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In like Quinn
With his no-punches-pulled show and stand-up tour, veteran comedian Colin Quinn has his story, and heís sticking to it

COLIN QUINN KNOWS that somewhere in this introduction will come the words "best-known for his work on Saturday Night Live." And he knows that the SNL work singled out will be his stint behind the anchor desk on the showís "Weekend Update." After all, itís how practically every morsel of press heís ever received has described him.

But Quinn, for his part, has other accomplishments for which heíd prefer to be best-known. For starters, thereís his stand-up comedy, which heís been doing for nearly two decades. There was his all-too-brief NBC program, The Colin Quinn Show. His role on MTVís Remote Control. His writing work on In Living Color. His one-man Broadway show, Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake. And now thereís Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, a Politically IncorrectĖstyle talk show, now in its second season on Comedy Central, featuring a roundtable of comics alternately wisecracking, insulting each other, and musing on politics and pop culture.

Still, Colin Quinn knows itíll be said: heís the comic best-known for his work on Saturday Night Live.

Q: Tell me about Tough Crowd ó how itís going, where the idea came from.

A: Itís going good. It came out of the idea that a lot of people have, which is whenever you see a group of people sitting around talking, whatever the job is, itís always like, "Oh, man, I wish we could do that on camera ó thatís funny. Thatís different." People are being un-self-conscious, theyíre not trying to be funny. Like if you sit around with friends in your industry, or if you guys go out to a bar, or any industry. But because weíre comedians, we figure, well, weíre used to performing in front of people; we should be able to pull this shit off.

Q: How big an influence was Politically Incorrect?

A: Obviously, itís a similar format in some ways. So itís been influenced. That was the first type show like this, at least that I can think of. But that came off The McLaughlin Group, too. So this is just all comedians, is the difference.

Q: How do you think the fact that itís all comedians affects the tone of the show?

A: We donít think weíre intellectuals. And I think that we call each other on it, if somebody tries to say something too sincere or "itís all about the children" or something. I think thereís less bullshit, because comedians, because we perform every night in front of the public, weíre not so likely to be nervous and pander. And if we do pander, God forbid, usually one of our friends [calls us on it].

Q: Have you ever had to tell someone theyíre just not funny enough to be on the show?

A: No.

Q: Would you ever?

A: No. Iíd lie.

Q: You donít think aspiring comedians need to know if theyíre not very funny?

A: I mean, I always tell young comedians what I think is wrong with their act. But as far as telling somebody that theyíre not funny, itís not necessarily constructive criticism that they need to hear from me. Because it is subjective, and because a lot of people thought I wasnít funny. They still do, Iím sure. So you canít really say that. But Iíll often tell comedians, "Listen, hereís what I think youíre doing," or if I just see a guy in a club, a young guy, Iíll be like, "Why do you do this? Why do you do that? Why are you exploring stuff thatís already been beaten into the ground, and youíre not talking about stuff that would be singular to you? Youíre going against everything that you should be doing." And they can either say, "That guyís an asshole," or they can listen to me. But I say it with the best of intentions.

Q: Have you seen comedians improve after youíve talked to them about their work?

A: I feel like I have. Ultimately, I do think they improve when somebody whoís been in the business a long time gets really honest with them and means it in a non-competitive or non-negative way. If youíre just saying, "Look, Iím telling you, Iíve done this stuff, I know what youíre doing, and why donít you really work on getting a little into it, and not just sit around trying to get laughs off dick jokes."

Q: Have you had a favorite guest on Tough Crowd?

A: George Carlin was a great thing for me, because heís just a part of my whole family and childhood; we worshipped George Carlin. So that was very important to me. And Seinfeld coming on was really amazing to me. Those kinds of things really get me, you know?

Q: Do you have a wish list of people you want to have on the show?

A: Obviously Richard Pryor would be great, but heís not in good health and canít leave LA. He would be the ultimate.

Q: In your comedy, is anything off-limits?

A: No. I feel like everybody pretends that certain things are shocking when theyíre not. I feel like people try to act like, "Oh, you canít say anything about Bush." What? When was that? Iíve been in comedy since 9/11, all I hear is Bush jokes. I donít know what people think is off-limits, except being honest, especially racially, and thatís never been off-limits on our show, obviously. We live for that one.

Q: Why is that?

A: Because itís off-limits. Because people arenít supposed to talk about it. And because I always feel like, from my point of view, which is being white, I feel like if I didnít extend to black people the same standards that I extend to white people, thatís racist. Like if I donít say rap is crazy and violent, thatís disrespectful to black people. So itís saying what, that thatís okay, thatís how they do things? No. I mean, theyíre the ones who end up getting shot. Which is more racist, to say, "Oh, thatís part of the culture"? I mean, I know black culture; itís not part of the culture from what Iíve ever seen. Thereís a lot of good things in the culture; itís not shooting people. I just feel like itís disrespectful to act like thereís different standards for different humans in this way. Itís just not right. And Iíve found that most black people that I meet on the street, I would say almost all of them, they love the fact that we talk about race honestly. They donít want to hear people saying the party line.

Q: Or tiptoeing around it.

A: Or tiptoeing around it. If something pisses you off and you think itís black, instead of saying, "Itís not a black thing," say whatever you want! Itís ridiculous how people are just so ... their sensitivity is bullshit, you know? And I think itís an illusion, that black people canít take criticism or whatever. [I grew up] in Brooklyn, in a very mixed area, which is part of the reason that I feel like every person can take it and dish it out. They donít want to be ignored or treated differently. And, half my familyís black now. My sister and my brother are both married to black people, so all my nieces and nephews are half-Irish, half-black. And they donít give a damn what I think. They want to think what they want to think. The race thing is about to end anyway, because everybodyís so mixed. So I just feel itís better to honestly say whatís going on, or what you think is going on, without worrying about if people think youíre racist. I feel like itís insincere.

Q: I read that you got into comedy because youíd quit drinking and you needed something to fill your time. Do you think you ever wouldíve become a comedian if you hadnít quit drinking?

A: I wouldnít have become anything if I hadnít quit drinking. I wouldíve become dead, probably. I was completely over the top. And even if Iíd been able to drink socially, I wonder if I wouldíve become a comedian, because I did it more out of desperation. So I probably wouldnít have, no.

Q: Howís the comedy scene changed since you started out?

A: Itís changed in that when I started out, it was more of an innocent time. Everybody thought, oh yeah, everybodyís gonna make it, and blah blah blah. Itís tougher now for the comedians coming out, because you know, more materialís been used. For them, theyíve got a lot more hurdles to jump over to get to a certain place. It takes a lot more work. And some of them do it and some of them donít. So itís changed in that way. The good thing about it is, if youíre good, if youíre original and good, your opportunities can come. Like, in my day you could get away with making a living doing comedy being good, okay. Now youíve got to really bring it.

Q: Whatís the camaraderie like between comedians now?

A: Some people say itís all competition and itís evil; some people say itís all good. I think itís like any other job: some bad-mouthing goes on, of course, and jealousy, like any other job. Weíre all human beings, and you get jealous, and you get angry when someone you think doesnít deserve something gets something.

Q: How are Boston audiences for you?

A: I love Boston audiences.

Q: Are you just saying that?

A: No! Who would be better for me? They all think Iím from Boston. Everyone thinks Iím from Boston. Even New York people. People whoíve known me for like, 12 years.

Q: Why do they think that?

A: Because Iím Irish and Iím loud.

Q: Therefore ...

A: Yeah. But Bostonís great for me. Itís close enough to my mentality. Because itís an Irish influence, I guess, they really are into the sarcasm and the kind of jaded ... I donít know what the hell it is, exactly, with the Irish. Itís just that whole kind of fatalistic attitude thatís better for me, because I donít feel the pressure to try to explain to them why Iím such a sarcastic, miserable bastard. I feel like they assume you are one.

Q: Do you have a least favorite city to do stand-up in?

A: Honestly, I donít always love doing it in LA. Because itís such an industry-type town; you donít know if youíre doing bad or good, because they approve everything. Theyíre just like, "Hey, youíre doing your thing up there ó good for you!" And itís like, no, thatís not what comedy is. Itís got to be judgmental. So LA is probably my least favorite. Like, if I was working on my act, I would not want to stay in LA very long, because you donít trust whether youíre saying funny things or not.

Q: Articles about you always say that youíre best-known for your work on Saturday Night Live. Is that what you want to be best-known for?

A: No. Iíd rather be best-known just for stand-up.

Q: What happened with The Colin Quinn Show?

A: Well, we did three episodes, and they just didnít pick it up. People were going crazy over it. But I guess ultimately they felt like this show was too dangerous for the average audiences. Or who knows what the hell they thought ó they never gave me a straight answer, itís just, "Hey man, we canít pick it up." My personal opinion is that they were scared of where it was going to go, and they probably shouldíve been, because it was going to go there. I thought it was a shame that they donít do stuff like that, especially because theyíre always complaining about no programming thatís exciting and different, and everybody was coming up to these networks, I mean, I was talking to all their assistants and stuff, and they said on the street, everywhere, people were telling them, all their phone calls were like, "Thatís the most exciting new show since SNL first came on. Itís different, itís honest, itís funny." And they still didnít pick it up, which to me is a little bit of a disgrace. And itís a disgrace for them; I mean, theyíre the ones who claim they want this stuff, but apparently they really do want to pacify people. Itís like theyíre feeding into all the things people accuse them of, then: pacifying for commercials. Judging from what that show was, that seemed to be the truth. Of course, biased opinion that I have, because it was my show, but if thatís the truth, itís too bad for them.

Q: Whatís the funniest reality show these days?

A: I think the funniest is probably the Donald Trump one [The Apprentice], because thereís something at stake. Real money, and you see how people get, and your heart starts to beat. The stakes are higher, so I think itís funnier. Plus he seems slightly insane. And also what Puffy was doing, that Making the Band, and all the fucking homeboys from the íhood were fighting each other. Every episode: "Step out!" "Yo, mofo!" And then Puffy comes in: "Yíall are disappointing me. You gotta leave that in the street." So that was a good one. That used to make me laugh.

Q: What would you be doing now if you hadnít become a comedian?

A: I donít even have any idea. I mean, thereís nothing else. I canít imagine. I feel like I was born to do comedy and that was it. I donít know what Iíd be doing. Something where you can maybe meet a lot of different people, or be around a lot of different people, like a serial killer or a cop. Or, like, a serial-killer tracker ó I always wanted to do that. Like one of those Quantico guys. That to me would be kind of cool, like going inside other peopleís minds and their lives and trying to figure out what theyíre up to and what they did.

Q: A profiler.

A: Yeah, profiling. I love that.

Q: Well, if the comedy thing ever slows down ...

A: Yeah, maybe I can start one of those agencies.

Q: Have you ever laughed so hard you wet your pants?

A: No. I think thatís more of a girl thing. I think girls pee their pants.

Q: Why is that?

A: I donít know. I guess itís something structural. Girls pee their pants a lot, but guys donít. But then when we get older we do, so donít worry.

Q: Is that the most flattering thing someone could say to you, that you made them laugh so hard they wet their pants?

A: Yeah. Itís really up there. When girls say that, Iím always like, "Thatís great! Thatís cool!"

Colin Quinn performs at the Comedy Connection, in Boston, on January 30 and 31, at 8 and 10:15 p.m. Call (617) 248-9700. Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder[a]phx.com

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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