Colin Quinn holds nothing back in his one-man show
In his new one-man show, Unconstitutional—which comes to The Rio Friday—Colin Quinn is the everyman, trying to help others gain perspective on a planet experiencing daily sea change. From serial killers to the finer points of the evolution of our species, Quinn’s inquisitive mind knows no bounds.
“I was just talking about Edmund Kemper today with friends,” he tells me on the phone, having popped out of a New York City subway. In conversation, Quinn is both amiable and engagingly weird.
With a gruff, no-nonsense Brooklyn attitude, Quinn was one of several stand-up comics who broke through the club circuit in New York City during the 1980s, and became a national star. It was a golden era for comics, when, unlike today, stage time was ample and was often accompanied by a large paycheck. Back then, according to Quinn, “Crowds were like, ‘You’re a comedian. You’re going to do comedy, wow!’ Now people are like, ‘You should meet my cousin, he does comedy too.’”
After hitting the comedy clubs for only three years, he was offered the role of the cantankerous sidekick on the very popular MTV game show, Remote Control. But the legion of under-20-year-old fans that flooded to see Quinn live, after his MTV catapult to fame, were not his favorite audience. Drunk, rowdy and yelling during punch lines, Quinn reflects, “It was good, but it was a problem, too. It diverted me—or I let it divert me—from stand-up comedy.”
Picked up by Saturday Night Live in 1995, Quinn was perfectly positioned to take over as the SNL Weekend Update anchor after Norm McDonald left unceremoniously. It wasn’t a perfect match, and, after two seasons, Quinn went on to host his own show in 2002. As the rough and tumble anything goes host of the talk show Tough Crowd, Quinn shared thoughts on subjects both political and social with comedy friends like Denis Leary, Patrice O’Neal and Greg Giraldo. Quinn was in his element, espousing on world events, like a less mature and more-likely-to-punch-you-in-the-face version of Bill Maher. Tough Crowd couldn’t find its footing in the ratings, and was cancelled in 2004.
By 2010, Quinn had hit pay dirt with his first one-man show, Long Story Short. It premiered on Broadway in 2010, and told the history of the world in 75 minutes. Being directed by Jerry Seinfeld didn’t hurt. Suddenly the clamor-filled chaos of playing clubs was replaced with a theatre audience who were trained to hang on to every word.
When he comes to The Rio Friday, Quinn will be delving into how we got into the mess we’re in by tracing America’s history from past to present. While the show doesn’t just feature thoughts on the Constitution, Quinn assures me it is our most important document. “It acknowledges the fact that once people are in power they will fuck around. Give somebody power and they will immediately start telling other people what to do,” he says.
With a returning role on the hit TV show Girls, the hard-hustling comic still works the microphone at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan, as he has done for the last 30 years—Quinn is on top of his game.
“I’m working on some new concept stuff about America, the Ukraine, and our relationship with Russia—what that means and what it’s always meant,” he says. “I’m working on people’s personal perceptions of what it all means. It’s hard. There’s a thing about stand-up where, if your heart is in it, you do better.”
Unconstitutional will play one night only, Friday, May 2 at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $27/general, $4