Compared to his modest outfit—Adidas, skinny jeans, a salmon-colored hoodie—Colin Quinn’s got a pretty ostentatious stage set-up. At the center is a little loading dock pier with some cargo; there’s streams of flags running across the ceiling, as well as a mini mart-style countertop with cheese, candy, and stacks of Anthoras for coffee on-the-go. It’s a motley, artifact-ful representation of New York City, with which Quinn has a love/hate relationship and which serves as his special’s central trope. “The New York Story,” an off-Broadway show that Quinn performed in 2015, is an hour of homage and rumination, a biting reflection on the city’s characteristic bitterness, traced back to the island’s roots.
To sum it up: “‘Yankees’ is a Dutch word, the word ‘fuck’ is a Dutch word,” Quinn casually intones in his Brooklynite accent. “So if you ever see someone on a stoop in Brooklyn going, ‘Fuckin’ Yankees,’ they’re speaking Dutch.”
The special, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, opens with him clarifying the coastal dichotomy that most Americans accept as truth: People on the West Coast (i.e. California) are easygoing and amicable, while East Coasters (i.e. New Yorkers) are continually pissed, always on the verge of decapitating the first person standing in their path. New York is the country’s melting pot, and Quinn clarifies that it’s more specifically a melting pot of miserable people. But it’s not the antidote to their misery; in Quinn’s view, the city only exacerbates it.
Quinn simplifies the history of Ellis Island-bound immigration by devoting a few minutes each to various immigrant groups. It’s a history that’s too vast and rich to fully—and well, appropriately—depict in the timeframe of a comedy routine. He riffs on stereotypes, like how the European Jews were always complaining and the Irish were always drunk. His jabs at the Irish feel appropriate, given his roots, but I’m not sure whether he’s Jewish, and I’m certain he isn’t Puerto Rican. “Black, Puerto Rican, Italian, Jewish, Irish: That’s the original New York personality,” he declares. “[That personality is] opinionated, pushy, loud, cynical, fast—and, of course, politically incorrect.” Quinn’s summary of this “New York personality” centers on the egregiousness of such takes, which somehow also serve as the show’s impetus.
Between non sequiturs, mimicking Jewish and Irish accents, and perpetual shoulder-shrugging, Quinn never really raises his voice, maintaining a train-of-thought kind of delivery throughout the set. He doesn’t rely on melodramatic pauses or other big, well-rehearsed stage calisthenics; he even mumbles and stutters sometimes, proving his loosely rehearsed ethos. And the schtick is all conversational, tying back to the unabashedness of New Yorkers.
From the looks of it, Quinn avoids making eye-contact with the audience and glares in the distance, somewhere towards the back wall of the room, for the bulk of “The New York Story.” But despite the lack of eye-contact, he’s perfected a casual, ah, fuck it alacrity that makes you feel like you’re lunching together at a Manhattan diner, and he’s going off on this hour-long rant just for you. It’s easy to zone out at times, but his effortless witticisms will instantly zing you back into his galvanized—albeit oftentimes offensive and in poor taste—one-sided conversation.