Colin Quinn, former Weekend Update anchor for Saturday Night Live, has brought back “The New York Story” to the Cherry Lane Theater, where it ran this summer. This strikes me as terrible timing. Now is not the right time for a stand-up routine full of ethnic jokes.
Now, Quinn surely sees what he’s doing differently. For one, “Colin Quinn The New York Story” is promoted as a theater piece: It’s in a legitimate theater, after all, and there is a set, designed by Sara C. Wals(a stoop, a picture of the Statue of Liberty, a fruit crate, two laundry lines — one hanging with wet clothes, the other with the flags of New Yorkers’ countries of origin.) There is also a director, Jerry Seinfeld, although it’s not clear what his input is: Quinn does walk around a little.
More to the point, Quinn frames his jokes using the same argument that’s in “The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America,” a book he authored that was published in the summer and which clearly inspired the show. In the introduction, he writes: “People are so very afraid of offending that they act like diversity doesn’t even exist. As a result, there is this weird impulse in American culture today to say, ‘We’re all exactly the same.’” He blasts the politically correct, and laments the rapid disappearance of the blunt old New York character. “Native New Yorkers have always had the abrupt, honest tone we need when talking about race.”
What a difference a few months can make! It would be unfair to assume that Quinn is an active supporter or even grudging admirer of fellow angry, offensive native New Yorker Donald Trump. But spending an hour with even a mock-similar persona has lost much of its entertainment value for me.
In his hour-long routine, Quinn attempts to provide a theme for his ethnic stereotyping – Each different ethnic group has contributed in a different way to the stereotypical New Yorker of today. The Dutch were foul-mouthed and short-tempered; the British contributed snobbery; the Germans “rude polite”; the Irish gave us sarcasm out of the side of the mouth; the Italians operatic-level daily drama; the Puerto Ricans speed-speaking; the Jews relentless complaining. Some of Quinn’s riffs are fresh.Stoop, Yankees, and fuck are all Dutch words, he tells us, so if you say Fuck the Yankees on your stoop, you’re speaking Dutch.
He’s funniest when he gets away from the ethnic attacks, and takes advantage of his bent towards history (as he did in his previous and more successful solo shows, “Long Story Short,” about the history of the world, and “Unconstitutional,” about the history of the U.S. constitution and its modern-day repercussions.) He points out that the most likely site where Nathan Hale was hanged is now a corner on the Upper East Side occupied by a Gap and a Starbucks: “I regret that I have but one life to live for my raspberry pumpkin scone.”
The one joke at which I laughed out loud was his re-enactment of a 1980s encounter between an irate Queens resident and Ed Koch, who reacted to her complaint by telling her she needed her head examined. Koch, of course, was mayor of New York for 12 years – very popular at first, but New Yorkers tired of his blunt-speaking New York character shtick, which seemed increasingly less colorful and more insensitive.
“Colin Quinn The New York Story” is scheduled to run at the Cherry Lane through January 31, 2016