In his new one-man play Colin Quinn Unconstitutional, which runs at the Cherry Lane Theater through August 8, comedian Colin Quinn displays his ineffable talent for informal comedy with the compelling aplomb of one of the orators who founded this great nation—had they gotten slightly tipsy before delivering a speech.
Quinn can undoubtedly be called one of the greatest comic minds active in this country today, and proves it in this 75-minute tour-de-force of loving criticism for America and all it holds dear. He ridicules the more obvious targets, like the Kardashians (his riff on Bruce Jenner is both touchingly wistful and brilliantly hilarious). He also compares the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to a bar room, in several increasingly accurate and descriptive metaphors. Mr. Quinn actually seems to have an intimate knowledge of the Convention, and uses it. His jokes about Grand Committee member George Mason are just as effective as those that lampoon George H.W. Bush. The shape of the show is mostly a rundown of the articles and sections of the Constitution. Mr. Quinn ridicules the freedom of the press, the formation of Congress, and even the rules regulating international commerce with equal success.
It takes a great comedian to make constitutional study so very funny.
His delivery is not that of a speech maker or one of the usual actors putting on a one-man show, or even that of the usual comedian. It’s that of the good friend sharing funny ideas in a bar. He talks as if he was pulling his jokes out of thin air, or writing them on the spot, and it catches with the audience. Often Quinn seems not to know where he’s going, stumbling or catching himself, but it’s all part of the act, and he’s always going somewhere.
Quinn’s impressions, which followers of his previous career probably have yet to see, are spot-on. When discussing the presidents of the past fifty years, he does an excellent Reagan, a great Bush Sr., a near-perfect impersonation of Bill Clinton (he claims that while watching Mr. Clinton make a speech, “the entire country thought ‘The president’s in love with me’”), and a George W. Bush (whom he portrays as a nervous wreck desperately trying to rectify his mistakes as his father “passive-aggressively hangs out with Bill Clinton”). He jokes that comedians are unwilling to make fun of President Obama because they find it subconsciously racist. “He goes up there and kills at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner every year,” says Mr. Quinn. “Why do you think he kills? Because they’re all new jokes! No one’s made them before!”
The most accurate summation of “Unconstitutional” is that it’s very good stand-up comedy. It’s stand-up comedy that’s enhanced by Mr. Quinn’s unique style, which, since his days anchoring SNL’s Weekend Update, no stand-up has been able to replicate. The best stand-up comes when the audience is fully able to identify with the issues the comedian is pointing out. Since Mr. Quinn has chosen America, a fairly well-known topic, for his latest venture, there is little danger that the audience will be unfamiliar. And the greatest triumph of the show is that every joke Mr. Quinn makes, every chink in the armor he points out, is absolutely accurate. The flaws of the American system of government may never be solved outright, but it’s pleasant to hear that someone sees they’re there, and is even capable of turning the predicament our country is in into a thoroughly enjoyable evening.