Comedian, actor, and writer Colin Quinn is Brooklyn to the core, with an ability, similar to the late comic George Carlin, to make it look easy to handle a one-man show, keeping a complex thought thread from unraveling.
Of late, his successful off-Broadway one-man show, Red State, Blue State, had a moment in the program where Quinn contrasted and compared all 50 states — their foibles, Achilles heels, and key moments in history, to the delight of the audience.
It became the springboard of sorts for his new book, Overstated, where he put great thought into the idiosyncrasies of all the states and why perhaps their nascent beginnings have rubbed off on so many inhabitants’ personalities.
And it’s all in good fun, as Quinn is not a know-it-all bore and his personality and conversational style lends itself to spirited banter.
His now-wrapped Comedy Central show, Tough Crowd, is still a beloved series and discussed on many forums. His loyalty to his core guests — many career comics who likely would have never received that much airtime to reveal their talent — made the show.
Netflix and CNN each aired his Red State Blue State special. Now HBO Max has greenlit Quinn’s new special, Summer of 2020: A Drive-In Comedy Special (working title), described as “part documentary and part stand up showcase,” which will be taped at a repurposed drive-in theater in Brooklyn with a socially distanced audience.
The new book, Overstated, is an informative and riotous look at Americans in full and comes out from St Martin’s Press on Sept. 22. Quinn’s observations and grasp of American history blend for an entertaining read you won’t want to put down.
Colin spoke by phone with Monsters & Critics to discuss the old, the new, and the current state of affairs in the USA and comedy in general.
Monsters & Critics: Your book is a fun read. Your show, Red State Blue State, I saw on Netflix. It was spot on for the times. I’m glad to see you blew that 50-state segment up into this book. Was that the impetus to write Overstated?
Colin Quinn: Sort of, yes, I mean, I guess it must have been. But my personal taste is that I like to read things that you can jump around. So, I felt like it was a perfect way to do it.
M&C: You have a 92Y event coming with Bill Burr on Monday. Tell me about that.
Colin Quinn: I’m doing the 92Y and they normally have these, great, brilliant authors, but now it’s me and Bill Burr trading insults. But, that’ll be Monday night. That’ll be good.
M&C: How long have you known Bill Burr?
Colin Quinn: Maybe 20-plus something years. We just have known each other over the years, I always liked him. And I’m excited about that conversation because I feel like Bill Burr, he’s that kind of guy that gets irritated if it doesn’t become a conflict or if there’s something going on, but I could be wrong. I feel like he’s not the kind of guy that’s just happy with civil discourse. He likes to just stir it up, even though I don’t even think he knows that, but he just will be like, ‘yeah, yeah. But what about that …?’
M&C: He comes across as a verbal scab picker, plus Massachusetts…
Colin Quinn: [Laughs] Yes, he is. Right. That’s exactly right.
M&C: You think about America quite a bit. Overstated [the book] was not an off-the-cuff effort, you did your research, you have a lot of knowledge about history, and how it applies to the moment. Personally, at this very moment, I am not optimistic. What’s your current view on how the United States is faring these days?
Colin Quinn: Same. I mean, I’m not optimistic either. I feel like… It’s right now, and the most depressing part to me is here we have this conflict that’s been going on for a long time, whatever, and everybody feels it, but there is no constitutional convention for today.
We never needed it more than we needed it now in the past 10, 12, 14 years. We’ve never needed more reckoning, a meditation on this kind of…you know what I mean?
Like symposiums and just a conclave. Yet nobody does it. And one of the reasons why is we’ve set up a system of so much participation, where people are afraid to speak.
So even the people like politicians, all they do is wait to see which way the wind blows. I feel like we’re almost as guilty as the leaders, the politicians, the corporations, I feel like we’re all in it together in this weird way.
M&C: I feel that Twitter, of all social media, is the most responsible. It gives people who aren’t deserving a platform to spew garbage. I know you’re on Twitter. I use Twitter surgically. I noticed you use Twitter in your own way.
Colin Quinn: [Laughs] Yeah, very ironically I use it.
M&C: My first introduction to you was SNL, and then Tough Crowd, which I never missed. You were loyal to the core group of comics that you brought on, Nick DiPaolo, another Ma**hole, Rich Vos, and Bonnie McFarlane, Jim Norton, and you guys all eviscerated the headlines, but you did it with comedy and an intellectual aspect that I think not enough people gave it credit for. Do you miss that show?
Colin Quinn: Yes. And thank you for saying that because you’re right. Everybody said it was dumb, but I didn’t think it was dumb at all. I mean, it was crude, but it was not dumb.
And, yes of course… I miss it, especially now because the apoplexy that people would be going through every day over anything that was said on that show would be worth it alone. [Laughs] You know?
I mean…and it would be beyond canceled. That’s what I would have to call it today! That would be the name of the show. If I did Tough Crowd again…it would be “Beyond Canceled.”
M&C: Two of the smartest guests that you always had on all the time too, are no longer with us. I’m talking about comics Patrice O’Neal and Greg Giraldo, they died too soon.
Colin Quinn: Oh my God. Yes. I mean, they were just… at the time it was just like, I understand why it happened with both of them, but yes, those guys were the two comics that you want around this whole time, because they had such distinctive and though out material.
They were both thinkers like you said. They really cared about getting their point across and being funny. Of course, it would be interesting to see what they could have come up with right now.
M&C: It seems like being a comic these days, it’s harder than ever. What do you think?
Colin Quinn: Being a comic is hard, but I mean, every job nowadays is kind of is going through stuff. You know what I mean? But being a comic is tough only because people are on pins and needles waiting for your material.
So, it’s harder to experiment. And in some ways, yes, it makes you more disciplined. In some ways, it makes people tighter writers, which is good.
But yes, there’s so much behind everything that it’s like, you’re dealing with people go, ‘no, no, no.’ In a comedy club, people want you to say the wrong thing, sometimes. That’s why people go to comedy clubs.
I feel like the standards are so stupid [now] and people ask if somehow comedy has an evil culture to it. That it somehow influences society. Comedy! It’s absurd. It’s nothing to do with what goes on at Main Street, which is to reflect society. We don’t set the tone; you know what I mean? And that’s what drives me crazy.
M&C: I feel like comedy clubs are becoming the speakeasies for subversive free speech. What we say on socials is pure self-marketing façade. What you really think is completely hidden.
Colin Quinn: That’s true. They (comedy clubs) were. That’s right. I agree. A hundred percent.
M&C: Amy Schumer’s terrific film, Trainwreck, you played her dad Gordon. It was bittersweet. It wasn’t maudlin. It was pitch-perfect. you hit all the notes. I say that because you aren’t Sir Laurence Olivier, you’re a comedian, but you’re also a good instinctive actor. Are there roles coming for you?
Colin Quinn: No. Now I like to direct and write, I do write stuff… I’d like to write [and] if I could get my movies made. I would… but as a director, not as an actor.
Because I never watched a movie where I go, ‘Oh boy, it would have been great to have that part.’ You know what I mean?
But I’ve watched many movies where I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have rewritten that.’ So… it’s really not my thing, acting…I don’t love it. I don’t like it that much.
M&C: But you’re good at it.
Colin Quinn: Well thanks. Obviously, if somebody…I mean look, if Scorsese had come to me and said, ‘Listen, I’m doing The Irishman. I want you in it.’ I would have been like, ‘Marty, finally, we’re understanding each other.’ [laughs] You know?’ I could be on stage more than on screen, to be honest.
[Onstage] you’re spoiled by the live audience. So then when you are doing a movie or TV show, you’re waiting around, then you performing, there’s nobody [the audience], and it’s just kind of odd.
M&C: Back to Overstated. I’ve lived in five States. I’m originally from Massachusetts. It formed my outward personality. My current state, Idaho…You were a little harsh about Idaho in the book.
Colin Quinn: [Laughs] What do you mean? I was very nice about it! What did I say?
M&C: You called it the boring sleeping bag state.
Colin Quinn: An outdoorsy state…whaddya mean! I was very nice about it!
M&C: No, no you weren’t. But I’ll let it go.
Colin Quinn: I was harsh about every state! That’s the whole point. Think about what I said about California. Now that was really mean
M&C: True. I will say this about Idaho. When I see a deuce on the sidewalk, I know it’s from a dog. So, are you going to stay in New York forever? Do you think you’re going to retire and go someplace warm? Or are you going to leave New York?
Colin Quinn: (Laughing) I mean, I don’t know. I never think about leaving New York, but I just don’t, I don’t know. I personally…I can’t really imagine living anywhere except New York, because it’s just my personality, you know?
I don’t know why. I just like it here on some level, but things change.
But I can’t answer right now. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
M&C: Well, you did your research because you traveled all over the country working and doing clubs and stuff. There was no other state that you could say, ‘Yeah, I could live here?’ That never occurred to you?
Colin Quinn: Every time I’m traveling around, I get a little fantasy [in my mind] of living in there. Because it’s just so fun. You’re at a nice hotel and you’re going around town and going to a nice restaurant. So, it is fun.
I do fantasize about living in places, you know what I mean? Like, when I did go to Idaho, I was doing a private gig. I was in this hunting lodge and I though this is badass. This is really fun, you know?
But as far as living there permanently… I don’t know. I mean, I need stimuli. So if I lived in Idaho and it snowed all the time, I could live there. Because I liked to be around the snow. We have to jump on skis, we have to jump on a snowmobile. That kind of stuff is fun. I like stimulation of that kind.
But nowadays, especially because every place including New York City is almost the same anyway, we all watch the same stuff, it is all the same…nothing is distinctive [anymore], but I could see living someplace away from everything. Kind of badass. I don’t know.
M&C: I assume you’ve been to Europe and you traveled to foreign places, do you observe that they are as weird as we are? And do you have opinions about countries and will you take this premise of your book, Overstated, and expand it in a follow up about the rest of the world and comparing countries?
Colin Quinn: Well, I haven’t been to as many countries as I’d like to but yeah. It’d be like, China… I’ve been to South Africa and I’ve been to France and England and stuff.
I would love to do a whole tour of these other countries. But even now, it’s such a small global village, as they used to say, that it’s kind of hard to see them being that distinctive. But I would love it.