Colin Quinn is a BS artist.
He’s been one since he sat on the stoops of Park Slope, where he and his Brooklyn pals used to ride each other over their ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences, physical and emotional shortcomings, IQs and mothers.
“There is no such thing as taboo on my show,” Quinn, 43, says in the dressing room of “Tough Crowd,” his half-hour Comedy Central show that airs Monday through Thursday at 11:30 p.m. EST. “This is an outgrowth of the stoop, a bunch of people, in this case all sicko comedians, sitting around ranking on each other and dumping on the main news headlines. The best part is that we don’t have any experts. Except experts in comedy.”
The result is a politically incorrect, totally irreverent and hilarious comedy throwdown. Think “The McLaughlin Group” tossed into a blender with roller derby. There is nothing else like it on TV, network, premium cable or basic cable. And the best part is that despite being sandwiched between Letterman and Leno, it’s holding its own in the ratings, keeping much of the young, hip audience from the very popular “Daily Show,” which precedes it.
“Where else can you find a show where the host encourages you to trash him every night?” asks frequent guest Jim Norton, Quinn’s pal from Manhattan’s Comedy Cellar.
“The thing you hope for is that it makes people who watch lighten up and laugh about the things that make us different,” says Keith Robinson, a black comedian who often exchanges racial barbs with white colleagues.
“Colin is exactly the same on this show as he is when we all sit around the Comedy Cellar,” says Nick DiPaolo, whose ethnically-charged humor is mostly unprintable in a family newspaper, even the stuff about his own family. “The difference is that the night before the show, they give you the topics and you do a little homework. Which is funny, because we wouldn’t be doing this for a living if any of us ever did our homework in school.”
The likeable Quinn started as a standup comic in Brooklyn’s Pip’s Comedy Club. After years in the beery trenches of the comedy circuit, where he was known for his tobacco-auctioneer fast delivery, he put on a one-man show, “Sanctifying Grace,” in the Irish Arts Center. It caught the attention of Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live.” Quinn was hired to read the “SNL” mock newscast in the mid-’90s.
Michaels then produced Quinn’s critically acclaimed “An Irish Wake” on Broadway and later served with Jerry Seinfeld as producer when NBC gave Quinn a three-episode trial show in 2001. It was hysterical. But politically correct network TV hadn’t seen this kind of humor since “All in the Family.” The show didn’t get picked up.
“The thing that killed the NBC show was the very thing we were crucifying every night, political correctness,” Quinn says. “The suits all thought it was funny, but it was just too scary for them. “
But while “The Colin Quinn Show” was in its trial run, executives at Comedy Central told Quinn they would take the show if NBC didn’t pick it up.
“So here I am,” Quinn says. “This is my dream come true. I just want young audiences today to know what the world used to be like, when people weren’t afraid to say what was on their minds, for laughs.”
Quinn rises early each morning in his West Side apartment, walks to work, stopping in a bakery for blueberry muffins and two containers of tea (“Irish penicillin”). He then goes to the Sony studios on West 53rd Street, meets with his assistant, Ellen Theus, and by 10 a.m. is working with his main writer, Ken Ober, on that night’s monologue. He next has a “topic meeting” with his producers, Rich Korson and Liz Stanton, and his other writers, Bryan Tucker, Laurie Kilmartin and Jon Marshall. They rehearse in the late afternoon, tape in front of a live audience at 6 p.m. and edit the show for the nightly broadcast.
After it’s over, Quinn goes for a long walk through Manhattan, drinking up the diverse and perverse city that formed him, planning the following day’s show.
“We have total freedom here,” Quinn says. “The only thing Comedy Central censors is vulgarity, but I don’t want vulgarity on the show. I’d rather go to the mat over content, political stuff, ethnic, racial and religious stuff. For example, dumping on religion has always been OK so long as it was Catholicism and the Christian right. They deserve to be nailed. But so should Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and any other BS religion.”
Quinn has called in a few markers, attracting big-name guests like Seinfeld, Denis Leary and Chris Rock.
“The only other big name I really want is George Carlin, who is the reason I got into this business,” Quinn says. “He’s the king. But mostly it’s just hardworking comedians trashing each other and the world. Which is the same thing I did on the Brooklyn stoop, except they pay me for this.”