Colin Quinn on His New Book “Overstated” | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020  

Colin Quinn on His New Book “Overstated”

They’ll Destroy You

Sep 24, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Colin Quinn has written a truly funny and enlightening new book called, Overstated, which was released this week. In it, the Brooklyn-accented, longtime comedian shares his thoughts, revelations, and realizations as they pertain to the history of the United States. The connection between the 50 states, Quinn says, is like a marriage gone bad. So, now what? In the pages, Quinn roasts all 50 states, while offering insights into their peculiarities and peccadillos, which, in turn, may offer a window in how we can get the country on the right track (again? for the first time?). There is a lot of work to do, but it can be done, the comedian says. Quinn, who has been on Saturday Night Live, hosted his own show on Comedy Central, and worked just about every standup club in the western hemisphere, has a unique, loving perspective, couched in an upfront New Yorker’s vocabulary. We caught up with the funny man to ask him about when he got his first laugh, what his hope for America is and much more. 

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): Do you remember when you got your first good laugh? 

Colin Quinn: Yeah. I remember, as a kid, I would go to, like, family parties and for some reason I was getting laughs. There used to be a show called The Kopykats. And they would imitate Humphrey Bogart, these guys from the ’40s. And I started imitating them imitating them. And then even my older adult relatives would laugh at my impressions, so that was a good sign, you know? 

Conversely, do you remember when you got your first bomb? 

Oh, I mean, I would say the first time on stage was all the time. My early days were bombs galore. I bombed for years in my early years of comedy and only the comedians loved me and that’s the only reason that I stayed in it. Obviously, the way I was going with the audience, I would have left. So, I bombed—one of my famous bomb stories was upstate in New York where they chased me with bats after the set. The owner had to hide me on the floor of the car because they were looking for me. That’s a bad bomb. 

You just mentioned other comedians liking you. That’s often been your reputation in a very positive way, that you’ve been appreciated by comedians. Have you ever given that any thought, why other comedians really like you? 

I’ve thought about it all the time. I don’t know what it was because it started before I was even funny. Comedians—I was on their frequency. Jay Mohr once said, “I’m a dog whistle.” And that’s it. That’s what it is, I’m a dog whistle. There’s no—I didn’t plan it. I wanted to make the audience laugh, like everybody else. But instead I made the comedians laugh. And that’s been the story of my career and I love it because it’s such an honor, you know? To me, anyway. I consider it, like, a real honor. But, I mean, yeah, I don’t know what it is about me. I don’t know what it is about my personality that they say that I don’t see, you know? I try to do work but a lot of people do it. It’s just one of those things—it came out that way, you know? 

It’s amazing how there are those things. Some people have a certain thing that’s recognizable but you can’t decipher why? 

It might—you know, now that we’re talking. This is the first time I’ve ever bothered to delve into really thinking why. Or maybe it’s just coming to me right now. But it might be that on stage, I manifest their depression and basic self-destruction that they feel. In my cadence, you know? [Laughs] Maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know. [Laughs] 

How did you decide to do one-man shows, which are different from comedy but not so different from doing standup? 

Well, I did a couple back in the early ’90s. I really like doing it. Because I remember watching Eric Bogosian and Whoopi Goldberg do these one-person shows. I might have seen another one but those are the two I remember. And I was like, “That looks like fun!” Doing these characters, you know what I mean? And I just—I was like, “I want to do that.” Because I liked acting, sort of. Just the idea of being off Broadway and doing these one-person shows, it just clicked with me for some reason. I remember seeing Bogosian and Whoopi Goldberg’s shows and going, “I like this stuff. That’s what I like!” Because it was theatrical and you could, like, take time with an idea but still be kind of funny but also be kind of drole, which I liked. Not necessarily the best thing for comedy, though, you know? So, there was just something about it I loved. 

What is the difference? We don’t need to put too fine a point on it but is it the venue that allows you to be in the theatrical space, is it the billing? 

It’s the venue. Because a comedy club, if you look at it, they’re basically—they even say, “Keep your conversations to a minimum.” Which used to piss me off. I’d be like, “What do they mean, ‘a minimum’? How about just don’t speak at all?” But the reason they said that is because you have to order from the waitress, you have to look at the bill. So, the physical layout, people aren’t facing the stage. They’re facing each other, you know what I mean? Like, a theater, you’re facing the stage. So, what’s the message there? Talk and then look. You literally have to turn your head in an unnatural angle to watch a fucking comedy show. Unless you’re at the head of the table seats! So, what is the message by the layout? The message is eat, drink, and by the way, there’s somebody on stage, you might want to check in once in a while. That’s what I think it is, definitely. It’s a physical thing. 

When did you decide to roast all 50 states in your book and when did the analogy of a marriage come into play in your mind for the status of the U.S.? 

Well, I mean, I’ve done a couple of shows where I mention the marriage. I did it on Unconstitutional in 2014. Because, obviously, this has been going on for a while, this country breaking up. And last year I think I might have brought it up at a show. But it feels like that marriage where, you know, people are kept together, like any marriage, for financial reasons. And what do you do with the little kids, and all of that? But it’s really, this country is so big—and then when you travel as a comedian to so many of the states. I’m one of those few people that’s been around other than athletes and they aren’t going to write an ironic book about the country, although it would be an interesting read if they ever did. But, yeah, I was just like—I just felt bad. Because I feel like this country is going to break up without another Constitutional Convention and that really makes me furious. Instead of sitting down once a year—I have it all planned out. So, you sit down, and the big problem is what? Social media. The original Constitutional Convention, they blocked the press out. And that was before social media! So, here’s what it would be: you’d make announcements all over the country, “We’re going to have these things. We’re going to have them every year. No one’s allowed to comment on them until it’s over. Keep your blow-by-blow comments—and not just the media, nobody. The public. Shut up. Everybody’s going to speak honestly and we’re going to see where this goes. In two months you can say what you want. Shut your mouth.” It would be a good lesson for all of us. Not just the politicians. But for everybody. Two months, you can’t comment.

Do you think there will be a divorce and, if so, what is social media’s responsibility in that?

Social media is responsible in the sense that it became mob rule. So, you know, it does what it does. It’s popularity, it’s mob rule. It gets away from representative—so, the good thing about social media is that, you know, the unheard get their voice. The bad thing is that everybody gets equal—so, being a journalist, like yourself. There’s now anybody with more followers than you gets clout, even if they never studied journalism. They have no journalistic ethics. They don’t even know what they’re talking about. But it doesn’t matter! So, they’re taking people’s jobs, so there’s no qualifications for being a journalist. That’s not good. Because, as we know, now there’s literally 30-million journalists. We have 30-million people who think they’re journalists, who think they’re “exposing reality.” And it’s terrible. Once there’s no standard for anything, that’s the downside of social media. Obviously. But I do feel that this is a human nature problem. That’s what I think people are afraid to say. They want to blame it all on Facebook. When it’s really human nature. Which is: you give me a voice, I’m going to use my voice. And the more power I get, the more power I’m going to take. It’s just kind of the way people are. But there’s a fine line—there’s a reason there is Representative Democracy. Not just a full democracy. Pure democracy is mob rule, really, when you think about it. That’s what it is. So, unless we want that, which is not going to work I don’t think, then people are going to have to start setting some standards. For jobs, qualifications and all that. That’s the way it is. 

It seems to me a matter of incentives. What are we incentivized as a community or country to do? And I think social media has drastically changed those incentives. That seems like the drastic change. 

Right.

Did you learn anything about the country that surprised you from writing the book?

It surprised me when I started to realize how people in the—you know, I knew a girl when I was 13 years old. I remember she was from New Mexico and for some reason she ended up in Brooklyn. And she started telling me, “You people here!” She was literally yelling at me about something or other. “You people here, you have it good. We can’t call the cops when people come to our house. We have to have our guns!” And I remember her telling me this at 13. It was, like, 1972. I was like, “What the hell is she telling me like I give a dang?” I didn’t care about anything. But then I thought about that. Isn’t it funny? People do have different ways of viewing life. I mean, that’s one of the things in our country that we never really resolved. That you can’t have a country with elections this close every four years and expect that to keep going on without people one day exploding. And social media just, kind of, lit it. The fact is, when you have this many people with this different of an opinion, there’s got to be a way to resolve that. And what do we do? Whoever is the president, gets up and gives a platitude speech, “I want to be working for all Americans!” And everybody knows and is sort of like, “What else is he going to say?” Except for Trump, who never said that. He almost said it at the beginning of his term. But it’s kind of strange thing, you know? Then you get these manifestations of our sicknesses in the form of—I used to always hate when people would criticize politicians as not being authentic people. But now I see, like, nobody—everybody just appeals to whoever is the strongest voices in their base. They’re afraid—everyone’s afraid to speak. And I don’t blame them. Because everyone destroys you if—I’ve been saying for about six months, “Only stupid people tell the truth now.” Because anybody with any brains goes, “I’m not going to say what I really feel. I’ll get destroyed.” 

It’s an odd relationship. Everybody has their own mini-audiences. Before when you were having an interaction with somebody, you were having an interaction with them one-on-one. Now if you get into a disagreement with a person, you have to fear their online audience. 

That’s right. They’ll get you fired! 

Do you still meditate often? And you stopped drinking? Have those still stuck? 

Well, I stopped drinking 37 years ago. So, meditation came a lot later. [Laughs] I only started to meditate six years ago. But I can’t believe you’re asking me this because you’re the first person to ask me this since the pandemic. For some reason during the pandemic, I’ve really slacked on meditation. I used to be really good. I’d do it twice a day for 20 minutes. Now, I’m literally once a day, maybe sometimes twice. Once in a blue moon. But I really slacked on it. I’m starting to lose the flow of mediation and it’s starting to piss me off, to be honest with you. 

What does meditation do for you? 

I mean, it gives you, like, energy. It clears your head. The good thing about meditation is you can think of all your evil, terrible, negative stuff and get it in there and then you’re clear when you leave. So, I used it—people think mediation and they think of positive thoughts. But I think negative thoughts the whole time. You get them out so then they’re not blocking you the rest of the day. 

I think that’s what other comedians recognize in you. There’s some connection there. 

[Laughs] Yeah, I think you’re right! 

Do you have a comment on the recent “New York Is Dead” conversation? 

The one with Jerry [Seinfeld]? [Laughs] Well, yeah, I think like everything else, there’s degrees. Everybody’s got to be, like, extreme about it. But there are degrees, you know? It’s certainly not flourishing right now. I’ve been here the whole time, you know? I just can’t leave. I can’t even imagine living anywhere else, that’s the sad thing about me. But, yeah. It’s in deep trouble but I wouldn’t—it’s hard. I grew up here, so I was here in the ’70s when it was dead, too. And it wasn’t like this—this is crazy right now. It’s so quiet. If this pandemic comes back—but I think every place is in trouble. Every place. We’re all in trouble right now. So, I don’t know that New York is special in the sense that—you know, I just feel like every place is in deep trouble right now. The whole globe!

It’s weird to me. If everyone is in trouble—can’t we all just press the reset? Maybe it’s just hard for me to wrap my head around. Anyway, one last question for you. You talk very eloquently about the role of comedy and the need for it to find where social lines are drawn so that discourse can be healthier. Given all that, what do you love most about comedy today? 

I just love the idea of trying to take something that is boring, like the Constitution, or whatever it is. And try to make it funny, you know? Taking something that’s boring and clarifying it but also making it funny. Because most of the stuff that I write clarifies it for me, too. That’s when I know I have something good. When I think it’s funny but also when I go, “Oh, now I understand this!”

www.colinquinn.com 

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