ALL OVER THE MAP: COLIN QUINN RED STATE BLUE STATE
By: Samuel L. Leiter
January 25, 2019: I have to admit to being a Colin Quinn novice, not having seen this actor-comedian’s previous New York shows, most recently 2015’s well-received Colin Quinn: The New York Story (directed by someone named Jerry Seinfeld). I must have been in a bubble because I don’t believe I caught much of his extensive TV work either, not even his gig on SNL (which I only returned to once Alec Baldwin began doing Donald Trump). I’ve surely seen him on shows like Girls, though, and I know I caught him in the Amy Schumer movie Trainwreck because this YouTube video kickstarted my memory.
Now that I’ve seen this astute dude’s really funny one-man show, Colin Quinn Red State Blue State, currently at the Minetta Lane, I know I’ll be looking for him in the future. In the show, the 59-year-old Quinn, who comes from Brooklyn’s Park Slope (a non-gentrified part, judging from his working-class accent), offers an extended stand-up performance that runs around 70 minutes but goes by in what seems like half the time.
Quinn, a quintessential everyman, delivers his monologue about the state of American culture and politics while standing before set designer Edward T. Morris’s mosaic-like wall of wooden planks in muted shades of red, blue, and tan. If you look closely, you’ll see that a large part of it vaguely represents a map of the United States.
Casually dressed in jeans and an untucked shirt whose colors and checkered pattern are somewhat similar to the upstage wall, Quinn’s satirical riff literally goes all over the map as he dissects the malaise currently tearing our society apart. Smartly, there’s a minimum of profanity scattered through his commentary on the fragmentation of our universal humanity. One cause of this, he begins by insisting, is the two-party system dividing the 350 million of us down the middle “We have fifteen genders. Four bathrooms, and two parties.”
Although Quinn’s demeanor suggests progressive tendencies, he nonetheless skewers both the right and the left, the red and the blue, the conservatives and the progressives, with bombsight precision. Of course, he depends on broad generalities, but there’s always a recognizable kernel of truth allowing you to laugh at how nuts the other side is while also appreciating how close he gets to eviscerating your own beliefs.
Quinn gets his points across not with wonky diatribes but with unexpected takes, like excoriating American excess by noting how freely we use ice cubes compared with other nations. The average American can go to a bar and get six or seven in his drink while the prime minister of England gets only one.
He finds humor in America’s “badass” international power, the threat the country faces of civil war (kids in the future will read about the “Battle of Six Flags”), political gridlock, our overlarge territorial boundaries, freedom of speech (“Nobody ever shuts up in this country. How about a vow of silence once in a while?”), and, in one of his most devastatingly amusing sequences, the dangers wrought by social media. Much of this material clicks when Quinn compares how things used to be with how they are now.
Quinn also offers scathingly satirical insights about the PC limits placed on contemporary comedians, including the use of ethnic humor; the legal system; political corruption; vendettas; and the use of the Constitution to justify inappropriate behavior. On and on Quinn goes, inspiring guffaws from his takes on sex, the limits of democracy (a brilliantly comic segment), revisionist history (think Columbus Day), Trump, immigration, capitalism vs. socialism, and robots.
The Trump routines, while not imitations in the Baldwin mode, score beautifully in how well they capture the president’s verbal tics. Addressing Christians, he notes: “Bible is a great read by the way—what a great read. Read it at Mar-A-Lago. Beach read, couldn’t put it down. . . . Jesus grows up, meets people, starts acting on their behalf, makes deals, he’s a deal maker. . . . Tremendous book.” At another moment, we hear a Founding Father’s words rendered in Trumpian banalities.
As Quinn’s often hilarious harangue nears its conclusion, the map behind him lights up in sections as, having excoriated the state of the union, he demonstrates the weaknesses of each state in the union with a sequence of bite-size capsule critiques. Not all of them land but the totality provides a tour-de-force image of the American landscape. It begins with New York: “Once drunken writers at Elaine’s. Now drunken texters at SantaCon,” and ends with Alaska: “We left you alone too long when you were growing up and now you’re a little odd.”
Quinn offers some sardonic solutions to our problems but the best way to chase the reds and blues away is to laugh at them by seeing his show.
Colin Quinn Red State Blue State
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through March 3, 2019
Photography: Monique Carboni and Edward T. Morris
Video: Seth Walters