The veteran stand-up comedian skewers politics with Wrong Side of History
Colin Quinn has been poking fun at politicians—and politics in general—for decades. In fact, in the modern era, there may not be another stand-up comedian who can dissect the fallibilities of government and elected officials quite as deftly as Quinn.
“There’s something about the human condition of trying to organize,” Quinn says during a phone interview promoting his new comedy show, Wrong Side of History, which comes to the Baby Grand in Wilmington on Friday, March 27. “We’re the only species that really does try to get this right and figure it out. And there’s just so many things that come up because you’re trying to figure it out—so many flaws in human character—which is what’s funny.”
Although Quinn started stand-up in 1984, his connection with political satire came to prominence in the late ‘90s as the impassioned and often exasperated host of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.
In 2002, he moved on to Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, where he and a panel of four other comedians went after politics and social issues like starved sharks attacking unlucky tuna.
The show was smart, daring and controversial—perhaps too controversial for even Comedy Central, which eventually put the kibosh on it after more than 200 episodes, despite the show’s consistent ratings.
With My Two Cents in 2009, Quinn embarked on what has become a series of one-man comedy shows—Colin Quinn Long Story Short (2010), Unconstitutional (2013), The New York Story (2015) and Red State Blue State (2019)—that have focused mostly on social issues, history and politics.
With Wrong Side of History, Quinn continues with that theme from fresh perspectives. In our interview, Quinn talked about his brand of comedy, the importance of writing new material and why his new show is worth trying.
O&A: In the stand-up world, you’ve kind of cornered the market on politics. Is that fair to say?
Quinn: I mean, I don’t know if it’s fair to say, but I like the idea of it: me cornering the market in something. I mean, a lot of other people talk about politics, but I do shows. It’s more of a history thing with me, but, yeah—I’ll take it.
O&A: I saw Red State Blue State and I thought it was the perfect thing at the perfect time. It’s not easy to make John Quincy Adams a punch line, but that’s kind of where you’re coming from. It’s a very intellectual, conversational brand of comedy. Do you ever feel pressure to dumb it down?
Quinn: No, my whole thing is I feel like anybody in comedy should be talking about what they really are interested in. And if people can’t handle the fact that you’re interested in this kind of stuff, then there’s no hope for the whole planet—you know what I mean?
Comedy should be talking about all kinds of stuff. It just happens that I like talking about this kind of stuff. And the challenge is trying to make it funny, so everybody laughs at it. But I would never dumb it down.
O&A: Do you feel like this is kind of like a natural evolution? That the people who’ve been following you are going to say, “Okay, I get it, this is kind of like a series.” Right?
Quinn: Yeah, it better be, for my sake. Because here’s the danger for everybody in comedy: You don’t want to be repetitive. On the one hand, you’re talking about themes that you talked about before, because there’s only so many themes to talk about. But you want to make sure it’s a new angle, a new thing.
You don’t want to be repetitive. That’s the biggest challenge —that if I mentioned John Quincy Adams again, it’s in a context of, “Oh, he’s just mentioning him, but it’s a different thought.” You know? So that’s the hard part.
O&A: Other than laughs, is there anything else that you hope to get from the audience?
Quinn: Laughs are the most important thing. Laughs first. But, yeah, by exploring this stuff, I’m hoping to come to some conclusions about life or the system—you know what I mean? I hope I get things out of this that make me so I can understand things better.
When I was writing the Unconstitutional stuff I was like, “What is it about the Constitution that makes everybody like this damn thing?”
O&A: Why is your show Wrong Side of History worth trying?
Quinn: Because it gets laughs the entire time. And hopefully, I can get to the point—it’s the continuation of what I’ve been about—where if I do enough of the shows, one of them is going to have at least some little answer to something [laughs]. I’m trying. I’m not saying it’s happening. I’m just saying I’m trying.