Veteran comedian Colin Quinn has been so busy with acting commitments and other things (he’s had a number of Broadway and off-Broadway one-man shows), that he hasn’t been on a standup tour in seven years.
But last year, he embarked on the One in Every Crowd tour, and he's continued to tour in 2018.
He brings the tour to Hilarities on Thursday, Feb. 1.
In a recent phone interview, he talked about his career as he prepped for a show at the Comedy Cellar in New York.
What’s it like to be doing standup in an era when we have a president providing new material on a daily basis?
It’s good, but you have the danger of becoming repetitive or preachy. You have to be very careful.
Have you included political material about the president in your show?
Oh yeah, sure. He’s unavoidable. You know that.
You started doing standup in the early '80s. Was that a good time for comedy?
It was a good time in the sense that if you told someone you were a standup comic, they went, “What! I’ve never heard of such a thing.” When you went on stage, it was easier to get laughs. People started laughing at the very thought of it. Now, everyone is like, “I do comedy. My cousin does it too. I have a Netflix special.” Everyone has done it, so you have to really bring it.
You worked with Ben Stiller early on. How’d you know him?
I just met with through MTV. We did a video together. I knew him early on, and he was a talented guy. He always knew his stuff.
You were hired as a writer on Saturday Night Live. How’d you wind up becoming a cast member?
I don’t know. It was a combination of things. It was all new people, so there was a lot of shifting around all the time. That’s what it was.
Did you like writing more than acting?
If I had to give up one in life, I’d probably give up performing over writing because I love to write.
Name one highlight from your run as a Weekend Update host on SNL.
The time Bill Murray came on and did something. It was a flashback to when I used to watch that show. What a unique guy he was. He brought a type of humor that nobody else brought. His tone didn’t exist before he did it.
You did your first one-man show on Broadway in 1998. What took you in that direction?
I did the first one off-Broadway in 1992 and then moved to Broadway in 1998. I guess I felt like there were certain things I wanted to do and say in a certain way that you couldn’t bring to standup. Standup has its own boundaries. It’s a lot looser than many things, but people still look a certain way at what you’re doing. If you go off in another direction, you have to change the form or change your location.
Did you anticipate you’d keep doing one-man shows after you did the first one?
I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. When I look back on my life, I often wonder, “What was my goal? Was it to be on a TV show or in a movie?” It was always standup ever since I saw David Brenner going on The Tonight Show
. I thought that seemed cool. He was out there in the nightclubs. It was a strange thing. My parents took me to see a comedian at one of the weekend Catskills places. We went there. We were Irish, and it was an old Jewish place. They knew some guy performing and let me go to the show. I thought it was like a bloodsport. The crowd was so rowdy. He had to work. He had to be very tough. That was a good thing for me to see early on. The crowd was rude. He wasn’t just making jokes. He was fighting the whole time. It wasn’t just a walk in the park.
What particular challenges did your recent one-man show, New York Story, present?
That was my least challenging one. It was all this stuff about my life and childhood. It was challenging in the sense that it was my life, and I was trying to talk about ethnicity in a society that doesn’t like to talk about it. The toughest one was the Constitutional show. Trying to make the Constitution interesting for an hour was tough. That was my proudest achievement to make that into a funny show.
Did you know much about the Constitution before the show?
I really didn’t. That’s why I wanted to do the show. I wanted to know why is everybody always talking about it. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the left or right. Everyone quotes it all the time.
What do you like about working with Jerry Seinfeld, who directed your last one-man show?
He’s really interesting. He’s the opposite of me in many ways. The way we approach work and the way we think about it is the opposite but the same in that we’re trying to find the funny. It’s fascinating to work with a guy like that. I think, “It must have been like this on Seinfeld
too.” That’ why it was such a great show. He’s very streamlined. If you watch Seinfeld
, there’s not a lot of wasted scenery. Everything is moving toward something funny all the time. It doesn’t drag. Jerry doesn’t like things that drag.
How’d you wind up on Girls?
They just called me in. I don’t know. It ended up as one of those things. I had watched the show a few times. I thought it was brilliant. The tone alone is of its time, but I thought, “I don’t belong on the show.” I don’t belong in this part. [Creator] Lena Dunham directed the first episode I was on. She was so smart and had a good energy to it. She’s got a real talent.
What material do have prepped for this standup tour?
It’s called One in Every Crowd, but it’s about other things too. It started out as about the one person in every room who is the toxic person. There’s one person at school or your job who has to wreck everything. The show is about why they exist and how it's fascinating. But then, the show became about the breakup of the country. It feels like a breakup for the first time ever. I feel like this could be it for our country. I don’t know where the show goes now, but it’s a combination of those two things.