Near the end of Colin Quinn’s stand-up comedy, which promises to “lay bare the absurdities…on both sides of the political divide,” the Saturday Night Live alumnus manages to insult every single state of the union. He goes one by one through all 50 states, looking “honestly” at “what we’ve become.”
“New Jersey. A bad idea that continued.”
“Delaware. ‘We’re a state!’ Awwwww. Yes you are. “
“North Carolina and South Carolina. I’m putting you together because I know it bugs you.”
It’s a baffling routine, almost tedious and even tacky, since as Quinn goes through the states, cheap little bulbs light up in the different geographic regions on a vague map of the United States, which looks like a huge stain on the slatted wooden backdrop on stage at the Minetta Lane Theater.
Quinn’s riff isn’t especially clever and can’t withstand scrutiny: How has Delaware “become” small? Worse, its only possible justification is to make us laugh, and it didn’t make me laugh.
To be fair, there are funnier moments during the 75 minutes of the show, perhaps enough to please his most ardent fans. He scores most consistently with small-scale observations: “You can still see the remnants of our great empire. We still have the best towels of any country. You can go to the nicest hotels in Europe, you’re still wet after using them. The towels don’t work.”
But the extended bit about the states struck me as largely emblematic of Quinn’s enterprise. It feels as if he’s trying out jokes in front of a live audience in order to put together something more polished and pointed on TV. The result is hit or miss – and a missed opportunity.
At their best, humorists are cultural critics, spicing their pungent insights with levity to make them more palatable. In the midst of the longest government shut-down in American history, this seems the right time for such a dissection of the red state/blue state schism.
That seems Quinn’s intention at the start of his act: “….we’re at risk of a civil war,” he says. But, like the persona he presents of a guy in a Brooklyn bar spouting off truths as he sees them, too much of his analyses simply don’t ring true: “The right sees only positive and the left sees only negative.” Perhaps he’s not acquainted with Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh.
More to the point, unlike such comedians as Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, Quinn’s jokes don’t feel rooted in political passion. His jokes float away from current affairs and don’t always make their way back.
“This country’s not built for another civil war,” he says. Why? Because there’ll be “fat refugees” in flip-flops, and 50 years from now kids will read “about the battle of Six Flags, the siege of Dave & Busters.”
How have we gotten to this point? “…we had to have more. That was our mission statement – bigger, better, faster, more. We started out with thirteen colonies, and now we’re fifty states. What was wrong with thirteen colonies?“
Here’s a minute from that routine:
(New Jersey again)
We’ve taken everything too far, Quinn says, from freedom of speech (an excuse to riff on the evils of social media) to democracy and equality to capitalism to premarital sex to the Constitution (“now it serves the guilty more than the victim.”)
On the other hand, he also thinks we haven’t gone far enough; the country only has two political parties: “Two parties. Still. Three hundred fifty million people, two parties. We have fifteen genders. Four bathrooms, and two parties.”
It’s hard to stomach such a cheap shot from Quinn in the same week that the Supreme Court revived Trump’s ban on transgender in the military.
It’s unlikely that Quinn is an outright Trump supporter, not with lines like: “All my life, people always told me, ‘America’s great because anybody can become the president of the United States. Anybody.’ They were not kidding.” This leads to a couple of comic riffs at Trump’s expense. But Quinn also defends Trump, or at least explains him (“He talks to people whose jobs are actually threatened”) and then concludes: “However Trump leaves, our fundamental differences won’t leave with him. We’re still divided.”
So what’s the solution? “There’ll be a suggestion box in the lobby. Here’s mine: we break this country up into city-states….Because different systems work for different temperaments.” I didn’t see any suggestion box in the lobby. I would have suggested he keep working.
Red State Blue State
Minetta Lane Theater
Written and performed by Colin Quinn
Directed by Bobby Moresco
Scenic design by Edward T. Morris, lighting design by Aaron Copp, sound design by Sam Kusnetz
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $67 to $97
“Red State Blue State” is on stage through March 3, 2019