Former “Saturday Night Live” star Colin Quinn believes his latest one-man show, “The Last Best Hope,” which comes to Chicago this week, offers a way for Chicagoans to laugh at “whatever’s left.”
Quinn, whose sarcastic view of society has been his trademark since delivering “Weekend Update” on SNL in the late 1990s, spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times from his home in New York, where he grew up and where the source of much of his comedy continues to come from.
Now 62, Quinn started as a gravelly voiced side announcer who often sang clues on MTV’s “Remote Control” in the 1980s. Since then, he worked as a writer and a cast member on SNL; been on various comedy television shows and movies such as “Trainwreck”; and has performed six other one-man shows.
Quinn said “The Last Best Hope” is largely a continuation of previous shows “Unconstitutional” and “Red State Blue State.”
“I was hoping for some big breakthrough shift in another direction but no, it’s a continuation,” Quinn said, laughing at his self-deprecating comment.
Chicago is the second city on a 15-city tour after doing the show for most of November in New York, and the furthest west on this schedule — something he found funny.
“I’ll get west but it’s winter and I like to be in all the windy spots,” Quinn said, laughing. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but there’s something wrong with me.”
Quinn, who said he always liked reading, grew to like history more as he grew older and incorporated it into his material.
“I didn’t realize history was so important [when he was younger] but even on ‘Remote Control,’ I’d do some Shakespeare stuff,” Quinn said. “I always liked that stuff but I never really understood the whole idea that nothing changes except for externals.”
Indeed, Quinn skewers both the left and the right equally, and said neither are good at laughing at themselves.
“It seems like we’re living in a very hyper-tense atmosphere,” Quinn said. “Everything can be controversial to someone today. You try to be funny, number one. Outside of comedy, when comedians are talking they sound like everyone else. They become mortal again. So, being funny first and then trying to make sure people are comfortable is really impossible. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at what doesn’t offend people and sometimes you’re surprised at what does. I don’t like it, but it is reality.”
Like many comedians of his generation, Quinn said he grew up idolizing Richard Pryor and George Carlin, both of whom he thinks would have a hard time connecting with audiences today.
“I often think about what they would say, but they wouldn’t be the same people if they were coming up today.”
Quinn noted that it was Lenny Bruce years before, however, who paved the way for Carlin and Pryor to get away with their blue comedy.
“Lenny Bruce literally got arrested,” Quinn said, noting that the 1950s were even more obsessed with being proper than the current time.
The key for any comedian is to be funny first, Quinn said.
“People are definitely bucking against this politically correct thing but whether you are pandering to them or bucking against them, if it’s not funny, it’s not that interesting.”
He also blames social media for creating the current atmosphere of hyper-sensitivity.
“It’s become this weird world because of social media where 18 people will disapprove — one of whom was actually at your show and the rest who think you’re being serious.”
While Quinn thinks there may not be as many unique characters found in cities like New York and Chicago these days to inspire his work, he said some of his sarcasm about the old days may be romanticized.
“Maybe it’s looking through the rear-view mirror with rose-colored glasses, but it felt like there was a liveliness that’s not around anymore.
“... One of the funniest things about people in New York or Chicago is those people who were ready to go from zero to 100 at the drop of a hat. Like the guy who is like, ‘I’m sitting here watering my lawn but if this guy across the street looks at me again, I’m going to drop this hose and start fist-fighting’ — and you’d laugh because you can’t believe this old-school guy still has it in him.”