Colin Quinn on Political Humor, Honesty in Comedy, & “One in Every Crowd”

Colin Quinn has been a staple in the comedy world for decades — from MTV’s Remote Control to In Living Color to Saturday Night Live to Tough Crowd to films, and TV shows — Quinn has been a go-to player in the comedy world as both a performer and writer.

Quinn is also an accomplished playwright — penning and performing numerous one-man, Off-Broadway shows, with his most recent being New York Story, which was filmed for Netflix and directed by Jerry Seinfeld. It’s in these shows, and his stand-up where we find the heart of Quinn’s comedy — an honest and humorous perspective on issues. Whether it’s the cultural history of New York, the constitution, or toxic people in your life, Quinn attacks themes with his honest, straightforward brand of humor, that has endeared him to audiences for his career.

Recently, we sat down with Quinn to talk about his one-man shows, tackling politics in his comedy, and his upcoming show “One in Every Crowd” which comes to House of Independents in Asbury Park on Friday October 27.

You’ve done a number of Off-Broadway, one man shows in your career… 

Oh yeah, that’s my thing, man.

What kind of mentality do you have to be in to write a one man show? When people think of a one man show, especially if it’s written and starring a comedian, they probably write it off as a stand-up act, but it’s so much more than that, right?

It’s stand-up-ish. It’s close to stand-up, except there’s themes, specifically one theme throughout than just going to different subjects. It’s very thematic, and there’s a point of view that I’m pushing for that special, or show.

The last two have been history based — one covering the Constitution, and the most recent on the history of New York City. Are you a history guy, or did you use history as a way to get a larger point across?

I’m not really a history guy. I mean I read it like everyone else, but I was never particularly interested in it. But…I guess I am? I feel like history does allow you to discuss more things that are happening now, you know? If you don’t discuss it you can’t get to it.

With people more apt to jump on someone via social media– whether justified or not — did you have hesitation writing your last show which dealt with race, culture, and ethnicity?

Yeah, I definitely did. I definitely felt like in today’s world people are going to jump on something like that. But I’ve always felt you have to say what you want to say directly. I was never afraid that people would get offended, because people will get offended no matter what you say. [However], I feel like people will get less offended if you say what you want to say straight out. When people try to get slick, and mask things then that’s when it can be a problem. I wrote [that] show based off experiences in life, and tried to make it funny. I always hated the fact people are so politically sensitive. I don’t buy that this is the cure for any of our problems that we’re facing.

So honesty is the cure?

Yes, people saying what they really mean to say. Yes, now people don’t speaking directly. They’re putting some sort of cologne on the rotting corpse of our ripped a part national identity. People are trying to fix the country’s problems in cosmetic ways, which is stupid.

Given that fact, do you think it’s more difficult being a comedian now than say 20, even 10 years ago.

Yes, definitely. On one hand it’s more difficult, on the other there’s so much more to deal with. It’s interesting. People are more aware of a lot more different things than they were before. You can really talk about deeper stuff, and people are in there with you.

Due to various social platforms do you think it waters comedy down?

I think by watering it down, people are looking for real comedy. Ultimately, by watering it down, you can’t force people to laugh. People start to discern more. They can make choices if they keep seeing the same generic stuff. I think it’s a plus that [the comedy scene] is saturated.

Do you think in all comedians, given everything we’ve just talked about, there has to be an inherent sense of fearlessness in everything they’re saying onstage?

It depends. I don’t think you have to be, but with my idea of comedy — yes. What I love in comedy, yes, but not in all forms of comedy. There’s a lot of great comics that don’t talk about issues. I mean look at a guy like Mitch Hedburg. I mean he was brilliant, but he wasn’t necessarily talking about what was going on in the world. It was more like his world. Everyone has to be true to what they want to talk about. It doesn’t always have to be to some sort of confrontational sociopolitical stuff. I love that, it’s my favorite kind of stuff.

Speaking of politics — how do you approach political humor? First off, it’s such low hanging fruit that it just seems way to easy to make jokes about. Also, it’s so divisive, people get super pissed when you talk about any sort of politics?

I’ll be doing it this weekend in Asbury Park. I attack it from the point of view of why things up end the way they do, instead of just attacking Trump. I mean I still attack Trump, because he is very attackable, obviously. However, I talk about the people who voted for him, and what they were responding to. It didn’t come out of nowhere.

So many people just want to just go after him, and I think that’s just way too easy, and over done.

Everyone wants to go after him. They don’t want to go after why he got elected. He got elected because people were responding to, in my opinion, being scolded for 30 years. There’s a way to attack all the angles.

What are you going to be addressing in your new show “One in Every Crowd?”

I’ll be addressing two things. One, as we devolve into a Civil War, or a “conscious uncoupling” as Gwenyth Paltrow would say. I’ll also be discussing how no matter what situation you’re in or where you are, there’s one person in every group (office, life, etc.) that’s toxic, and makes everyone uncomfortable, and miserable.

Where’d you come with that? Daily observations?

Yeah, I was doing observations on people for years, and then I realized I wanted to do a whole show on these kind of people. They’re there for a reason, because they’re always there. It never stops. So what is that? What the hell is that? It’s fascinating because that person’s existence … everyone knows who I’m talking about. Why does everyone know a person like that?

When you’re coming up with material do you ever go back to older material and try to mine it? Basically take a joke or theme and put a current spin on it?

Yes. There’s always old bits that you go back to and you realize they didn’t work because you didn’t know what you were trying to say. But we don’t get the luxury of doing our “greatest hits.” With few exceptions we always have to come up with new shit.

Do you feel like you’ve mastered stand-up? Like you can go into a room, and you know how to work it, and get the laugh, or do you still have to feel everyone one out, and put the work in?

It’s somewhere in between. You still gotta go out there and put the work in. There’s still dirty work to do — try new things, fail, work the crowd. It’s definitely not as hard to come up with a new hour as it was when I was 25 or 27. In those days, I’d be like, “What? I can’t think of anything! What’s the joke? Where’s the joke?” It was a nightmare.

What do you have coming up outside of this tour?

I can speak very honestly, and say…nothing. I have no false humility, not hiding anything. I have nothing else (laughs).

You seem cool with that.

Given the choice of having a hit sitcom or a new hour, I think I can speak for most comedians when I say they’d pick the new hour. I’m happier to have a new hour than a hit sitcom. Yes, the money would be better. I think 95%-98% of comedians would say the same thing.

Catch Colin Quinn at House of Independents on Friday October 27. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites