After a long, successful run on Broadway and an HBO special of his one-man show Colin Quinn Long Story Short, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, Quinn has brought the show to Chicago and it's currently playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut St.) through September 10th. Tickets available here.
In his highly insightful and hilarious one-man show, Quinn, a comic for over 25 years, uses his stand up chops to illustrate that human beings have acted the same way and had the same problems throughout the world, since the beginning of time.
Colin called me to talk more about his show hitting the Windy City, the cancellation of Tough Crowd on Comedy Central, and his time at SNL. I had some major technical problems and Colin had to call me again and redo the interview. All I can say is don't trust an iPhone app where their tech support department consists of a guy named Sheldon who tells you, "I can't help you for a few hours because I'm on the road and I have to pick up my brother." God speed, Sheldon.
I'd like to thank Colin and and his people for not only giving me one, but two interviews with one of the greats.
Before I can start the interview, Quinn lets me have it.
CQ: Is your recorder on!? (Laughs at me)
After I stop laughing hysterically, I try to begin the interview.
CAC: Usually when a comic puts on a one man show, the theme revolves around a small aspect of their life... it's about having kids, or a guy who's had trouble with women his whole life. When you took on the massive subject of World History, what was it like developing a show around a subject of that magnitude?
CQ: Well, as you know about comedians, the decline and possible end of the world is just a small aspect of our lives. To us, that's a small aspect. To us our lives are more important than the decline of civilization. Not that we're self-centered or anything... So really, it's the smallest aspect. So anyways, me doing a show about the world itself is a minutia to comedians (Obvious sarcasm). Even with something big, you can still find what's funny about it. And what's funny about history is that human beings have been behaving the same way since the beginning of time
CAC: How did you get the idea for the show? And what was Jerry's initial feedback?
CQ: (Laughs) I like how you called him "Jerry."
CAC: I know him personally (joke!).
CQ: Big Daddy Sein is what I call him. I was doing it in these comedy club-type venues. I just wanted to do something big, you know. I wanted to do something thematic and that was just about something bigger. His feedback originally when I did it, was very clunky. He agreed to produce it before he came to see it. Then he said, "Don't you think I should come and see it if I'm going to pay for it?" I go, "Yeah." So he came. And he already agreed, so it was kind of cool, you know. Once he got involved he was really into it. He loved the idea and started directing it.
CAC: I think there's a misconception where people think Mr. Seinfeld had more to do with the show than just directing it, I'm sure he gave you a few tags here and there, but I know your act when I see it.
CQ: Yeah. Thanks for saying that. A few old soccer moms will come up to me and say, "You can tell Jerry wrote that." And I'm like, "Ahhh." (Laughs). But you know, what do I care?
CAC: (Phone gets staticy) I think I have a bad connection.
CQ: There's no such thing as a bad connection, there's just connections, and every connection happens for a reason.
CAC: Maybe God doesn't want you to do this interview.
CAC: I noticed when I saw the show last Friday (9/2), that you had added some things since the HBO special. Is that to keep it fresh and current?
CQ: You know how it is, you go nuts, go nuts. As it is, it's really hard to keep that discipline of doing the same thing. Every comedian says that to me. They're always like, "How do you keep doing it?" For comedians it just takes a real discipline to do this kind of stuff. I think we all have ADD or whatever it is, you can just screw around more once you're doing stand up. You can change the subject... I never realized how free it is, till I started doing a show. It seems so rigorous to me when I'm doing stand up, but it's much less rigorous than this type of thing (the show).
CAC: If someone told you you were going to have a one man show that did very well on Broadway and HBO back when you were doing those late night spots at the Cellar (the Comedy Cellar, NY) for a couple drunk tourists would you believe them?
CQ: Absolutely. That was the point. I would have thought that would be the least of it. Like when I started, I'd say that's a given, but what else am I going to get? That's just how I always think. Back when you first start is when you have all that confidence. You think you can do anything.
CAC: I feel like I haven't met a person who didn't love Tough Crowd... so how exactly does Comedy Central let it go off the air?
CQ: I don't know. It makes me sick though to think about it. It's the one thing that still bugs me, you know. Really just drove me crazy. I don't know why they weren't into it, or what it was. But they were not, that's for sure. People can say ratings and stuff like that, but I know plenty of shows that got much less ratings than we ever got. (Shows) That they get behind. And some shows they just don't get behind because they don't want it to succeed. It's just how it goes in showbiz.
CAC: Before you said you thought they might have been afraid that the things you guys were saying were politically incorrect...
CQ: That's what I think it was. There's no way of going into other people's minds, unless you can sneak in their office, there's no way to understand. But that's what I think it was, definitely. But, you can't prove anything.
CAC: One of the exchanges from Tough Crowd that became really popular is when Greg Giraldo and Denis Leary were taking shots at each other and it got pretty ugly. You kind of put your leg up on the table to separate them. What happened when the cameras stopped rolling?
CQ: After the cameras stopped rolling, there was a lot of tension, everybody came out, like producers. They didn't want to fight either, they are comedians, they're not MMA fighters. But everyone came and started talking to the both of them. So they let people get in between them. They didn't talk for a couple of years.
CAC: When you're a comic and you get a show where you can have other comics on, do they start treating you differently?
CQ: You never know, that's the problem. That's what corrupts you in the world. You never know you're being treated different. So you're like, "No, everybody is always that nice!" But yeah, you never know. I guess they probably treated me different. I'd treat somebody different if they had a show like that. If I wanted to be on, if he was a comic and had a show like that, yeah. I'd be way less of a c**ksucker to him, unless I hated them, then I wouldn't treat them differently. I feel like people liked me anyway in comedy, so they didn't have to say, "we hate this scumbag..." I'm sure there's a few people who think I'm a scumbag. So it wasn't like I didn't have friends before that, and so maybe they were nice to me. I always got along with comics anyway.
CAC: What is it about the Cellar that makes it the place where every comic wants to work and some of the best comics come from?
CQ: I don't think necessarily the best comics come from there. I mean a lot of good ones work there. It's got that old vibe of like the old Village (Greenwich Village, NY) and doing comedy in a cellar. There's something about that. It's got something to it.
CAC: One of the classiest things I've ever seen on TV is when Norm got kicked off of SNL, you had that line on your first update taking over for him, "Have you ever gone to a bar and found that your favorite bartender was replaced by some guy named Steve? Well I'm Steve, what can I get you?"
CQ: Well I mean Norm is a brilliant, brilliant guy. It was such a weird thing. Such a weird moment, you know. I used to be a bartender, that's why I thought of that. It was definitely a strange, strange situation.
CAC: Did you feel extra pressure being the "Update Guy?"
CQ: I did, yeah. I really did. I felt too much pressure doing it. I loved just doing characters on it when Norm was the guy. That was my favorite time at SNL when I would do all that little stuff. That was my most fun time. Characters, and screwing around.
CAC: Did the pressure come from being in charge of a segment that's really popular and has been around forever?
CQ: Yeah. But I think it was also just the pressure I put on myself at that time. It was a combination of the two. You can take things too seriously in some way. I think I took it too much like it was a big thing.
CAC: Did you ever feel like the sketch and improv people got treated better than the comics on the show?
CQ: That's a really good question, I've never been asked that. Well, when I was there, I felt like there was a little bit of that. But there were definitely different groups, you know. I don't know what the sketch and improv people would say, but comedians, "Ah they don't f**king understand!" We'd be out in the trenches as it were. We always felt like we had to live and die on our own. But how many great people were sketch and improv people that came out of that god damn show? Comedians are a different bread. You need them both on that show, that's my opinion. Stand ups have a certain way of thinking, behaving, and sketch and improv people do too. Definitely two schools.
CAC: I heard a story that you pretended to rape Will Ferrell while at SNL...
CQ: Oh yeah. He used to do this artist character and one day I pretended to rape him. Breuer tells that story, I don't really remember it that well. I just hear him tell it and I'm like "Oh yeah." I also used to pretend to rape this Japanese assistant we had at SNL. He was a young guy, but he would play along and get really into it. It was hilarious. He would (pretend to) call a reporter and put his knees up and start pretending to cry. We used to rape the little Japanese kid, Ryan Shiraki his name was. Me and Breuer, and Tracy Morgan would stand guard outside the door. He (Tracy) showed up the first day, saw what was happening, he saw the "rape improv", and he immediately got into character and started standing at the door, like he was at the door of a cell watching, watching for guards. Ryan would actually pretend to turn a shower on then hug his knees in the corner of the shower and just start crying, like one of those movies of the week. So fun.
CAC: You're a frequent guest on the Howard Stern Show. What's it like being on the show?
CQ: It's great. He cuts right to the core of people. He doesn't feel the need to talk about current events or whatever everybody else is talking about either. He just talks about what he wants to talk about. He never tries to be funny either, he just is. The thing about Howard is that I admire what he has done. He was the first one to do all that, "I'm just going to say whatever is on my mind, I'm going to be honest, and that's it." So that's what is so amazing. He's a powerful force in the best kind of way.
CAC: You've been a comic for ever 25 years, when you have a project that keeps you away from stand up for a little bit, can you come right back and have a good set? Or do you have to constantly be going up?
CQ: I need to get up a lot. If I take two months off or something, forget about it. I need to get back in the game. It takes me at least a week or ten days of going on every night before I'm back. I can't just go up there, that's for sure.
CAC: How long did it take you to develop the Ray Liotta impression you do in the show?
CQ: (Laughs) I don't know. I just started f**king around. I love Goodfellas, I've seen it so many times.
CAC: That's one of those movies where if it's on, you just watch it. It doesn't ever get old.
CQ: That's a sign of a great movie, when it's on, you're like, "I've seen it," then you feel like watching it anyway. You can't tear yourself away. That's the sign of a great movie. When you're like, "I know this f**king movie, I don't want to see this sh*t again, I got to do stuff.." Then instead you end up watching the whole thing.
(Colin and myself after his show at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago)
CAC: How have you enjoyed Chicago so far?
CQ: I never really got to experience it before. I've never seen it when it was nice out. It's like New York, with friendly people. That's exactly what it is. It looks beautiful, I just love it. I can really understand why people love Chicago now. I always felt like there was too much pressure to love Chicago and Austin, we're never allowed to not love them, so I always tried to go against it, but there's reasons to those two f**king cities being so popular.
CAC: This is a question someone wanted to ask you from Facebook: Have you ever thought about becoming a history teacher and would you consider homeschooling Seinfeld's kid?
CQ: There's no money. My whole family are teachers. They don't make any money. (Laughs) Don't get me wrong, it's a noble profession, but let's face it... (The Second part) That's one of those questions that's meant to be funny, so if you answer it funny, it won't be funny.
I try to thank Colin and say goodbye...
CQ: Call me again when this tape doesn't work you son of a bitch! (Laughs)
Go see the very funny Colin Quinn while he's in town.
** I was nominated by CBS Chicago for the "Chicago's Most Valuable Blogger" contest! You can vote once a day on all your devices with internet through September 9th. Just click on "Class Act Comedy." Use this link: http://chicago.blogger.cbslocal.com/most-valuable-blogger/vote/misc/ Thanks!