Colin Quinn helps the world make sense for those of us who really need it to. His incisive long-form satirical take-downs of society, government and other faulty systems can be dispiriting and unnerving. But they’re also, in a funny way, hopeful.
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, a few days before his March 10 show at Hartford’s Infinity Music Hall, Quinn mused on our need for order in chaos. He even applied it to his recent health scare.
Quinn suffered a heart attack just last month. “My health is good,” he reports. “I just don’t have the big picture perspective that a heart attack is supposed to give you yet. I’m supposed to look at life in a new way, you know what I mean?”
Give him time. If anyone can find the throughline between life and death, it’s Quinn.
Quinn originally intended for this latest tour, titled “One In Every Crowd,” to be more of a conventional stand-up set and not as thematic or structured as his recent shows such as “The New York Story” (about race relations), “Long Story Short” (a condensed history of the world) and “My Two Cents” (the funniest economics lecture you’ll ever hear).
“So this was supposed to be straight stand-up, but it developed a structure. I couldn’t help it. With the way this world is going, I feel there is this linear thing we need to create, put a structure to it, even if we’re just creating it for a sense of order.”
That’s hard, but necessary it seems, in a time where “everything changes every day,” as Quinn puts it. One of the things social media does is saturate you so that nothing means anything. It used to be that ’60 Minutes’ would do an expose and it would be the thing everybody talked about, this major statement. Now, that cycle is over in six hours and we’re already comparing it to something else, something completely different...”
In fact, the the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member (and Weekend Update anchor) describes “One in Every Crowd” as “two shows in one, though it’s not a bargain.”
One theme is the one referred to in the title: Quinn believes that in every office, every village, every culture and subculture, every crowd, there is “the one toxic asshole” who drains all the energy from the room. It’s the phenomenon of that, the different dickheads who are responsible for the fall of society.”
For instance, Quinn says, “Capitalism sounds like a great idea, but there are always those guys who will ruin it all with … thievery.” He doesn’t feel the need to call out too many real people as examples — it’s enough to suggest that “there’s one specific person in every situation” — but Quinn does say, with very little prodding, that “Trump is obviously an example of that guy. ... ”
But he’s not unique. Quinn insists that “every place has this guy — and he’s not always the person in charge. The reason they’re so interesting to me is that they release a thing in the rest of us. There’s a part of us that gets thrills from people acting that way.”
At shows, Quinn has found audience members admitting loudly that “I’m like that” when he describes this abhorrent behavior. “I believe them, but if you’re that aware of being a dick, you’re not that bad, right?”
The other half of “One in Every Crowd” is about “the breakup of the United States, why the system doesn’t work. People expected this perfect system. It was a great idea, but not the greatest idea — democracy, I’m sayin’ — and nobody’s coming up with solutions.”
Like some of his earlier one-man shows, “One in Every Crowd” may eventually become a film or TV special, Quinn says, but “not yet. I’m still discovering what the hell it is.” Live audiences are getting the singular experience of hearing Quinn shaping the material and adding new insights based on the day’s news.
His recent shows had Quinn working with directors (including Jerry Seinfeld) and performing longer runs in theaters. “It helps to have a director to have somebody to bounce things off of,” he says. “Without a director, I can still do it. It just takes longer. Now I just listen to my tapes.”
Quinn has plenty of forceful opinions, and a lot of thoughtful, hilarious analysis on how we’ve gotten in the messes we’re in. But he doesn’t consider himself an activist. “I feel activism is extremist. I feel Trump got elected by the left and the right.” He feels that if there were some middle-of-the-road, non-extreme form of activism, “I would be there, but that doesn’t exist.”
Quinn got great reviews for his acting work playing Amy Schumer’s dad in the movie “Trainwreck,” but isn’t going out of his way to pursue more acting roles.
“What, am I going to be the next Harry Dean Stanton?,” he says. “That’s not going to happen. I’m very much into my own thing. I would rather write and direct than act. As a writer, you can keep gaining more wisdom as you get older.”
COLIN QUINN performs at 8 p.m. on March 10 at Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, 32 Front St., Hartford. Tickets are $34 to $59. 866-666-6306 and infinityhall.com.