Talking to Colin Quinn About His New One-Man Show, ‘Tough Crowd’, and Being the King of Twitter
There have been many chapters in Colin Quinn’s career since he first appeared on MTV’s Remote Control in 1987. The former SNL castmember went on to host the short-lived but brilliant Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn on Comedy Central; more recently, his unique Twitter persona caught the eye of the New York Times. Following on the success of his Broadway one-man show Colin Quinn: Long Story Short, his “history of the world in 75 minutes,” Colin Quinn’s new show, Unconstitutional, aims to tackle “226 years of American Constitutional calamities.” I caught up with after a preview performance of his show to talk about constitutional conventions, comedy nerds, and how sincerity infuriates people.
What was it about the Constitution that made you want to do a show?
Well, it’s because it annoys me [that] all this time, everyone’s always talking about how brilliant the Constitution was, and I didn’t get what was brilliant about it. How can I be so stupid that I don’t get the Constitution? So I said I’m going to write a show about it. I wanted to do another show anyway, but I wasn’t going to make it, like, “Oh I did world history, now I’m doing American history.” Of course, that’s what I did, but I wasn’t planning that. I was planning to not do that, so people wouldn’t go, “Look at this idiot, what a loser. Now he’s gonna do a American history.” But that’s what I am, and that’s what I did.
I think that’s fair. It’s like a high school curriculum — you do world history for a year and American history for a year.
There you go. What’s next?
Well I went to an all-girls school, so we did, like, world literature, American literature, and women’s literature.
Ah. That would be good, right? That would be wild. Because, among the subjects that I’ve never had a grip on — no guy understands women. Or some guys do, but very few. So that really would be good. A whole show on women. But then, can you imagine if it really became popular and suddenly all the horrible bachelorette parties came to the show? I’d kill myself. The worst standup people, crowd-wise, are usually bachelorette parties, strippers and the men who love them, when they come to shows, and bachelor parties. Bachelor and bachelorette parties are the worst. Either one, because you can’t have that many people at a club together. They know each other, they want to talk to each other and get drunk. It’s unnatural. They shouldn’t be in comedy clubs. Look, here we are talking about standup, instead of the Constitution.
Well, we were going to get there eventually. Did you do a lot of research for this, or was it something you already knew a lot about?
No, I did research. I didn’t know shit. I knew nothing about the Constitution. It’s only four pages, but then I read books on it and everything.
And did your opinion on it change as you went along?
Yeah, it really did. They almost came up with something, I mean they did come up with something amazing. The principles behind it are still amazing, but we need to have more constitutional conventions. That’s what I forgot to say in tonight’s show, which is only very important. I saw we need a new convention, but we’re not going to have one. We should have one every 10 years, just to kind of air it out, see what it is, play with it. I’m not saying you have to throw it out, but I’m saying just fucking let it breathe, let it be. They kind of implied that.
What did you learn from doing your last one-man show? That one did very well for you.
Yeah. They’re all hybrids of standup, which I like, because I really feel comfortable as a standup. But I learned that you have to sit in the moment, that you can’t react like when they’re not laughing at certain parts. Like sometimes tonight, I felt like people were uncomfortable. I just felt a little weird vibe once and awhile, but maybe it’s just because I’m a weirdo too. And then you have to kind of sit in stuff. You can’t comment. Like I made one or two comments tonight, which is the first time I’ve done it, which I have to stop.
Well it’s such a big part of your standup.
Oh, it’s my whole thing. I comment on my comments and then I’m just like caught in this fucking — it’s like a washing machine, it’s like a dryer. [Mimes spinning] And I have to be careful, because you want to keep the points, but I’m still working on the show. A couple places, I’m repetitive because I’m trying to think of what’s next, or where I’m trying to go with that. But it was definitely close tonight.
You’ve been working on it for a long time.
A year. A year. I mean I love it, but working on it for so long, everyone’s like, “Hey, what do you want to do after this? Take it on the road?” And I’m like, “Kill myself.” I’d rather film it and fucking move on. But we’ll see what happens. Do it here for a couple of months and then just be done with it. I’d like to run it as long as the Convention, through September 17. That was the last day of the Convention; it started right around now, like May 20-something was the first day of the Constitutional Convention. It lasted all summer, and it ended September 17. That would be perfect. So, I’d like that.
I know your workshopped the shows at The Creek and the Cave [a small comedy venue in Queens] and UCB. How did this crowds differ from the ones off-Broadway?
I feel like those people, they laugh a lot more. They’re a lot less uptight. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I feel like some of these people are a little more politically correct than the Creek or UCB, [where] people want you to be a little wilder and say something that’s not correct. Plus everybody at the Creek nowadays everybody is like 23 and in Williamsburg and is so into fucking a conspiratorial thing that’s so much deeper than I believe. They’re like, “That’s tame compared to the shit that I know is going on.” They’re probably like, it’s good to see some nice family entertainment.
I thought you were going to say that they’re all such comedy nerds that nothing shocks them anymore.
And they’re comedy nerds, which I fucking love. Comedy nerds are the fucking blessing of my — I love it. It’s so weird, but it’s so funny. Everybody just fucking knows comedy, they know it better than me. My nephews and shit, they’re like, “That Gaffigan bit, that’s from his second special. Yeah, Bill Burr’s fucking third.” And I’m like holy shit, they just know it. It’s great. It makes me happy as hell, of course, being me.
Well I have to say that you’re the reason that I love comedy, because I started watching Tough Crowd when I was 15, and that’s what made me a comedy nerd.
Oh my God. I can’t believe it. That’s hilarious. That’s great.
That show has such a legacy.
But it was a delayed legacy. People in power in showbiz were horrified by Tough Crowd. Horrified, because there was no reason to cancel that fucking show. But I’m so happy that people loved it, I’m so happy that you said that, because I felt like, “Holy shit, this show, even at its worst, is fucking the closet thing to real people acting the way they really are, without editing.” I mean, take guys like Patrice [O’Neal] and Nick [DiPaolo], right? These guys are funny. They’re not fucking nice, and they didn’t pretend. They get no points from the audience for liking them, so they have to be really funny. There’s nobody in the audience like, “Hey, that guy’s charming,” about either one of them. They were themselves on the show, and they would trash me all the fucking time. That’s what I loved about Tough Crowd.
I have to ask you about Twitter. [He’s described in his bio as “currently the king of Twitter.”] Where did that voice come from?
It just sort of happened. I was screwing around. I started making a joke when Gaddafi died. I was like, “Hey, the guy was a great guy.” I was just being sarcastic, and people started going, “You’re a fucking asshole.” And I started retweeting them. I thought it was so funny. Guys were like, “How’d you like me to kill you?” And I started responding to them, like, “Come on fella, you know, you have to admit the guy did a lot.” I was just giving misinformation and being an ass. Just being infuriating, irritating people, and it was this low-level ball-breaking. People were like, “I really want to kill you, I swear to God.” And it was just so funny to me, and I kept doing it. I don’t know where it came from, but now it’s like such a part of me. I mean, if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m missing something in a way. It’s so sick.
I was discussing it with a friend and he referred to it as trolling, which I’m not sure that it is. Do you consider it trolling?
It’s kind of trolling, I mean, it’s a very subtle trolling. But sometimes it’s not trolling. It certainly wouldn’t legally be called trolling, because I’m going, “Hey guys, let’s make this the best day ever.” Just being sincere infuriates people. But it was also started mocking the stuff that celebrities would go on there all the time, and they’d be like, “Guys, great news! Just bought the new house. Here’s some pictures!” and people were like “Looks great! Good for you!” It’s obnoxious. It was just so absurd to me that I just thought it was funny, so that’s why I do all the celebrity types. There are different angles. I guess if I really sat down and thought about it there’s celebrity, where I’m like, “These people don’t realize a star is on the train with them,” and then there’s political stuff, which is a whole different thing, and then there’s positivity, and then there’s negativity, where I just threaten people with my martial arts and retweet and just show videos of Bublé, which is my favorite. Fucking Bublé.
It’s so different than your on-stage comedic persona.
Yeah, I guess so. It is weird. It’s definitely a type of humor that — I can’t imagine how I could pull that off on stage. Put it this way: if I was ever casting a Twitter personality like that for a show, I would never cast myself. There are people that could actually do that character. I can write it, but there’s people that could really do that and be funny doing it. I can’t imagine myself even doing it well, compared to other people. But it is a weird thing.
You’ve been doing standup for so long, it’s interesting to start this entire new character later on.
Yeah, I wonder what it is. It’s probably something, really, that I don’t even want to explore. But even if we were doing Tough Crowd, do you know how hard I’d be getting hammered for my Twitter thing? It would have taken them a couple weeks, and they’d be like, “Ugh, your ironic twitter. Ughh.”