After spending the last few years in his native New York City, headlining a series of one-man shows both on-and-off- Broadway, comedian, actor, and author Colin Quinn is headed out on the road again. Not just to do stand-up, but to deliver a message to America that isn’t going to be easy. Have a seat, everybody, Colin Quinn needs to tell you something about America.
“I’m talking about how the country is breaking up,” Quinn says. “We don’t really click as a country anymore. Everybody agrees with that. I’m referring to it in my show as the divorce of the United States. I talk about how it happened and how we got here.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Quinn has taken a long hard look at America’s political and social landscapes. His last two one-man shows, The New York Story (which was directed by Jerry Seinfeld) and Unconstitutional covered race relations and the creation of the Constitution, respectively, and he spent much of his 97-episode run at Saturday Night Live behind the “Weekend Update” anchor’s desk, delivering sardonic commentary on our times with the plainspoken bluntness of a true New Yorker.
So politics have always been a part of the equation for Quinn, even before the Age of Trump, though he does wonder sometimes if he would be talking about it so much if human beings could stop screwing things up.
“It’s an interesting question: How much of it is influenced by everybody else talking about it?” he says. “If no one else was talking about it, would I be? It’s hard to really say how much of it is influenced by the culture that we’re living in, and how much of it is just my area of interest. In an ideal world, I wish comedy was just jokes about the humorous little things in life. That’s obviously not the world we live in. Comedy’s always had that social tradition where you try to talk about human behavior too, and how that gets screwed up, which leads naturally into politics.”
This is Quinn’s first stand-up tour in seven years, and while the 58-year-old says that he doesn’t miss the grind of touring, he has missed the different perspectives that being on the road provides.
“I missed being around other types of people,” he says. “I grew up in New York, but I like going other places. People in New York talk a certain way, and people in South Carolina have a different vibe. Everyone has a different viewpoint on the kind of place they want to live in, you know? That’s part of what’s interesting about it, is the way people speak and the way they feel in different places.”
Quinn is quick to point out however, that those different perspectives can be as much a weakness as a strength.
“It’s why we have to break up as a country,” he says. “No one’s going to change their opinion. How many times have you seen someone on social media trying to change someone else’s opinion? People just think the way they think. The whole point of democracy is that everyone gets to have their opinion, but now it’s gotten to the point where it’s gone too far and we have to get a divorce.”
Speaking of things that are ruining our country, the four-decade veteran of stand-up and sketch comedy has seen a developing trend in his profession that’s making it more difficult than ever: The rise of the language police.
“The biggest change in stand-up is that there are a lot more people trying to regulate what stand-ups say,” he says. “People are talking about what’s ‘appropriate,’ and they’re shocked more easily now. Every comedian has to contend with the crowds getting more sensitive and more scared and more puritanical in some way.”
And he says it’s not a recent trend, either. “It’s been slowly happening for 20 years,” Quinn says. “You have to be very clear now about what you’re saying. You can’t misspeak. It’s ridiculous to me that people are judging something based on a buzzword, not the actual context. In some ways, it can almost make you better as a comedian because you have to be more precise, but in some ways it makes it harder because the people who call you out on terminology are usually not the brightest bulbs. They want some clicks. They want to be heard.”
At which point Quinn comes up with a great lifelong-New-Yorker context in which to express his thoughts: “It’s like me going to a Knicks game and saying, ‘I don’t think Beasley should be driving the lane that way.’ I may be right, but in the long run, what do I really know about it? I’m just an idiot that’s watching the game! The odds are that I don’t know what I’m talking about.”