Brooklyn native Colin Quinn bemoans death of New York personality in show
Comedian Colin Quinn has some sad news about his hometown: New York is dead.
The Brooklyn-born Irish-American comedian returns to the stage this month eulogizing the loss of loudmouth, opinionated New Yorkers in his one-man show “The New York Story” at The Cherry Lane Theatre.
Quinn’s show, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, mourns what he considers a homogenized, cautious city. He’s a guy who likes the needy bluntness of former Mayor Ed Koch, pizza slices and listening to cab drivers swear.
The former host of MTV’s late-1980s game show “Remote Control” and who played morose Lenny the Lion on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” uses some of his observations in his new book “The Coloring Book.” It’s his third one-man show.
AP: In your previous shows, you’ve tackled the history of civilization and the Constitution. Why New York this time?
Quinn: It’s a good time for it because New York is gone. The New York that I knew is now finished. The New York personality is gone. So it’s a good time to look back on it. It’s a sad goodbye.
AP: What was the nail in the coffin? Hipsters selling artisanal pickles? Insane rents pushing out blue-collar workers? Donald Trump?
Quinn: It’s nothing anyone’s done. I would say this: If you go on the subway right now, all the guys sit down and all the women have to stand. In the old days, that would never have happened.
AP: So is it just the loss of civility?
Quinn: No. It’s the difference between Mayor Bill de Blasio’s personality and Ed Koch’s personality. Not their intelligence, not their governing style — their personality. With Koch, whether he was great or not, you just knew he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. There were no speechwriters, everybody just spoke more authentically. That’s really what the show is about — the loss of authentic emotion and personality and language.
AP: Has technology had any role?
Quinn: Yes. It’s very glib and surface to blame technology, so let me do it: I feel like people have developed this kind of texting personality. That’s fine. But not for New York.
AP: And this end of in-your-face New Yorkers is a sad thing?
Quinn: If it was working, and everybody said, ‘Wow, things are getting better! Everything’s improving societally!’ I’d shut up. But it’s not. Don’t pretend it is.
AP: Is New York the last city in America to be homogenized or the first?
Quinn: That’s the sad thing — we’re the last one. All this non-judgmental positivity, all that stuff, that’s how the rest of the country was supposed to be. New York was not supposed to be like that. But we follow them now.
AP: You’ve teamed up again with a classic New Yorker — Seinfeld.
Quinn: I love it. I don’t know why the hell he does it. He’s just an artistic guy who, I guess, likes the way I think. He was born to direct stage things, in my opinion. It’s something he’s just great at. He just really understands movement and he understands editing. He understands cutting language down and just makes everything about behavior.
AP: When was New York at its best?
Quinn: I would say Brooklyn from 1648 to 1760 was probably good. I would say the Bronx was at its best during the Dutch phase, probably. Brooklyn in the 1970s. Manhattan in the ’40s and ’50s. Staten Island from probably 1905 to 1923.
AP: Not to be argumentative, but New York of the past was violent and filthy. These days, the main bus station is so clean you can eat off the floor and people can walk safely anywhere.
Quinn: You’re 100 percent right. It’s definitely better, but the thing that got lost was some part of the human character that I miss. Now, everybody speaks in this qualifying way. There’s something about it that’s very strange.
AP: You’re also looking at race. This is an interesting time to bring up racial differences.
Quinn: It’s one of those things where I’m watching these conversations that never have changed since I was a little kid. Everybody’s coming to the conversation with their ideas already formed. So I feel like if I can add my two cents in before I die, that would be nice, too.
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