In a theater season that has brought the closing of many Broadway favorites, Colin Quinn’s one-man show, Colin Quinn: Long Story Short, has been extended not once, but twice, a rare feat for any production, let alone a one-man stand-up act.
Quinn’s show debuted on Broadway in October after a successful run at off-Broadway’s Bleeker Street Theater, and continues to tackle the history of the world, from Socrates to Snooki, with 75 minutes of gut-busting laughs.
Best known for his five years’ on “Saturday Night Live” (three of which saw him as the anchor of ‘Weekend Update’), Quinn is also often remembered for hosting Comedy Central’s “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.”
The down-to-earth actor took a few moments between performances of Colin Quinn: Long Story Short to chat with TheImproper.
The Improper: When did you first come to the conclusion that you were funny?
Quinn: It was when I was a kid, about 12 or so. It’s hard to say exactly, but when I was 12 I suddenly noticed kids laughing and teachers frowning when I was in school. I think that’s what my first clue was.
IM: Were you the class clown, or did you find a legitimate venue in which to hone your comedic chops?
Quinn: I was always trying to be in little shows. In junior high school I was in a play. But I remember me and my friend going up and doing a comedy thing in front of the auditorium, like a three minute thing.
IM: You seem to know a lot about Long Island from your time at Stony Brook University. How often do you find yourself out there these days?
Quinn: That’s how Colin Quinn: Long Story Short started, actually. The show started at Governor’s and The Brokerage. Last year I was talking to the guys that run the clubs, and they were like, ‘You want to do something out here?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, I’d like to run something.’ They go, ‘We’ll get a crowd if you come out. We’ll bring a crowd Wednesday nights, we don’t do shows on those nights.’ I go, ‘I love it!’ That’s how it started.
IM: Why did you choose to dissect the world in this show?
Quinn: Just because it seemed like something I wanted to do for a long time. I felt like it could be interesting.
IM: Did you have to do a lot of research about the habits and histories of other cultures, or would your history teachers be proud of your extensive knowledge?
Quinn: I did some research, but you know how it is. Most of the stuff [in the show] is half true, and it’s just speculating. It’s a short way to get the basics.
IM: What was the writing process like for Colin Quinn: Long Story Short?
Quinn: I did it out at Governor’s, and rewrote when I saw what worked and what didn’t work, and saw what needed to be expanded, saw what needed to be cut and then eventually cut most of it down.
IM: Many comedians don’t like to do a lot of preparation. They wing it up there.
Quinn: Not me. I do a lot of preparation.
IM: Have you visited any of the many countries you discuss in the show?Quinn: Sure. I’ve been to China, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. I’ve also been to Ireland, England and France. I do kind of like to travel. At the time, most of it was just for fun. I’d like to go back to many of them with the show!
IM: How much of the material in the show is from your personal experiences in those countries?
Quinn: Actually, most of it is just from knowing people here. It’s actually more based on how people behave here in America, amazingly enough.
IM: There’s not a tremendous number of stand-up acts that have made it to Broadway. Why do you think your show is so successful?
Quinn: I think it’s because it’s about something more overreaching, more of a sweeping kind of thing. It’s more about one thematic thing, and it’s trying to deal with a big picture.
It has also got a set and lighting. I think that helps, but most stand-ups I know have the capability to do it. It’s a lot of work, but I think most stand-ups could do it if they put their head to it.
IM: What did director Jerry Seinfeld bring to the show?
Quinn: Jerry brought Jerry to the show. Just his craftsmanship. He’s a real comedian and a real student of comedy. He brought editing, he brought physical stuff, he brought everything. It wouldn’t have happened without him. He brought all the power of getting it going and getting things noticed.
IM: When 2010 is considered history 20 years from now, about what in that year do you think you’ll be making fun?
Quinn: I think we’ll be making fun of the fact that we communicate all the time. We have 24-hour news cycles, but nothing ever really gets changed. People were delivering messages on horses, and nothing’s changed since then, even though we have constant information. Nothing has really changed over the years. Like I say in the show, we have the exact same wars in the exact same places, the exact same people either being greedy or being jealous.
We don’t have the capability mentally to really fix any problems, so we have the same problems we’ve always had. It seems like technologically we would have cured most of the problems by now. I mean, we thought we were going to cure them, but it’s just one of those things, I guess it’s meant to be that way. It’s strange.
IM: If someone were going to tell the story of Colin Quinn’s life in a ‘Long Story Short’ version, how would it go?
Quinn: In a short version of my own life? Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up being funny. He was on MTV, then he was back down again, then he was on SNL, then he was back down again. Now he’s back up. (Laughs)
IM: Speaking of SNL, if Seth Meyers were to poke fun at you on ‘Weekend Update’, what about you do you think he would make fun of?
Quinn: Oh Jesus, that’s a hard question, how the hell would I know that? Why, what did you hear? (Laughs) Probably nothing, I’m like everybody else in the world. I can be just as touchy as anybody else. When it’s about them they’re like, ‘Hey, that ain’t funny!’ but when it’s somebody else they’re like, ‘Ha ha ha!’When it’s you, you’re like, ‘Hey wait a minute! That’s not funny!’ People tease me about the fact that I keep making it and never making it, and keep coming back into show business, and I keep being successful and then suddenly I’m not around for years.
IM: Now that you’ve conquered Broadway, is there any chance you’ll go for a role in a play or musical?
Quinn: I don’t think that’s ever going to happen! But there is a good chance I’ll be back at The Brokerage someday.
IM: You were recently featured in the film Grown Ups. Do you consider acting to be an extension of your talent as a comedian, or is it a separate type of challenge?
Quinn: I think it’s both. It’s an extension, but at the same time there are a lot of comedians that are not good actors. It’s a thing like anything else where you have to understand it a little bit. You can’t just go do it. I know people say, ‘That person’s a natural actor,’ but very few people are.
IM: Are there any topics that you wanted to tackle in Colin Quinn: Long Story Short that you didn’t get to explore?
Quinn: There’s a lot of extraneous parts of the topics that I did explore. I’d like to just keep exploring them more in depth each time, and keep doing stuff like this, just keep going a little deeper and deeper. But it would be with the same basic topic: human behavior.
IM: Which type of human behavior would you most like to explore further?
Quinn: Just the fact that we can’t seem to ever see our way to solutions. What is it about humanity? We know all the right things to do. The average person can sit around and say, ‘Hey, you know, I hate war, it’s bad. I hate greed, it’s bad.’ But then when it’s their turn to get up at bat, they do something warlike in their own life, or they do something greedy in their own life. We hate it when we see it on TV, or in real life in the big sense, but still as human beings we’re all (and I include myself), we still say, ‘I got to look out for mine, I got to take mine.’
That’s just the way it is. I like the fact of talking about that kind of stuff because a lot of people don’t even see that. I used to do a joke in my act about the guy at the gym. Those towels are communal towels that we’re all going to use someday, and he’s drying himself off between his legs with a towel that I’m going to use, and meanwhile, he’s talking about the horrible war crimes in the world, and I want to go, “Do you understand that you’re a mini-Slobodan Milošević, what you’re doing right there?” All of those little things are interesting to me.
IM: What are your plans for after the show closes in March?
Quinn: I don’t know, I’ll have to go on the road with it at some point. Maybe I’ll go back to stand-up, or maybe do another thing like this. I have a couple of other shows kind of like this, maybe I’ll do something with them.
IM: Tell me something that no one else would know about you.
Quinn: I listen to Amy Winehouse. I just like her. Every time I listen to her I go, ‘Oh my god, look at me.’ (Laughs) Like I say in the Greeks, nobody can see themselves.
IM: This question is a nod to a running joke in Colin Quinn: Long Story Short: If I had interviewed you today in a car, what would you say to other passengers after I was dropped off?
Quinn: I would say, ‘I think I should I should have made a move!” And I would say, “she had the greatest name, because it’s the name of my favorite movie star.’ You’ve got to see “Taxi Driver.”