he has charisma. I have a lot of kids who are really good at stand-up. But they didn't get called."

And unlike many kids, Corbin simply loved the process. "It's a subtle difference, but it's there," Simmons says. "Some kids don't look at it as work. They just want to do it and be the best at it."

Simmons refuses to take any child who needs to earn money. "I've had kids who come up and say, 'I need this part because my mother needs to pay the mortgage,'" she says. "I've had kids crying in my class because they're hungry, and their mom won't let them eat so they can be thin enough to get the role. It's frightening what some people will do to be famous."

Leno's producer told Gary that the comic had decided not to do the show with young stand-ups, but in the past they'd had kids with wacky collections. Did Corbin (wink, wink) collect anything unusual?

Gary didn't hesitate. "He collects a number of things," Gary said. "Can I get back to you on that?"

Overnight, Gary and the family came up with ideas for four collections: legs (from tables, chairs, dolls, etc.), insoles from people's shoes, toilet paper from different restaurants and cow patties in unusual shapes. The producer asked them to put together a sample interview on tape about each of Corbin's collections.

Leno loved the cow patties.

When Corbin came onstage, the poop, gathered by Corbin and his dad on an uncle's farm, was displayed on a low table in front of Leno's desk. He never batted an eye at Leno's questions, rolling wherever the conversation went and inserting his own well-rehearsed lines as if they just occurred to him.

In other words, he acted.

That same month, Corbin learned he had won a part in the film Seabiscuit, which he'd auditioned for months earlier. It was a big summer movie with a prestigious cast. Corbin was to play actor Jeff Bridges' son, killed in the first act. "I flipped out," Corbin says. "It was awesome!"

They signed the contract, but the movie didn't start shooting for five months. Meanwhile, Corbin grew five inches.

Gary says director Gary Ross went ahead with Corbin because he looked so much like Bridges' son. "I got to drive the old car and do the death scene," Corbin says. "It was really creepy looking at myself with the makeup like I was dead."

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Glenna Whitley

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