MONTREAL — Among the comedy peerage, Colin Quinn has always been a bit of a difficult peg to fit into any specific hilarity hole. (Yup, hilarity hole.) Industry types have tried shuffling him into one label or another, and a series of short-lived projects followed as a result. We all remember Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, the fan favorite, prematurely canceled current events roundup show on Comedy Central. We also remember his stint as the “Weekend Update” anchor on Saturday Night Live? Did you also know that he turned down a role in the original Austin Powers offered to him directly by Mike Myers? It’s true. Quinn revealed that nugget this afternoon during his Keynote Address at the ComedyPro conference, part of Just For Laughs in Montreal. Needless to say, there have been a few missteps in Quinn’s career; he’s always been one of those prolific comedians who is well-respected in elite comedy circles, but never managed to quite pop on the mainstream circuit. Though, in recent years, Quinn starred in his own historical comedy show Long Story Short on Broadway and is currently performing his new show Unconstitutional off-Broadway.
Perhaps it makes sense, then, that Quinn would title his keynote address Loners in Unity. He’s a loner with a supportive posse; a unique, singular comedic mind with lots of potential but very few “traditional” outlets in which to channel his talents. Quinn’s gruff, caustic oration was in high performance mode. In a point-by-point redress of grievances on the industry, Quinn rhapsodized on the deteriorating state of comedy roasts (“No more celebrities: everyone writes their own material or get the hell out”) and the unwillingness of comedy club owners to book non-crowd pleasing hacks. Specifically, he addresses club owners and bookers as “architects of [their] own destruction.” He also encouraged comics to not get lazy with with so-called “edgy” material, pointing to rape jokes as one possible crutch: “Don’t just say the most shocking thing you can think of and try to call it a punch line.” He also tells comics to not be lazy, physically. There’s nothing wrong with emoting onstage or even moving about, he says. Act like you care, he says. “The only one who could get away with not moving is Todd Barry,” Quinn said.
He’s also got a message for preacher-type comics. If you preach, that’s fine– but you need to be funny. “If you get more applause breaks than laughs, you’re a pandering fucking populist,” he said. He expressed his frustrations over Comedy Central canceling Tough Crowd and says the network completely missed the mark when they had Norm Macdonald host a sports show (which they canceled after one season). “You’re taking one of the most brilliant minds and making him do a sports show,” he said, adding that Macdonald barely likes sports, that he only knows about sports because he gambles a lot.
Indeed, the industry could stand for some room to improve, and of all people with ties to the comedy realm, Quinn probably knows this better than almost anyone imaginable. “Nobody is a genius,” he reminded a room full of comedy devotees. “If we ever found a real genius, we would have heard about them by now.” And he gave rising comedians a dose of reality when he mentioned that late comedians Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal never landed that dream television gig– even with their huge personalities and massive talent. And while only a lucky few were able to attend the event today, we’ve got the full audio below, exclusively on Laughspin. So, sit back, dig in and enjoy.