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Quinn mines history for laughs

By Karen Butler

Irish-American funnyman Colin Quinn is bringing his unique and hilarious perspective on world history to Manhattan's Bleecker Street Theatre for eight weeks, starting June 19.

So, what can fans expect from the one-man show "Colin Quinn: Long Story Short," which is being directed by Quinn's longtime friend and fellow comic genius Jerry Seinfeld?

"A full explanation about why it had to be this way -- all of history," Quinn told The Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. "For a long time, I've wanted to do this," added the star of the 1998 Broadway show "Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake." "It seems like now's the perfect time because everyone is questioning and looking at the world and going, 'What's going on here?'"

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Although Quinn covers a lot of territory in a short amount of time, he said fans could be sure he'll give a nod to his Irish roots during his act.

"I like to talk about England and Ireland very briefly," he said. "They're not going to be happy with the short trip to Ireland . . . [But] I think they'll like this because Irish people like things that are historical and literate. They're into intelligent humor."

The 51-year-old stand-up comedian and former bartender went on to say he likes one-man stage shows because they give artists a freedom they don't always enjoy on television.

"You can make the decisions rather than network executives saying, 'People don't get that,'" Quinn explained. "People get more than they're usually allowed to. Instead of [studio bosses] going, 'Oh, you're trying to be too intelligent,' it's like, 'Well, let's see if they want to get that.' It's a lot better [this] way. Live stuff is an experience . . . everything's spontaneous and things change every day."

Two weeks before the show was to open, Quinn said he was working feverishly to cut down his monologue from 95 to 75 minutes, while still hitting the highlights of the rises and falls of major civilizations.

"I know one thing about people. You say 75 minutes, it could be the funniest show of all time, but guess what? If it's over 75 minutes, people start looking at their watches like, 'Hey, they told us 75 minutes; what is this?'" said the Brooklyn, N.Y. native, who is best known for his work as a cast member of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and host of Comedy Central's "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn."

While the show will be tightly scripted, Quinn said he is leaving room to play so he can see what is working for that performance's audience and feed off its energy.

"Even though there is a structure... there's got to be room to feel the crowd," noted the frequent headliner at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan and guest on Howard Stern's radio show. "It's not going to be a total improv because there are 100 points I want to make in there every night. But how we get there will be different."

Quinn said he had thought about doing a show like this for ages and finally was able to bring it to the stage after celebrated comedian Jerry Seinfeld offered to produce and direct it.

"It's working out crazy," Quinn confided. "It's great. ... We both understand what stand-up does, how it changes. How an audience changes a show. We're not standing there, going, 'Hey, it's locked in.' We know the audience changes things in some weird way."

The comedian admitted he has mixed feelings about being directed in general, but emphasized it is a lot easier when a close friend and well-respected colleague is at the helm.

"Like any other standup, there's a reassuring quality to it, but also you push against it," he said. "But, so far, it's been great. ... He's a friend who also knows comedy. We're not worried that we're going to lose laughs. ... It's going to be very interesting to see. Neither one of us wants to ever compromise outside of no laughs. So, that's the other part - to make sure it's still a great show and still be theater, but not lose the laughter."