Known for his thick Brooklyn accent and dry wit, comedian and writer Colin Quinn has been in the business for more than half his life. Besides performing standup, the opinionated Quinn was a regular on Saturday Night Live from 1995-2000, hosting “Weekend Update” and portraying characters such as Joe Blow and caricatures of actors like Robert DeNiro.
Quinn has appeared in a plethora of films and television shows, including Night At The Roxbury, Trainwreck, Girls, and The Larry Sanders Show. He’s written and produced several TV specials and series, including the Jerry Seinfeld-directed off-Broadway show The New York Story, Unconstitutional, Long Short Story, and Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn.
The comedian will kick off his “One In Every Crowd” tour and headline the Milwaukee Comedy Festival at Turner Hall on Friday, August 3. Milwaukee Record caught up with the down-to-earth, 59-year-old Quinn to talk about how he bounced back from a heart attack in February, his years of transcendental meditation, and why it’s important to take risks on stage.
Milwaukee Record: You’ve been doing standup since 1984, when Reagan was president. Has politics always been a major focus of your standup?
Colin Quinn: Yes and no. Human nature is what politics is. I don’t like to think as politicians as “different” from us—we’re the same. In my standup, I focus on “the human soul,” as we Irish like to say. I think I would have made a good pope.
MR: Being Irish, were you raised Catholic?
CQ: Yeah, I was, but my family, we were kinda half-in, half-out.
MR: You grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and your neighborhood has provided much of your standup material. Do you still live in New York?
CQ: I live in Manhattan. I’ve lived here forever, and I love it. Things have changed, but everything changes—can’t do anything about that.
MR: Besides politics, history seems to make up a large component of your stand-up. Would you consider yourself a history buff?
CQ: Now I would. History magnifies what’s going on in the world today. That’s why I like it. Human nature never changes.
MR: Twenty-eighteen is a challenging time for comedians. How do you stay funny and relevant without crossing the line?
CQ: You can’t really be funny and be sensitive. However, you can’t be careless and just throw material out there. You’ve got to make sure jokes are phrased just the way you want them. Now, there are lots of Orwellian forces at play here—you’ve got to be careful. Some comedians don’t like to talk about certain things, and that’s fine. Still, I feel with comedy, you have to take risks or it doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to go all the way. And sometimes, when you’ve got a weird crowd, or one that’s not reacting, you’ve got to go for the jugular. It can get ugly, but that’s how it’s got to be.
MR: Who are your favorite comedians, past and present?
CQ: I was raised on the masters—Carlin and Pryor. But today? Everyone I know. There are hundreds of talented comedians out there. I’ll watch lots of short stand-up and think, “That’s good.”
MR: You suffered a heart attack in February, but seemed to bounce back very quickly. How are you feeling these days?
CQ: When I had the heart attack, though, it was a shock. I thought, “Wow, I’m going to die someday.” But I had three stents put in my heart, so the blood flows correctly. I feel good these days.
MR: I read that you practice transcendental meditation. How does this help you with your stand-up?
CQ: It helps with my focus. Even if TM turns into a sitting-up nap, I’m happy. I do it twice a day for 20 minutes. I’ve been doing it for years. Now I feel like I have to do it every day. It’s like an extortion racket. Sometimes I get greedy with TM and want some results—like visualizing winning lottery numbers or something. I’m not in this for non-material spiritual purposes [laughs].
MR: Without giving away any spoliers, of course, what can fans expect from your latest comedy tour?
CQ: I figured out where we were as a country, where we’re at, and where we’re going. What more could people ask for?
Colin Quinn’s standup comedy show “One In Every Crowd” will take place Friday, August 3 at Turner Hall at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.