“Throughout history weather was the only important subject; everything else was small talk,” Colin Quinn explains; now weather’s the go-to subject for small talk, except for members of political “cults.” The right’s current small talk is: “You hear what Biden said?” And the left’s is: “You see what Texas did?”
Actually, Quinn tells us, small talk is fast disappearing: “Between phones, air pods and self-checkout, small talk is down 87 percent,” which is why he proposes a small talk museum, “or we could have one of those haunted houses where people jump out and go, ‘Hey working hard or hardly working?’”
“Small Talk,” running through February 11th at the newly renovated Lucille Lortel Theater, is Colin Quinn’s seventh solo show. He made his Broadway debut with his first, “An Irish Wake” in 1998, while still a cast member of Saturday Night Live, and for more than a decade now, he’s delivered a new stand-up routine on a New York stage roughly every four years. For what it’s worth, “Small Talk” is my favorite of the last three, The New York Story (2015) and Red State Blue State (2019), and not just because he avoids the ethnic humor or mentions of the 45th president that were in the two previous shows.
Both Quinn’s analysis of small talk, and his examples of it, turn out to be fascinating, fresh and funny.
If only “Small Talk” had focused on its titular subject exclusively.
Though the show is little more than an hour long, Quinn frequently digresses into tangential observations and random jokes.A few of the observations I found completely worthwhile: “Personality is who the people that know you think you are. Your reputation is who the people who don’t know you think you are. Your social media profile is who you think you are, and your browser history is who you are.” Some of the random jokes I found funny (award categories for viral videos); some I did not (top 5 last words; if the Montagues and Capulets talked to each other the way we talk to each other on social media); some need just a little tweaking to work (The Seven Deadly Sins are now digital: “Facebook is Envy. Twitter is Wrath. Instagram is Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Greed and Sloth.”) But the laugh quotient is not the point. If Quinn had committed to exploring his subject more dramatically, looking for a way to structure it more coherently, and not worried so much about whether he’d get a laugh at every beat, “Small Talk” could have been a more engaging and enlightening monologue or even a full-fledged play. I get that that’s not what Colin Quinn does, but why not? He is a perceptive and talented enough writer to pull that off.
And what better subject than small talk, which Quinn understands forms the foundation of civilization; it’s how we get along; it’s what makes us fake, and therefore human. “Real is rude. Animals are real. If they want something they just take it. They don’t try to be nice. They don’t know how to small talk; that’s why they still bite.”
Colin Quinn: Small Talk
Lucille Lortel Theater through February 11, 2023
Written and performed by Colin Quinn
Directed by James Fauvell
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission
Set design by Zoë Hurvitz, lighting design by Amina Alexander, and sound design by Margaret Montagna