Colin Quinn, best known for his comedy work on television and in night clubs, brought his act “Colin Quinn: Long Story Short” to Guild Hall in East Hampton last week, after a successful Broadway run and an HBO special. Jerry Seinfeld directs the one-man show.
Mr. Quinn has described “Long Story Short” as a “history of the world in 75 minutes,” and the stage set, by David Gallo, represents half a gilded amphitheater, mirroring the theatergoers. The semicircle conjures up the ghosts of the ancient crowds who watched the comedies of Aristophanes or the vulgar jesting of the Etruscans in Rome and now gaze down on Mr. Quinn.
The co-star of the night is a large flat screen, with video that jumps from place to place as Mr. Quinn does, from ancient Greece and the fall of Rome to the very first British invasion (of the civilized world) to the stained glass of the Middle Ages and beyond. The animation, deftly directed by Mr. Seinfeld, falls somewhere between Google Earth and a diagram of the Death Star, an amalgam of reality and fantasy, which is what Mr. Quinn brings to his examination of mankind throughout history.
Mr. Quinn himself is endearing as a performer, much more so than his tough-guy image from the years when he hosted “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” (or “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” on Comedy Central) would have led you to expect. According to Mr. Quinn’s interview with The Star last week, his intention was to formulate a humorous narrative of human history. “Comedians sometimes ramble,” he said. “I wanted to do something more thematic.”
And his theme is this: Although technology has changed in the past 10,000 years, we’re really only a shortened forehead away from our forebears. Mankind’s propensity for territorialism and violence has not altered, whether it was on the battlefields of Britain in the 13th century or in an elevator or a barroom parking lot today.
Is it funny? Very. In fact, practically the only beef I had was that it was hard to hear every line over the sound of uproarious laughter — and this was partly exacerbated by the fact that, like many comedians, Mr. Quinn sometimes drops his last line. It was a fun, and intelligent, evening, and his style is, to me, still infinitely preferable to that of the comic who mugs and waits for the laughs to cease before continuing. (There was also one particularly tangential skit, about a white teacher in a black neighborhood, that somehow seemed unnecessary, though I admit the audience loved it.)
The show is worth seeing, perhaps even twice. And take the kids if “rated R for language” is okay: It is a high school history lesson that will have tweens and teens in hysterics.
Mr. Quinn was impressive, performing many characters and adroitly jumping through time without the antic hysteria some performers might have brought to the task. But his real gift is his ability to laugh along with us, as we — humanity, I mean — trudge from empire to empire, making the same mistakes over and over again but always expecting different results.
“Colin Quinn: Long Story Short” can be seen at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, Tuesdays through Fridays, and Sundays, at 8 p.m., with two performances on Saturday, at 7 and 10 p.m. The show runs through Sunday, June 26. Tickets are available at the Guild Hall box office, 324-4050.