For people of a certain generation — okay, mine — comedian Colin Quinn has been a mainstay. He was the announcer for the late '80s MTV game show Remote Control, he was on Saturday Night Live for five seasons, he's had multiple attempts at hosting his own TV show, and he's appeared in a number of movies.
Despite all that, he has yet to attain the superstar status of famous friends like Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler. For his latest show, Unconstitutional, he examines the many strange ways the interpretation of the Constitution has evolved since it was first written.
“It’s an interesting psychological world right now,” Quinn says. “I don’t know if it’s better or worse when you get fired for being an asshole.”
In advance of his January 10 appearance at the Wyly Theatre, Quinn sat down with us to discuss the show, his career and if he'd ever want to give TV a shot again.
CultureMap: What inspired you to use the Constitution as the basis for your latest show?
Colin Quinn: It just felt like one of those documents that everyone always said was brilliant, but I didn’t know what was so brilliant about it, so I decided to check it out for myself. But it came at a good time, because right after that, everybody started yapping about the Constitution. People are carrying copies in their back pockets and shit.
CM: Do you plan on keeping the show pretty much the same for every stop, or will you adapt it depending on the location? I imagine you could find some juicy material about Texas to talk about.
CQ: It changes every day. Look, today there was that ruling where they said the NSA [data mining] was unconstitutional, and now it’s going to the Supreme Court. You know, it’s small stuff, but it does affect the whole show.
It’s more or less that the Constitution affects everybody differently. Nobody has the answers to anything, I’ve noticed. Everyone just has a different take on everything.
CM: Have you found that talking about any particular part of the Constitution has been more popular or more interesting than others?
CQ: Well, of course, freedom of speech, especially with our society today. The way that our government doesn’t censor anybody, but everybody else can get fired for saying something.
That’s once again hot off the presses with the Duck Dynasty thing. It’s interesting, you know? It’s subjective outrage when it comes to who says what and what people decide to blitz live.
“I feel like if anyone went to see five comedians, they’d understand the world we live in a little bit better.”
It is interesting to see so many people getting fired for what they’re saying. The other argument would be, “Look, if you had a redneck duck hunter who didn’t feel that way, it would probably be an actor. It would probably be a fake, inauthentic character.”
I used to watch Jersey Shore, and I used to tell people, “You don’t understand — these kids are not the Jersey Shore kids. The guido kids when I grew up would never be like, ‘Hey, I’m sorry about your feelings. I really want to sit down and talk this out.’”
That is so foreign to me. I don’t know if it makes the world more compassionate or it makes it more inauthentic. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an interesting psychological world right now. I don’t know if it’s better or worse when you get fired for being an asshole.
CM: You seem to enjoy doing themed shows like this or your Broadway show Long Story Short. What’s the attraction to them as opposed to, say, observations about your own life or other styles?
CQ: I mean, I did all that stuff for years, you know? I feel like I did it, and it was fun, but I did it forever. It started to bore me. My life is pretty boring, so that was one of the reasons I was just done with it.
CM: You’ve had some memorable if not wholly successful stints on television. Do you see yourself ever going down that road again?
CQ: Of course. Are you kidding me? People who are in this, you have to have a certain level of, I don’t know if you call it delusions of grandeur or you just figure, hey, what the hell? You never think to yourself, “No that’s it for that.” I’m always out there throwing stuff against the wall.
CM: What other current comedians should people be watching live?
CQ: There are so many; I could name 200-300 comedians that people should be seeing. I just feel like comedians take the temperature of the culture in an interesting way.
It’s funny, but it’s also like, “Oh, so that’s the way we live now.” Because they cover so many subjects in their act. I feel like if anyone went to see five comedians, they’d understand the world we live in a little bit better. Every time I’m forced to watch anybody do comedy, I’m like, “Jesus Christ, is that good.”
CM: Comedians seem to have this special bond no matter who or where they are. It seems like you all are generally supportive of each other. Is that true in your experience?
CQ: Yeah, I think that’s true, because ultimately you’ve got to go out yourself in front of that crowd, so you’d better not betray others. There are always people who do betray others, and I almost admire them.
I’m like, wow, this guy is willing to cut ties in this profession that can be very lonely with the few people who can actually empathize with him. I almost admire that kind of psychotic behavior.