Colin Quinn is a lot of things. He’s a slyly acerbic stand-up comedian, of course, and an ex-“Saturday Night Live” cast member, and an actor (“Trainwreck,” “Girls,” “Grown Ups”). But since 1998, he’s carved out a niche for himself with a series of themed one-man shows that are hybrids of theater and stand-up: “An Irish Wake” (about his family and his upbringing), “My Two Cents” (about economics), “Long Story Short” (about world history), “Unconstitutional” (about the Constitution) and, most recently, “The New York Story” (about the ethnic melting pop in his hometown). On Sept. 26, he will present a show titled “Colin Quinn Live: Based on the Hit Off-Broadway Show ‘The New York Story’ ” at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. (For tickets, visit sopacnow.org.)
We talked to him recently about the upcoming show and other aspects of his unique career.
Q: So I guess the show in South Orange will be based on the “New York Story” show but not the same thing, exactly, that people saw in New York?
A: It won’t be exactly the same, but put it this way: If anyone saw it in New York and then they saw it in South Orange, they’d probably say, “Hey, I saw this goddamn show in New York!” (laughs)
Q: So it’s basically the same show.
A: Yes. There will be some differences. I’ll probably do a lot more about social media or whatever. But yeah.
Q: Do you incorporate some stuff from the other shows you’ve done, like “Unconstitutional”?
A: Yeah. I always find some time to digress in the middle. It’s the only thing that keeps me from cutting my throat. It’s never the same thing. Even in New York, I don’t do the same show every night. Or else I’d go nuts.
Q: I know Jerry Seinfeld was involved in “The New York Story,” as he was in some of your other things. Did he help in honing the material, or was it staging? What exactly was his involvement?
A: Yeah, honing material and staging. A lot of honing. He comes in and is like, “What are you trying to say?” Like, he just gets very “Jerry” on me sometimes, and is like, “What are you trying to say? Because I don’t understand it.” And if Jerry says he doesn’t understand it, it’s implied like, “Are you trying to say that Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t get it? Because unless you’re saying that, maybe it needs a little re-write.” (laughs) Do you know what I mean? If my aunt goes, “I don’t get it,” then you’re like, “Oh, she doesn’t get it.” But if Jerry Seinfeld says it, you’re going to have to understand the subtext, which is like, unless you’re willing to say, “Jerry doesn’t get my joke,” you may want to do a little clarification on your material. So it’s great.
Q: I really think that’s important for an artist, no matter what medium you’re in, whether it’s comedy or film or whatever, you need someone to tell you, “Hey, it’s not really clear what you’re going for here.”
A: Yeah! Exactly. And even if you do well with the crowd … in comedy, we have more feedback than anybody, because the audience is part of the whole thing. They’re more intertwined with our thing than any other thing. Like a movie, by the time they’re done making it, the audience is gonna react the way they’re gonna react. But with comedy, they help us build the act. But even then, you still need people to go, “Hey, guess what …”
My whole career, people are going, “You talk too fast.” And even people who love me. “You talk too fast.” And I’m always like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but here’s my …” And they go, “You talk too fast.” So I’m trying to slow down, my whole career, but I wasn’t listening for many years. That’s feedback you need to listen to, when everybody you know tells you you’re talking too fast. ‘Cause you don’t know better. You think you do, but you don’t.
Q: These shows of yours, they seem … I don’t know if I should use the word educational, but they allow you to give some information about different things, and incorporate that into the comedy. It’s just an interesting variation on the standard comedy show.
A: I know. It’s become quite a thing. I can’t imagine that other comedians aren’t gonna start doing this. They’re crazy if they don’t.
Q: Are you working towards another one?
A: Yeah, I’m playing around with the idea of ego. I was thinking about how all the problems in the world came from ego: Ego and selfishness and all that stuff. So I’m trying to play with that, and see if there’s something there, about what percentage of it helps, and what percentage of it hurts the world. And my other idea for a different show is called, “How Are You Helping?” You know how someone comes in and says something that’s so uncalled for? And you’re like, “How are you helping the situation?” Like, I feel that now, everybody’s not helping. At least over here, in this country. People are not helping with what they’re saying.
Q: Do you mean politically?
A: Politically. Personally. Everybody’s just not helping. They’re just yapping and talking, and we’re just kind of destructing based on big mouths. So maybe that’s what it is. Or maybe the show should just be called, “Big Mouth,” and be about how the big mouths are ruining the world. I haven’t figured it out, obviously, but something in there.
Q: Are there plans for “The New York Story” to be a DVD or a cable special? What are your plans for it?
A: “Unconstitutional” just came on Netflix, so maybe I’ll try to bring it to Netflix again. That would be good.