Colin Quinn’s new show highlights the art of ‘small talk’

When Colin Quinn was asked in a recent interview if he always wanted to do stand-up, he joked that he’s tired and can’t do it forever. Then the 63-year-old comedian began using the “magic” he feels on stage when he gets a laugh, and sheepishly admitted he’ll probably never give it up.

Quinn has begun his eighth one-man show, Colin Quinn: Small Talk, which runs now through February 11 at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York. He has previously appeared on television including Saturday Night Live and Girls, as well as in films such as Trainwreck, and is the author of several books, but stand-up always pulls him back. Known for his observational humor, Quinn sheds light on the way we communicate in person and online on his new show, and spoiler alert: it’s not always pretty.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the comedian explains his process, his advice for younger comedians and how so-called waking up culture has transformed comedy. Responses have been condensed for clarity and brevity.

AP: You notice how small talk has evolved into online postings. What does that say about us?

QUINN: The internet is obviously our life. I’m always thinking, “What does that mean? What is so important?’ For most people, it’s attention and opinion. You know, those are the big things that matter on the internet – you give your opinion and you get attention. I’m always looking for little definitions of everything because I feel like defining things is a different thing in comedy. When you’re having a conversation, just pause in the middle and go, ‘Wait a minute. What is a conversation?’

Comedian Colin Quinn
Colin Quinn’s “Small Talk” show runs at the Lucille Lortel Theater through February 11.
Matt Licari/Invision/AP

AP: Many comedians adore you, do you sometimes give them advice?

QUINN: I could not give any advice. They know better than me what to do. They’re the ones who… cut up and throw away clips. I’d say, ‘Hey, try to reach Letterman.’ They say, ‘What? He doesn’t have a show anymore.’ Or, “Hey, try to get a sitcom” (laughs). The only advice I could ever give is if you don’t write a lot of new stuff you will stagnate. It’s almost like the opposite of musicians. Musicians, with a few exceptions, the first couple of albums are their best and then they just can’t really capture that magic. With stand-up, you can’t rest. Nobody’s going to say, “Play your hits!” You know, very rarely. So you have to keep writing. The more you do it, the easier it will be for you to know in which direction to focus your writing. But you have to work at the same pace throughout your career. There is no roll-out in stand-up.

AP: How has waking culture influenced your comedy?

QUINN: There are so many topics that people will not laugh at. So when you’re identifying someone’s ethnicity at all—not just stereotyping—the space narrows. There’s a lot of little subtle areas, some good, most bad, in my opinion, that it affects… It’s not all comedy, but it definitely has a big impact, you know?

AP: You are friends with Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer. How is it when you go out to dinner?

QUINN: Nobody really fights for attention, but of course everyone is funny all the time. I mean, that’s our thing, you know what I mean? That’s what we do. It’s hard to tell what it looks like, but… we did it a few weeks ago and it was just hilarious. And Amy’s little son was there, Gene. It’s like throwaway lines, but it’s not a big social laugh. It’s more of a string of sarcastic or snotty remarks to each other.

AP: You have other gigs, but always come back to stand-up. will you do it forever

QUINN: It’s not what I want to do forever, I’m tired. I’m saying that because I have all these other projects that I’m writing and stuff. But I have to say, when I’m on stage and I’m talking to any kind of crowd… when something’s going on you’re like, ‘I can never have that in other parts of showbiz, I’m so lucky.’ Or something happens on the news and I make a little joke and then everyone laughs. You just feel so grateful – especially after COVID when we didn’t – you just feel grateful. So, yeah, I guess it’s easy to walk away because I’ve been doing this forever. But there’s something magical about just being lucky enough to be one of the people who can. Yes, I would probably never give it up. Colin Quinn’s new show highlights the art of ‘small talk’

Emma Bowman

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