Ah, the solo Broadway show: a time-honored but sometimes shaky tradition in which a favorite performer blows up a cabaret or comedy routine into something just a bit bigger—for better or worse.
Comedian Colin Quinn has paid his dues, but, though not a stranger to the Broadway stage, he’s far better known for stints on MTV, Saturday Night Live, and the under-appreciated round-table talk show Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Given a star without quite the marquee-name status of, say, a Jerry Seinfeld, it no doubt made sense to have the name of, say, Jerry Seinfeld attached to his one-man show. Hence, “Directed by Jerry Seinfeld.”
Don’t let that divided focus fool you, though; this is Quinn’s standup act writ large. A world-history theme, a Greek-amphitheater set, and impressive video elevates it into a stage show big enough for the 500-plus-seat Helen Hayes Theatre. And on the night I attended, Quinn kept the crowd chuckling throughout, skimming through the cultural history of world from ancient Greece through the Holy Roman Empire through Islam and Africa and China and up through modern times, frequently evoking the mistakes of civilizations past to illuminate what he sees us doing wrong now.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Quinn is something of an equal opportunity offender, but this is no insult act; without axes to grind, Quinn gives every culture its due, at least according to his skewed, seemingly self-taught, and self-consciously oversimplified interpretation. Caesar was a mob boss. The British conquered so much of the world, not through military might, but because they had the enormous advantage of “contempt.” Today’s economic brain trust couldn’t prevent the financial crisis because they held their summits in pristine Davos, Switzerland. If they’d met in Haiti…
Wait, there might just be something to that.
Here and there he does a bit that feels shoehorned into the theme (barroom banter, yoga jokes, Tony Bennett). But before you know it he’s on to the next civilization, the other side of the world, and it’s all water under the land bridge. It all makes for a highly amusing night at the theater, and when you consider the price of an evening at a high-end comedy club, and take into account the various discount opportunities available for new “smaller” Broadway shows like this, it’s doesn’t have to be a mint of money either. Go and learn something—or at least go and laugh—about the big wide world from Brooklyn’s own Professor Quinn.
Colin Quinn: Long Story Short is at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St., New York. Click here for more information.