Colin Quinn has never been sincere in his 14 years on Twitter, and he’s proud of it. He is hyperaware that people construct various personas and participate in self-deception on social media, so he counters it by consciously donning outlandish alter egos. “I started out being positive, like kind of a soccer-mom personality, just to infuriate people,” he explained. He saves his real opinions for his comedy shows. Quinn is fascinated with pondering human behavior through comedy, including understanding social media’s role in America’s currently divided political climate.
This coming Friday and Saturday, Quinn will be performing his one-man show, “Colin Quinn: The Last Best Hope,” at Bing Studio. The title of the show came from Abraham Lincoln’s address to Congress, in which he called America “the last best hope of Earth.” The title of Quinn’s show cheekily suggests that he is “the last best hope” of America.
Quinn is no stranger to voicing his political opinions through comedy. He was an anchor for Saturday Night Live’s (SNL’s) mock news segment Weekend Update from 1998-2000. He provided political commentary on America in his shows “Unconstitutional” and “Red State Blue State,” which became CNN’s first comedy special.
When asked about comedy as a format for political commentary, Quinn emphasized that, most importantly, it has to be funny.
“Anybody that substitutes laughs for trying to get their opinions out there — that’s not comedy to me. I would say somebody who’s just being funny is more legitimately a comedian than somebody who’s just being political,” Quinn said.
Quinn seems to be interested in using humor to capture the absurdity of the impasse that American politics has reached. He laments the tendency toward extremism in contemporary politics and recognizes the impossibility to resist their appeal. He suggests that there is an innate human attraction to the absolute.
Quinn questions, “If you don’t believe in extremism, like me, then how do you compete against the drama and whatever that romantic notion is of people that are totally committed to what they believe?”
Quinn’s careful balance of humor and politics caught the attention of Stanford Live’s comedy curator Lori Kaplan. She thought that his ability to honestly confront divisive issues was a good fit for Stanford.
“It’s thought-provoking in a humorous way that can make you look at the things that you’re seeing, all around you, and it just kind of leads you to examine your thoughts on these issues that we are all facing in the world,” Kaplan said.
Larry “Bubbles” Brown, a San Francisco–based comedian who is opening for Quinn at Bing Studio, seconds Kaplan’s observation, writing to The Daily in an email that Quinn “has a take on what’s going on and presents it in a very unique way — and makes it funny, which is really hard to do.”
The pillar of Quinn’s comedy is being honest and genuine. When asked about how he deals with a tough crowd, he emphasizes that appeasing the audience is never a solution. Instead, his strategy is to go through the setup of a joke quickly and get straight to the punchlines.
“The whole thing about comedy is you. People either accept you or they don’t, but you can’t change and become another type of comedian personality-wise. Because people just won’t buy it!” he said.
Quinn is particularly intrigued by comedy that examines personality and interpersonal dynamics. Going to the Comedy Cellar in New York, Quinn said he was surprised by the endless new material that young comedians are doing, almost all of which he explained derives from sharp observations of human behavior. He is fascinated by how young comedians are working observations on relationships, family dynamics and behavioral phenomena on the streets into comedy.
With much of his content about the influence of technology and social media on human behavior and contemporary politics, Quinn is excited to come to Stanford. “Part of my theme is Steve Jobs and how he brought about the final fall of society, with making computers accessible to people like me, who have no right to have a computer,” he jokes.
Colin Quinn will be performing at Bing Studio Friday and Saturday nights, May 6 and 7.