Talking to Colin Quinn About Standup, Twitter Hate, and ‘Girls’ Season 3
SNL veteran Colin Quinn, who sarcastically hails himself as “one of the great writers in the entertainment industry,” will host the 66th annual Writers Guild Awards in New York Saturday. Quinn is currently touring his one-man show Colin Quinn: Unconstitutional (nicknamed “The Toosh”) and appearing on Girls as Alex Karpovsky’s bespectacled, coffee-shop-owning mentor. He’s also working with old friends Jim Norton, Nick DiPaolo and Tom Papa on a very meta Jerry Seinfeld-produced cop show about making a cop show. It’s called Cop Show.
I recently had a chance to talk to Quinn about his thoughts on the New York standup scene, the sheer vitriol he faces (mostly from loyal fans) on Twitter, and his plans for a Girls soap-opera spinoff starring his terminally ill character, Hermie.
Have you ever hosted an awards show before?
Are you nervous?
You know what? Surprisingly, I’m not. If you’re gonna be a comedian, you have to have delusions of grandeur. When you just said, “Have you ever hosted an awards show before?” I was thinking to myself, Of course, I’ve hosted many awards shows! And I’m like, Oh, no, you haven’t. Just in your mind, you probably think you have.
So I saw that you’re planning on taping Unconstitutional soon.
Yes, in Philadelphia. But I have to get some money first to shoot it.
Now that you’ve been doing a one-man show, do you prefer theaters to clubs?
Yes, much more. Clubs are too savage, you know? There’s drinking, and they’re not even facing the stage; they’re facing each other. You know what I mean? I want people to be at a show. It’s like, face forward.
Will you be doing more one-man shows instead of traditional standup specials, then?
Well, I still work a lot in clubs. Because clubs are great if you have stuff to work out, and it’s not this big formal thing where you need six months to — you know, it’s still fun to do clubs. And I’m just going to bring either some kind of Taser or some kind of electrical weapon to the clubs. If I could just get a Taser attached to a long pole offstage, that would probably make it much more pleasant for me.
What do you think of the alternative scene vs. the club scene in New York today?
I think it’s kind of blended together — which is good. The alternative scene had its strengths; it came around for a reason. And the club scene had its strengths, and it came around for a reason. In the old days, it was just the club scene, you know? But the problem with the club scene is, too many times if you’re a hack you can do well, and if you’re trying to be thoughtful, you do badly. So the alternative scene developed, and the alternative scene is positive because it’s not just high-energy hack stuff. The downside to the alternative scene is it gets a little too soft, so you don’t have to get laughs all the time, and that can affect your performance.
Really, you’ll never hear a more civil and intelligent discourse on this. That was kind of boring, I admit, when I said it — but really, you have to admit, at least I’ve thought about it.
That was incredibly thoughtful. So what do you think of the new blood on Weekend Update?
I think it’s terrible. I think they’re doing a horrible job. [Laughs] I mean, I don’t really see much of the show these days, but I see there’s a guy named Colin coming in. I think that’s good. Ha, ha, ha.
Can’t go wrong with that.
I know, it’s going to be interesting. But every time they bring in new blood, it’s good. Even when it doesn’t work, it’s better with new blood. They’ve gotta turn it over.
Tell me about Season 3 of Girls. Are we ever going to learn the nature of Hermie’s mysterious illness?
We are not. Maybe next season. You know, I’m actually spinning it off onto a soap opera. I’m actually taking acting classes to prepare for my big death scene. There’s going to be a scene where I die, where we find that what actually happened in Season 1 — Lena Dunham stabs me, and they do a flashback. She stabs me, and I have to go to the hospital. So I didn’t want to ruin Adam’s relationship with her, but now in Season 3, at the end, I come out and I go, “You know what you did. You know what you did.”
I know. It seems like jumping the shark, but you know.
How does playing a straighter, more dramatic role compare to doing your own material?
I don’t know if I’d call it that dramatic, but I mean, it’s fine. I like the show itself, but I like writing and doing standup, you know? That’s what I like to do. Other people write it, so I don’t get to ramble like I like to ramble. Like a lot of comedians, I don’t really like to shut up. I feel like with comedians, the thing that’s the most not in our nature is actually shutting up. So I feel like any time when you’re talking to them, they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, finish.” I just feel like that’s our energy. Some people might call us blabbermouths. Some people might call us know-it-alls.
What was it like having Allison Williams scream at you on last Sunday’s episode?
It was very rude. I didn’t appreciate it then, and I don’t appreciate it now.
You guys are still fighting?
Yeah, it’s tense on set.
So why are people so horrible to you on Twitter? Do you think you deserve that?
It’s just rude, what some of these people are about. I’m going to file charges. But I mean, some people would say I almost invite it.
What’s the most creative insult someone’s ever tweeted at you?
I do like the creative insults. They fall into different categories — usually the creative ones are based on something that I said, and then they’ll add onto it. Like I’ll say something with “shallow,” and then somebody goes, “I wish you would dive into the shallow end of a pool full of knives,” or something like that. But the only one I can think of in the past two months was, one guy goes, “You’re about as funny as a fire at a children’s hospital.” Which I felt was very…unspiritual. So I had to retweet it, because I felt it was very visceral. Nobody could deny the lack of humor of a fire at a children’s hospital. I had to give it up, just on pure cruelty — you had to almost respect him.
I feel like you just soak up the insults and use them to make you stronger.
Yes. [Laughs] That’s the thing with Twitter, too — you find out everyone’s got something to say. And some people are very funny, and some people are very angry. And most of us are a combination of angry and funny. I feel like it gets a lot of good frustration out, Twitter.
Did Twitter pay you to say that?
No, Twitter’s not paying me shit. They should be paying me a fucking fortune, now that you mention it. Let’s face it — there’s probably a hundred people that should be getting paid from Twitter. I’d have more of a case if I got like, Rob Delaney and about 20 other people together — Megan Amram, people like that.
It sounds like you guys are getting conned.
Yeah! It’s like in the ‘80s when suddenly everyone starts wearing Nike T-shirts, and we’re like, “Holy shit, we’re advertising fucking Nike. And we’re paying for it.” As long as we’re not paying for Twitter, it’s not that bad. But yeah, it’s ridiculous. We’re doing their work.
There’s my pull-quote for this story.
Yeah. “Colin Quinn is getting robbed by Twitter.”
Are you working on new material now?
Yes. Always. I write every day. Not because I feel like I have to for any reason — I feel like I just think of something every day. Right now I’m writing about the death of ethnicity. That would be the hottest thought off my large head, which is that somehow people have decided — in societal terms, you know, culturally — that racism started because people identified people by their ethnicity. So now they feel like if they can somehow expunge the actual identifying of people by ethnicity, it will thereby end racial ills. That’s what I’m working on today. You have to admit, I’m writing home with that one.
So you’re moving away from the constitutional stuff?
Well, the constitutional stuff — I love doing [Unconstitutional] because I’m not doing it every day. But eventually everything gets to where you want to film it. In comedy, you do it for a couple of years and you’re like, “Every night everyone’s laughing, and I wish the whole world could see how great I am. I gotta film this.” And then you film it and move onto the new one.
What are you going to do next?
That reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite. Remember that little kid in the first scene? He says, “What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” That kid’s face in that opening scene makes the whole movie. He looks like he’s five and 50 at the same time. Napoleon blows him off, like Fucking little kid, I’m an adult, you know? So funny.
But what am I going to do next? I’m trying to do this web show called Cop Show — it’s a cop show about a cop show. So I’ve been working on that. And once again, yes, I’m trying to get somebody to give me money because I shot the pilot but now, you know, we need money to shoot the series. I’m waiting for somebody to come up with big money. It’s a cop show about me making a cop show. I’ve never been on Law & Order, I’ve never been on any of these fucking New York cop shows. It’s ridiculous.
You should’ve been. You look like you could be a cop.
It’s ridiculous! So I decided to do my own cop show, so I’m filming me making my own cop show.
What goes into making a show about a show?
It’s just trying to coordinate it so you have enough of the actual cop show, too. I don’t want to just make it about making the show; I want the show with the cop show in it. So every week there’s a cop show in the plot, and all the stuff that you see in all the cop shows, too. I think it’s time. Because look — what’s more played out, on some levels, than a lot of cop shows? Let’s put it this way: What’s more known than cop-show dramas? Nothing.
I have to ask: Did you really come up with the name for Grown-Ups? What was your inspiration?
Yes. They came out of the reading, and they were like, “What are we gonna call it?” They go, “It’s supposed to be called Lake House.” That’s when we find out there’s [another movie] called The Lake House. So of course they were all sitting there racking their brains, and I just said “Grown-Ups” because, you know, I could’ve given them five great names. And I gave them “Grown-Ups.” And they say, “We’re going with that name. And by the way, tell your agent there’s an extra 20 grand in the mail for you for naming our movie.” That’s what it should’ve been. Why didn’t they give me money for it?
You can’t always get paid for everything you do.
I know, but for the name of a movie that became a franchise! They made a part two. Don’t you think I should get something?
Meera Jagannathan is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. She tweets mostly about Bridgegate.