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Quinn’s ‘Story’ is New York hit

By Sean Devlin

This isn’t Colin Quinn’s first rodeo.

He’s performed comedy far and wide, he’s sat in the anchor’s chair “Weekend Update” sketch for “Saturday Night Live” and he’s starred in hit films such as this summer’s “Trainwreck.”

But this time, he’s bringing everything back home.

Quinn’s most recent stage show, “Colin Quinn: The New York Story,” explores how every ethnicity and group of immigrants who have sailed to the shores of New York Harbor over the years have each affected the personality of the city in a specific fashion. Quinn, 56, is a native of Park Slope, Brooklyn, and has a keen eye for the personalities of each group, particularly about his own Irish roots.

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“I’ve been working on the show for almost a year, and it keeps changing,” Quinn said. “The Irish section is continually evolving, and at this point I’m still trying to wrap my head around everyone’s background. I think I’ve got most of it down, but it’s always changing; once you get too locked in on something, you close yourself off to new possible views.”

The Jerry Seinfeld-directed “Colin Quinn: The New York Story” which is playing at the Cherry Lane Theater through the end of January, earned critical acclaim in its initial run during July and August.

When asked about how his Irish roots affected his views on the world and comedy, Quinn said he paid particular attention to the variations in the ways “there’s an Irish respect for the written word, and we also don’t always go out of our way to show physical affection when some of the other groups who have come to New York City express themselves that way. Others are more task oriented. You could really go on forever trying to figure out every culture.”

Quinn also said the Irish sense of humor and use of language has affected his own work. “We’re a very sarcastic and sardonic people. We don’t really like too much sincerity in the spoken word. We’re not too earnest up front,” he added. “The Irish sense of humor, in my experience, is pretty morbid. I think part of it has to do with the way we’re brought up in the Church. Most of us still believe in heaven deep down, and there’s a notion that suffering isn’t that bad.”

When asked about Irish people’s sense of humor as it appears to Americans, Quinn heaped praise upon those born and raised in Ireland. “Every time I meet Irish people, they’re so funny. Every comic I know, from Seinfeld to the rest, love the Irish crowds,” he said. “They’re all so intelligent and alive.”

“The New York Story” isn’t Quinn’s first exploration of the Irish community on stage. In the 1990s, Quinn penned “Irish Wake,” a one man play that explored growing up as an Irish Catholic in Brooklyn. “It’s honestly probably my favorite thing I’ve done in my career,” he said, “It was a huge hit with my family and they really loved it.” Additionally, he cited Irish-American comedian George Carlin as one of his biggest influences. “The reaction my family had to Carlin meant a lot to me,” Quinn said. “He did a 13-minute bit on the Catholic school experience, and I think that woke people in that generation up. He released something in Irish people of that time. All the Irish people in urban centers were laughing because no one had talked about the Irish experience in that fashion before. He made a lot of pained people laugh.”

When asked about the changing New York that “The New York Story” addresses, Quinn admitted that the changes to the city landscape are ultimately for the best, but take something from the classic ethnic identities of the city. “There’s a lot of positives, but I think you’re losing a lot of those old school personalities,” he said. “I think all these people speaking in generalities all the time is a little disconcerting. You don’t get that same authentic language from the neighborhood anymore, and people don’t talk about what they feel up front anymore.”

“Colin Quinn: The New York Story,” which is directed by Jerry Seinfeld, will be running at the Cherry Lane Theater through Jan. 31. He is also starring in a web series called “Cop Show.”