Colin Quinn The New York Story: Theater review by David Cote
It’s not exactly a golden age for ethnic jokes: gags about how black people are like this or Jewish folks always do that…and don’t get me started on Asians! With homicidal cops and white supremacists on one hand and thought-policing PC scolds on the other, there’s not much room for laughs about cultural difference. And should there be? Colin Quinn thinks so in The New York Story, his irreverent, ethnographic survey of the immigrants who helped form the classic New York personality (pushy, cocky, loud). If stereotypes can be woven into a nonhostile humanistic tapestry, Quinn does it.
One obvious factor is: Who’s making the jokes and who’s laughing? As a straight, middle-aged, Irish-American, Quinn might worry about charges of minstrelsy, punching down or flat-out racial insensitivity. But the show, lightly directed by Jerry Seinfeld, is more inclusive and sweet-natured than that. As for those chuckling at the material, I can report that the crowd I saw it with was refreshingly mixed.
Quinn grew up when the city, he argues, was a real melting pot: messy, boiling and liable to burn. He draws on his experiences as a Park Slope kid in the ’70s, when Brooklyn was genuinely diverse (the script is adapted from his recently released The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America). “This city was supposed to be the sanctuary city for the judgmental, the obnoxious, the nonpositive,” Quinn grumbles. But you can’t have opinions about someone else’s customs without hurting their feelings. The comedian bemoans how the city has adopted a bland, unreflective color-blindness, respecting difference by pretending it doesn’t exist.
The irony, as Quinn teases out over his amusing 65-minute set, is that the Big Apple pysche is inherently multicultural, no matter how offensive or bigoted it may seem. He starts with the land-grabbing Dutch in the 1600s and proceeds to Germans, the Irish, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and others, each contributing an element to the archetypal Noo Yawk attitude. Quinn’s theory is not sociology, it’s comedy, but a valuable reminder that everyone’s not the same asshole as you. They’re different-colored assholes.
Cherry Lane Theatre (Off Broadway) Written and performed by Colin Quinn. Directed by Jerry Seinfeld. Running time: 1hr 5mins. No intermission.