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Arts & Entertainment

Colin Quinn’s ‘Small Talk’ Show at The Tarrytown Music Hall Will Dissect Societal Norms

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June 12, 2023

By W.B. King–

Colin Quinn’s rapid-fire, free-association style of distilled sociopolitical comedy can be attributed, in part, to his fellow Irishman, author James Joyce.

The author of Ulysses, among other celebrated literary works, “actually hindered my career in many ways when I think about it,” Quinn told The Hudson Independent.  “The way he writes is not great for stand-up comedy because it is a run-on sentence, so you’re not waiting for laughs. To this day, I blame James Joyce, my early influence,” he quipped.

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While Quinn has read Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, he grudgingly concedes that the book’s meaning, perhaps intentionally, eludes him. “I’ve actually been reading all these books about Finnegan’s Wake and even then it barely makes sense, but I’ll conquer it before I drop dead. I do feel it’s about the internet and cancel culture, incidentally.”

Noting that people can get canceled these days for saying “cancel culture exists,” Quinn said he’s not overly concerned about being “canceled” at this point in his career because he is not trying to be “deliberately offensive,” but is rather searching for answers.

“In the grand scheme, I’m trying to make sense of things,” he allowed, “and if I get canceled, what am I going to do?” He posited. “I think people understand me now, but it took a while. I think they see me better than I see myself.”

Born and raised in Park slope, Brooklyn, Quinn is second generation Irish with his paternal roots leading back to Belfast. Now calling Downtown Manhattan home, he said New York has had numerous cultural iterations over the years, including a dubious time period when he was first considering a career in comedy.

“The city has gone through a lot of incarnations. Even though it was the worst in the 1970s and 1980s, you romanticize it,” he reflected. “It was who you were at that age. I was young and I loved it. Times change and now the city has a weird vibe to it.”

Quinn, who is currently bringing his latest comedic one man show, Small Talk, to towns and cities across the nation, explained that New York isn’t an anomaly. “Every city I go to has a sad thing about it right now and I hope that shifts.”

Comedic Shorthand

Known for decades as a sardonic comic who doesn’t pull punches in search of the truth, Quinn’s resume is long and celebrated. His first break came on MTV’s Remote Control, debuting in 1987. Serving as a writer and actor on Saturday Night Live (SNL) from 1995 to 2000, he was tapped to anchor SNL’s Weekend Update, which was bittersweet as he replaced his friend Norm MacDonald who was fired from the prestigious role in 1998.

“With Norm, it was a constant running joke and we [our mutual friends] were either part of the set up or the punchline and we never knew which,” Quinn said of his good buddy who sadly died of cancer in 2021. “He was really funny.”

Among friends he referenced was fellow SNL alums David Spade, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler, all of whom worked together on the Grown Ups movie franchise (2010, 2013), written by Sandler and Peter Wolf. The latter served as a head writer at SNL.

“That was one of the greatest summers of my life,” he said of the first installment that also featured Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph. “We love each other but when you’re old, you don’t hang as much.”

A few years later, Quinn received acclaim for his contribution to the film Trainwreck (2015). Amy Schumer, who wrote and starred in the film directed by Judd Apatow, gave Quinn no option but to join the cast.

“She said, ‘You’re doing it.’ The role was based on her father and she said I was just like him. When you get to know her father, Gordon, he’s such a wild character and he’s been living like that since his early forties,” Quinn said of Schumer’s dad afflicted with multiple sclerosis. “It was interesting to do. I liked being on that set because it was all comedians. When you’re around comedians, we just feel more comfortable — there’s a shorthand.”

Along with his acting pursuits, Quinn is also an author, though Joyce’s influence might not be as apparent in this medium. Recent titles include The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America (2015) and Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States(2020). He credits John Kennedy Toole, who authored Confederacy of Dunces (1980), as a significant literary influence.

 “I keep trying to get away from it,” he said of book writing. “But all it takes is someone to say, “You’re good at this,’ and then I’m like, “Yeah, I will write another one.’ It’s ego and obnoxious, I know, but that’s how it is.”

A Comic’s Comic

When Quinn returns to The Tarrytown Music Hall on June 24, 2023 for his Small Talk one man show, he will be revisiting an timeworn haunt as he recorded his special Colin Quinn: Unconstitutional, an analytical take on U.S. constitutional history, at the venue in 2015. “It has such a beautiful old feel,” he said of the Music Hall, noting that he will not be recording the upcoming show.

First inspired by legendary comedians Richard Pryor and George Carlin, Quinn’s humor has been compared in recent years to Carlin’s later work that singed synapses, dissecting America’s unraveling sociopolitical culture.

“George Carlin was a legend. I’ll take it [the comparison] of course, but come on, he’s George Carlin,” he said. “For all the guys my age, Carlin and Pryor were our guys. I met Carlin a few times…the most unpretentious person in show business.”

Often referred to as the “quintessential New York comedian,” by Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey and Dave Attell, Quinn said his one man Small Talk show, one in a long string dating back to his 1998 Broadway debut, Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake, is about learning how not to “suck the energy” out of the room.

Small talk, he further explained, is a lost art form. “This show is a lot about how you present the different parts of your personality, the inner and outer, and how it affects your life, mine too,” he shared, adding that topics covered run the spectrum from ChatGPT to deep fake to the current state of politics.  “I’ll give my usual collection of theories, philosophies and digressions,” Quinn said. “Laughs are number one — the most important part of comedy.”

When asked how long he will continue to perform standup, Quinn, 64, said the future is uncertain. “You can’t really tell. If you hit the lottery then that’s the test,” he said with a laugh, not sharing whether or not he plays the numbers. “If you hit the lottery, then you can figure out if you really love it that much.”

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