When asked in a recent interview if he’ll always want to do stand-up, Colin Quinn joked that he’s tired and can’t do it forever. Then the 63-year-old comedian launched into the “magic” he feels onstage when getting a laugh, and sheepishly admitted he’ll probably never give it up.
Quinn has embarked on his eighth one-man show, “Colin Quinn: Small Talk,” playing now through Feb. 11 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York. He’s previously performed on TV, including “Saturday Night Live” and “Girls” and in movies like “Trainwreck,” and is the author of several books, but stand-up keeps pulling him back. Known for his observational humor, Quinn shines a light in his new show on the way we communicate in person and online, and spoiler alert: It’s not always pretty.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the comic explains his process, his advice for younger comedians and how so-called woke culture has changed comedy. Answers have been shortened for clarity and brevity.
AP: You connect how small talk has evolved into people posting online. What does that say about us?
QUINN: The internet is obviously our life. I’m always thinking about ‘What does it mean? What is so important?’ For most people, it’s attention and opinion. You know, like those are the big things that matter on the internet — you’re giving your opinion and getting attention. I’m always looking for little definitions of everything because I feel like that’s another thing in comedy, when I’m defining things. If you’re having a conversation, in the middle of it, just stop and go, ‘Wait a minute. What is a conversation?’
AP: Many fellow comedians revere you, do you ever give them advice?
QUINN: I couldn’t give advice. They know better than me what they need to do. They’re the ones that are… cutting up clips and throwing it out. Like, I’d be like ‘Hey, try to get on Letterman.’ They’re like, ‘What? He doesn’t have a show anymore.’ Or, ‘Hey, try to get a sitcom,’ (laughs). The only advice I could ever give is if you’re not writing new stuff a lot, you’re going to stagnate. It’s almost like the opposite of musicians. Musicians, with a few exceptions, the first couple of albums are their best, and then they just kind of can’t really capture that magic. With stand-up, you can’t rest. Nobody’s gonna say “play your hits!” you know, very rarely. So you have to keep writing. The more you do it, it gets easier that you know what direction to focus on when you’re writing. But you have to keep working at the same pace your whole career. There’s no coasting in stand-up.
AP: How has woke culture affected your comedy?
QUINN: There’s so many subjects that people will not laugh at. So if you even identify — not just make a stereotype — if you identify anyone’s ethnicity, the room tightens up. There’s a lot of little subtle areas, some good, most bad, in my opinion, that it affects… It’s not all of comedy, but it’s definitely it has a big effect, you know?
AP: You’re friends with Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer. What’s it like when you go to dinner?
QUINN: Nobody’s really fighting for attention, but everybody’s being funny the whole time, of course. I mean, that’s our thing, you know what I mean? Like, that’s what we do. It’s hard to really say what it looks like, but… we did a few weeks ago and it was just hilarious. And Amy’s baby son was there, Gene. It’s just like throwaway lines, but it’s not big and gregarious laughs. It’s more like a series of sarcastic or snotty remarks to each other.
AP: You have other gigs but keep coming back to stand-up. Will you do it forever?
QUINN: It’s not what I want to do forever, I’m tired. I say that because I have all these other projects I write and stuff. But I have to say, when I’m on stage and I’m talking to some crowd… when there’s something going on, you’re like ‘I can never have this in other parts of showbiz I’m so lucky.’ Or something happens in the news and I make a little joke and then everyone laughs. You just you feel so grateful — especially after COVID when we didn’t do it — you feel just gratitude. So, yeah, I guess it’s easy to walk away because I’ve been doing it forever. But there’s something that’s kind of a magic where you’re just lucky to be one of the people that can do it. Yeah, I probably would never give it up.