Colin Quinn: Finding comfort in chaos

By | April 4, 2011 at 3:16 am | No comments | Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Colin Quinn

There’s no hope for mankind. We’re all doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s time we just face that truth.

And the truth is hilarious.

At least it is in the hands of comedian Colin Quinn, who, with his Broadway show-turned television comedy special Long Story Short, has not only reinvigorated his career but has also given comedy goers something serious — and seriously funny — to think about.

Until now, however, his 75-minute one-man show about the recursive nature of failing world empires, was limited to those living in or visiting the New York City tri-state area. On April 9th, the Jerry Seinfeld-produced show will premiere to a national HBO audience. And I highly suggest you carve out some time to check it out.

If you need more convincing, check out the below interview with the man below.

It was the result of a recent conversation I had with Colin at the HBO offices in New York City, where we chatted about transitioning from stand-up comedy to Broadway show headliner, why Ellen DeGeneres is proof all comedians are messed up and of course, how and why we’re all fucked and how we’ll never become unfucked. Fun!

So, have you watched the HBO version of Long Story Short?
Part of it.

Whenever I ask comedians if they’ve watched their stuff, a lot of times they haven’t.
Most of them don’t.

Yeah, why is that?
I don’t know, it’s hard to watch yourself.

Even after all this time?
YES, it gets worse all this time.

So, what did you think? Did it turn out okay?
I can’t tell.

You can’t tell?
I’m too close to it, you know?

Right. So, you’ve been doing this show in some form for a year– in clubs, then on Broadway. Now it’s on HBO. What was the major difference between doing stand-up every night and doing this type of show where you have a director, and there’s other input from other people?
Well, I mean that’s hard to put up with for stand-up. It’s funny because everyone was coming up to me after the show, all the stands-ups, going, ‘How do you go and say the same thing every night?’ And it is kind of a weird thing because even as stand-ups, we don’t say that much different stuff every night but not having the freedom to comment on what’s going on [while doing a Broadway show], not only in the room you’re performing in but in the world or whatever, it does train another muscle. You know what I mean?

Yeah.
I’d like to think that, you know, ‘oh I must be working on something good’ as far as being a performer. I mean, that’s the only way to justify it so I’m always like, ‘oh this is good discipline.’ I don’t know. It’s probably all bullshit.

The main thing I noticed just from watching the HBO version is how polished you are. You’re not known as a guy with a stand-up delivery that’s incredibly scripted or theatrical.
Right. It’s just the opposite.

And that’s a lot of your appeal.
I don’t know if I’d call it my appeal. I’ve heard a lot of abuse online over the years for my fuckin’ stuttering.

Right.
I’ve always felt, and I’m sure this is a rationalization, too. It’s like FUCK YOU. Everybody wants to be, you know, everybody hates pre-fabricated, phony, fucking game show-style comedy, for lack of a better term. So you try to do comedy that’s more about living in the moment and you just make up shit on the spot and everybody’s like, ‘woah what the fuck is that?’ They don’t want to see the cow being slaughtered, really. You know what I mean?

Right. They say they do.
They say they do. A few people really do– like real comedy aficionados, you know?
But for the stage show and the HBO special you really reigned it in.

How difficult was that for you?
Not difficult at this point, you know what I mean? Cause it’s like fuck man, I gotta get my stuff out there somehow. You know, it’s like if my stuff doesn’t get out there, I don’t get much ‘light,’ as we say in the schoolyard basketball games. Give me some light. So I have to get stuff out there somehow, so if reigning it in means people will listen to me, and I’ll be able to say what I want to say, then I have to do it.

And is that something Jerry helped you with?
Yeah, he’s good at that. But it’s also like I decided to speak slower. Everybody’s always like, ‘you talk too fast, you talk too fast. You mumble too much’ and all that. It’s always been a big thing on me. So I was just like aww fuck it, you know what I mean? I can do this shit. But I do like to just mutter my way through a stand-up set sometimes. But, I was definitely out of the fucking loop so I had to do something different, you know what I mean?

Yeah.
It’s not like I stopped a fucking on-fire career where people were like HEY why’s he changing directions now? Nobody gave a shit if I was dead or alive.

You really think that?
Yeah, what the fuck was I doing?

You were doing stand-up.
Yeah, but I wasn’t getting specials or doing shit like that.

Right right. You were doing a lot of the material on Long Story a year or so leading up to it around the city. So at what point was it clear that this could be a cohesive show?
LIke, about a year and a half ago I went to Governor’s [comedy club on Long Island, NY], cause they let me do like an hour, every Wednesday night. I’d do an hour to work it out. Cause I was like, ‘this is what I want to do.’ I’ve always wanted to do this show, or at least for the past few years, cause I like to talk about ethnicity, and I like to talk about global scope things, so that was it. And I did it out there for an hour every Wednesday night. They got the crowd. I just did it for free. And it was great.

It worked well enough where it was like, I could do this as a show. Or at least I really wanted to. Then I did it at Carolines [in New York City] and it didn’t go as well, and I was like ‘fuck this.’ But then I just kept doing it and then I did it in March at Gotham [comedy club in New York City], downstairs, at Gotham and I was like ‘oh yeah, this is great.’ And then Jerry got involved and then it was like shit, now I’m definitely doing it.

Once Jerry signed on?
Yeah, cause he produced it. I had no money to keep it going. I had it at Gotham for a week but you know …

How much World history research did you have to do to kind of plug up the holes? Or was this stuff that was just always kind of laying on your mind?
’Plug up the holes’ is a good point, a good way of putting it. Most of it was laying on my mind but I had to research to plug up the holes. That’s a great phrase. That’s exactly right. So I had to Google little shit, you know. That’s what research is now: Google. But otherwise it was just general knowledge sort of. Like with in England or France. That relationship obviously is based on what I’m thinking about France having this weird relationship somewhere in the back of my mind. I’d say the show is, yes, collective unconscious. It was like — just based on these ideas – England and France’s weird relationship so it’s like all that kind of stuff exists but then little details you have to get. But most of it’s shit that, you know, it’s more of less common, you know…

You would think it’s common knowledge. I mean, I’m not saying I’m the smartest person in the world but there is definitely aspects of the show where I was like oh right, I didn’t quite know that.
Like what?

The Silk Road.
Oh, you didn’t know about the Silk Road?

No, and I was like oh, that’s pretty interesting.
Well, I knew about the Silk Road and I wanted to get that in the show. But then, there was Silk Road exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. So I went down there and saw it when I was doing the show. I was like oh, I’m going to learn. I didn’t get much out of it, though. But I mean, I just knew it was a big trading highway. Salesmen, it really didn’t lead anywhere. But yeah, the Silk Road. And that is where all the religions spread and shit. I don’ t know if i knew that part yet, that the religions spread there. Maybe I found that out when I went to the exhibit or maybe I knew that or I Googled it or something. I don’ t know about that part. But the religions did spread there.

What kind of student were you?
I was a bad student, like most comedians. I feel like most comedians were shitty students, cause they just had ADD. But I guess I shouldn’t say that because a lot of them were good students.

Smart, but maybe shitty students.
Yeah. Just bad, and I didn’t give a shit. I was a class clown, loud mouth, always talking; I didn’t want to hear anything. I didn’t want to learn anything I didn’t like. I was like ahhh… just get me out of here. I just wanted out. And I feel like a lot of comedians are like that. And here’s why I feel that way. It’s cause I watched Ellen DeGeneres once talking and she seems like a goody two-shoes in a certain way. And she fucking dropped out of high school. She’s a high school drop out. And I was like ‘Jesus, Ellen Degeneres? I thought she was like the nice girl sitting in class…’

Right.
So it just goes to show, comedians are just ADD.

Right, so if Ellen’s a fuck-up then every comedian must be a fuck up?
Yes, exactly. That’s how I feel.

Is it important to you that Long Story is seen as a commentary on the what the world is going through now? Or is it just a funny show?
Well, the challenge to me with stand-up is to take whatever you’re talking about, whether it’s a serious thing that you really believe in, or it’s something that’s just you know, like your area, your hobby– fucking stamp collecting — whatever it is and make it funny. That’s the challenge. So it’s almost like I’m saying that it doesn’t matter if I want to make a point or if I don’t want to make a point. The ultimate thing to me is, ‘Is it going to be funny?’ Can I make boring-ass history, my opinion for what it’s worth, you know, can I make that funny? You know what I mean?

So I don’t know that it matters, but I feel like I always want to make a point– but I feel like this about comedy. It’s great if you can make a point, that makes it even better. But ultimately, if you’re not getting laughs, you’re not being a comedian. So it’s like guys that are getting up their, they’re making points but they’re not getting laughs it’s like ‘OK, you’re doing something but it’s not comedy.’ So I feel like if you can make a point and be funny, that’s so much the better. But it’s gotta be getting laughs first or there’s no laughs, then it needs to turn into something else.

Makes sense, yeah.
Of course I’m going to make a point. Like anybody else wants to make their fucking point. Why would people get up on stage for 25 fucking years in front of strangers unless they were trying to say something somewhere, you know what I mean? Some part of every comedian’s motivation is like, ‘Hey listen to me. I’ve fucking got something to say.’

Do you think it’s the type of show that can affect change?
No. I don’t know what affects change. I really don’t think anything affects change. Shows or anything else. Nothing affects change. That’s the point of the show in a way. It’s like nothing changes. Like humanity just stays the same. It just morphs into another fucking thing. Like I don’t think anything really that I’ve seen has affected change really.

I don’t know what kind of music you listen to, but one of my favorite bands is Bad Religion. Do you know them?
Oh yeah, of course I know them. They’re great.

They have so many songs about, ‘Hey, listen, we’re all fucked. Nothing we do is going to matter. You can get as much shit as you want, we’re all going to die in the end.’ And I just felt like I got that sense from the show and I loved it. I mean, I don’t know why I find comfort in it. I think it’s because it’s like well, we can’t do shit about this. So, let’s just admit that we’re all fucked and let’s just try not to be a piece of shit to everybody.
You’re right, I take comfort in that too. I find comfort in the exact same thing.

And why? Why do you find comfort in that?
I feel like it’s a personal thing with you and with me, probably. Where it’s like, all my life I’ve had this slight feeling in my gut that’s something wrong and when I see something that explains why it’s wrong, I’m like ‘oh, now that makes sense.’ You get something in your gut that just feels slightly off and you’re like “oh, I’m relieved. That IS how I feel.” I mean, the whole point of stand-up, I guess, is trying to get what little bit of truth you can. I’m so happy you said that. It’s like a real compliment to me.

Yeah, I love all types of stand-up. But the stuff I’m passionate about is, for whatever reason, comedy that’s doom and gloom mixed in with laughs— because that makes me feel like less of a horrible person.
Yeah, like you’re not just crazy.

In your show, you talk about the origin of unions, basically saying the concept began because some physical laborers wanted to get paid for their work and differentiate themselves from slaves. So what’s your opinion on contemporary unions?
I think the concept of unions is great, but it’s suffering the same disease as everything else I mention in the show. Everything leads to excess. For every hard working union guy there’s like an office full of people petting paid to do nothing. It’s like everything else. Everything becomes corrupt.

I know teachers that are totally anti-union because they she sees how it affects people and the work they do. It becomes more about what your rights are and making sure you’re getting what you’re due than actually doing your job.
Yeah, it’s sad, but I feel like everything’s like that. Some are more blatant than others. Unions are you know, less, you know, offensive than hedge funds, but it’s still… you know what I mean? But everything becomes this weird corrupt thing. Look, the stock market started as a good thing. It was like ‘hey, let’s let average people invest; it’s almost like investing in your community. But it was really always kind of an idea that was destined to be fucking corrupt. It never stops being like this.

So then how are we supposed to live our lives?
There’s not a fucking answer. All you do is try not to be a complete dickhead. The world doesn’t need one more asshole, that’s for sure. I guess it’s all you can do. You know, otherwise, like I say in the show– my favorite part of the show is saying no system of government works. None of them work yet. Nobody’s figured out a fucking system that works. Because all the system are based on humanity: Communism, capitalism, socialism, it’s all based on humanity.

Communism, it’s not going to work because everybody’s like ‘oh good, I’m in charge of this fucking food. I’m gonna get laid for it, I’m gonna get my cousins in,’ just like anything else. And capitalism is like ‘oh you’re giving me the keys to the fucking bank? Don’t worry, I’ll watch your fucking money.’ It’s like everything’s just ridiculous. I mean, the only system that’s worked is like benign dictatorships or something but then you have to worry about the mood of the fucking king. You gotta make sure his meds are correct.

So it’s just…
It’s futility. But that’s the beauty of humanity. I feel like in some ways, we’re not meant to know. We’re just not meant to know what the big point is. That’s why I believe in afterlife and stuff because I can’t believe this is really going to be it. There is no justice in the fucking world. There’s GOTTA be something else. That’s why I love Catholicism. The thing I’ve always loved about being Catholic is that in Catholicism they say ‘Yeah, all these people living good now are going to burn in Hell for eternity,’ and that comforts me. That’s the only part of Catholicism that I’ve really believed in from the beginning—just the thought of people burning for eternity. That’s gotta be so painful, but it’s the only way you can justify Hitler or anybody or just people being shitheads and getting away with it and living happy lives and other good people, like Bosnian eight-year old dying. How much can you justify unless you think that they’re burning in Hell forever?

So that keeps you a little bit more sane?
That’s my comfort. yeah.

Because if you can’t believe that the people making these innocent people’s lives miserable, ultimately suffering, then…
Yeah. It does keep me totally sane.

Are you religious?
No, that’s the only thing I believe in. I love the idea of heaven and hell. So I guess I’m religious in that I want to believe in heaven and hell, so I do. And that’s all religion is, if you want to believe it or not. Pascal’s wager or whatever. I sound like Charlie Sheen now. Pascal’s wager. But yeah, I believe in it because it does comfort me.

So, not to be like completely morbid about life but it seems like it’s just like triage. You go through life and you try to make the best out of the most horrible things and you know that nothing’s ever going to be incredible.
I like that. ‘Triage.’ That’s really deep. That’s good. It’s good. I like that philosophy. It’s’ a good philosophy. It’s a more realistic philosophy than most people have.

But it’s a little…
What? Dark?

I guess it’s a little dark.
But it’s very Irish that way of thinking. It’s like Irish people think. That’s good. It’s dark, but it’s better than just walking, you know, it’s not like you’re not doing things. You’re going ok, jumping into triage. It’s not like you’re saying oh I’ll stay in the house and not doing anything. No. You’re putting out the fires rather than just sitting there and watching them burn or fucking lighting them. There’s three choices and you’re picking the noblest one of the three. Watch it burn, light them, or try to put out little fires.

So what’s next for you?
I’d like to do the show in Europe and stuff. That would be fun. See what they say. See if they like it or not. But I mean I hope they would. If they don’t like it, it would suck, you know— the show’s not working and I have to go on for the next eight nights in Liverpool?

But I love fucking stand-up. You need to take a break from it sometimes. I’ve been doing this show for a year, so getting back into stand-up is good. I can’t wait. I’ll go back to the clubs.

Colin Quinn’s Long Story Short premieres April 9 at 10 pm EST on HBO. Go here for more info.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.