In the summer of 1982 if you went to Westhampton Beach you may have seen Colin Quinn at Westhampton T-Shirts, working behind the counter. On February 28, 2015, you can catch Quinn across the street from the T-Shirt shop, at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, where he will perform an early draft of his next big one-man show, Colin Quinn: Once Upon a Time in New York.
“He was a great worker and had a great sense of humor,” Westhampton T-shirts co-owner Jim Flood recalls. “The sense of humor served him well.”
That sense of humor led to him being scouted for MTV’s Remote Control, becoming a writer then cast member and “Weekend Update” anchor on Saturday Night Live, and hosting Tough Crowd on Comedy Central for two years before The Colbert Report took over the 11:30 time slot.
In an interview last week, Quinn says Tough Crowd was too politically incorrect for the time—2002 to 2004—and wouldn’t stand a chance today. But Quinn prefers honesty in comedy over self-censorship for the sake of political correctness, and he’s stuck to that principle for better or worse.
Quinn is opinionated, but goes after all sides. “There are so many blind spots on the left and the right,” he says. “Both choose to go down their road and not really waver.” So he sticks it to everyone.
Quinn is a Brooklyn native and he attended Stony Brook University, but did not graduate. “Stony Brook broke me,” he says. “In those days, Stony Brook was a good school, but it was a bit of a party school—it broke my spirit.”
He swore off drinking, but never went back to college. He excelled at stand-up comedy instead.
His work of late has evolved from conventional stand-up into one-man shows. His first was back in 1998, with An Irish Wake on Broadway. He returned to the format in 2010 with Long Story Short, which his friend Jerry Seinfeld directed.
“He comes in and starts barking out orders,” Quinn jests. But, sincerely, he says, “When Jerry directs things, suddenly everyone is interested in it.”
Not only did Seinfeld raise the profile for Long Story Short, he also threw himself into it “for a shocking amount of time.”
“In many ways, he’s OCD…” Quinn says. “He helped me shave that script a lot by cutting a lot of fat.”
The show tells all of human history—in 75 minutes.
Quinn prefers a show on just one topic because he can really focus, and there’s always more that can be said. And even after a show debuts, he continues re-writing the script. “I’m so obsessive when I’m working on it,” he says. For his last show, Colin Quinn: Unconstitutional, which he recorded last month in Tarrytown, he chose to focus on the U.S. Constitution. “Like anything,” he says, “it just keeps going deep and deeper.”
He keeps tweaking a show up until he is ready to commit it to film, and once it is in the can, he retires the material and moves on to the next thing.
Once Upon a Time in New York concerns the history of New York and life there in the ’70s when he was a kid. He says the Westhampton Beach audience can expect the “second draft” of the show, which he plans to take to a New York stage this spring.
He’s completed filming on another project, Cop Show.
“It’s a web show about a guy making a cop show,” he explains.
The idea for the satirical short-form series came to him after he walked past the New York County Courthouse steps. “Those are the steps they use on Law & Order,” he noticed, and it irked him that in all these years working in New York, he hadn’t been on Law & Order once.
In Cop Show, which debuted February 18 on lstudio.com, he plays a fictionalized version of himself. Though, he says some of his friends may argue that it is not that fictionalized. Guest stars include Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer—he appears in her new film Trainwreck—and new “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che.
Last weekend, Quinn was back at Studio 8H for the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live. He got together with fellow “Weekend Update” veterans for a tribute to the first anchor, Chevy Chase. Quinn took the opportunity to say, “I’d like to bring up that Wally the cue card guy used to drop my cards. That’s why I mumbled some of the time. Most of the time. All of the ti-time.”
Colin Quinn performs at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Saturday, February 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75, $65 and $50. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.