Colin Quinn, the New York comedian with a knack for skirting political correctness, sits down with W42ST Editor Ruth Walker to discuss his controversial new one-man show, his unlikely friendship with Jerry Seinfeld and why he keeps going back to a gentrified Hell’s Kitchen. A conversation as candid and unfiltered as the man himself.

When Colin Quinn goes for coffee in a car with Jerry Seinfeld, he doesn’t order a flat white or a cold brewed espresso. No. He orders tea instead, because that’s how he rolls. And that unapologetic rebellion against the cult of coffee endears him to me.

Colin Quinn
Comedian Colin Quinn outside McQuaid’s. Photo: Ilona Lieberman

Then, when he tells me he has the hots for Shirley Manson, from the rock band Garbage (my fellow Scot, fellow redhead), I can’t help but fall for him a little more.

“I said, ‘Shirley, I love you,’” he recalls. “And she said, ‘I bet you say that to all the girrrrls.’ That pronunciation. Girrrrls. I love it! Yeah!”


The comedian – already a mainstream hot ticket thanks to roles in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck and Lena Dunham’s Girls (Girrrrls?) – returns to The Cherry Lane Theatre this month with his gloriously politically incorrect one-man show Colin Quinn: The New York Story.

No ethnic group or its quirks is spared – from the British, with their sense of superiority, and the Dutch, with their sweary words, to the “rude-polite” Germans, the hard-working Jews, the sarcastic Irish, and the melodramatic Italians. Even Arabs and blacks get a keenly-observed swipe. It’s all told with a sense of nostalgia and affection. But, as paranoid and PC and NY is, has anyone walked out yet?

“Not yet,” he says. “I think most people like the way it’s phrased. It’s hard for them to complain. People are sick of political correctness at this point … at least I think they are.”

There is a deeper message, of course: that of our current attitude towards race. “If you’re saying anything, you’re saying something about race relations, you know what I mean? It’s almost a moot point. If America really wanted to talk about race relations, we’d have shows about it every week. But I know how the country is: it’s so politically correct we couldn’t have an honest conversation about race if we wanted to. And we don’t want to. Nobody wants to.

“It’s like going to visit your parents,” he adds. “Everybody says, ‘I’m not 12 years old anymore, I’m not going to act like a little kid, I’m an adult now.’ Then you get there and five minutes later you’re stamping your feet and talking like you’re 12 again.”

So, if race is ripe for comedy, with all its awkward implications, is there any subject that is beyond a joke? “It depends where you’re coming from with it,” he says. “There are things I find offensive, but that doesn’t mean they’re beyond humor; I just don’t find them funny. Like rape stuff. It’s not that I haven’t heard any funny rape jokes, because I have. Like the famous Sarah Silverman joke. You know, she says, ‘I was raped by a doctor, which is such a mixed, ambivalent feeling for a Jewish girl.’
“Every time I think about that, it makes me sad. But it’s not for me to decide; everything offends somebody, you know?”

Jerry Seinfeld’s direction keeps the show’s monologue moving at breakneck speed – so pay attention or you might miss an opportunity to take offense!

Colin Quinn
Comedian Colin Quinn on stage. Photo: Mike Lavoie

“I don’t know how we decided to work together,” says Colin, “I just know that we were friends from comedy for a long time. He’s always been a big supporter of my work, always been the guy who loves what I do. I mean, I show him scripts, he cries with laughter, it’s just ridiculous! It’s amazing. He’s almost my No 1 fan, so anything he can do to help … which is not everything, but he does what he can.”

Their working relationship can be “kind of contentious at times,” he admits. “We fight a little bit.” But, ultimately, Jerry’s the boss. “He’s the director. And he’s Jerry!”

Colin Quinn first came to the nation’s attention on Saturday Night Live, where he kept the laughs coming between 1995 and 2000. During his tenure, he turned down the role of Scotty Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – a part that was eventually played by Seth Green. It is said to be the only gig he regrets saying ‘no’ to.

He made his Broadway debut in 1998 with another one-man show, Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake, he hosted the panel show Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn on Comedy Central, starred in both Grown Ups movies opposite Adam Sandler … and was voted one of the top 100 Irish Americans of the year in both 2004 and 2011.

And this summer he played the deliciously self-centered, philandering father – “monogamy is not realistic” – in the Amy Schumer hit movie Trainwreck. “She’s just amazing,” he says. “She’s so funny and smart. I love Amy.”

Born in Brooklyn, he spent 15 years living on 56th St – 8th Ave, “which is generously Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately my memories of the neighborhood are all those little porno booths when I was like 19, 20, 21. I was probably in about half of them. If there were 400 I was in about 200. I’m not proud of it, but obviously I’m not ashamed of it either!”

The porno booths are, of course, all gone, along with the pimps, the druggies … the gritty old Hell’s Kitchen. Damn gentrification!
“It’s so easy to attack gentrification, because that’s what we do: we attack things,” he says. “Meanwhile, it’s made every neighborhood better in so many ways. ‘Oh, but there’s exploitation, people are getting thrown out.’ That was happening anyway. That always happens. Exploitation has just changed, it never stops being.”

He goes back to Hell’s Kitchen “all the time,” he says. “I still have a lot of friends over there. The last of the Irish.” One of those great friends was the late Bobby Spillane, the writer/actor son of gangster Mickey Spillane, who died in a freak accident in the neighborhood in July 2010.

My memories of the neighborhood are all those little porno booths. I was probably in about half of them.

Colin Quinn

“Oh my God, he was like the conduit between old and new,” says Colin. “This guy was like a bright light walking down 8th and 9th Avenue. One of the greatest regrets is about his last show. It was one-man show about his life and his father, but it was also the story of Hell’s Kitchen. He was about to put it back up when the whole thing happened.”

Though it was a one-man show, told from Bobby’s perspective, Colin believes it may yet see the stage. “Maybe if his brother or sister want to do something. They’d have to adapt it, but there are things you could do with it. It spanned 100 years, that piece. Bobby knew everybody, he grew up with everybody. It was kind of an incredible show. Hopefully we can do something with it. Maybe we will someday.”

This story first appeared in Issue 10 of W42ST Magazine in October 2015.

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