In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
A legendary stand-up comedian and performer, Colin Quinn was first introduced to the public via his role as the gravel-voiced, cigarette-smoking sidekick on the 1987-90 MTV game show Remote Control. His lackadaisical delivery of any episode’s given prizes (a Mitsubishi Montero, a ski vacation, a Zenith television, a pair of British Knights sneakers, and so on) drew advertiser ire, but endeared him to the show’s young viewers, who in turn ardently followed his stand-up career.
He turned that success into a series of writing and hosting gigs, eventually landing a slot on Saturday Night Live in 1996, where, in 1998, he took over hosting “Weekend Update,” a job he held until he left the show two years later. From there, Quinn headed to the funny but short-lived The Colin Quinn Show on NBC, and then to Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, which ran for 200 episodes and found groups of Quinn’s comedic friends discussing the hottest topics of the day.
Quinn’s latest projects are his new book, Overstated: A Coast-To-Coast Roast Of The Fifty States, and his most recent Broadway show turned Netflix special, Red State Blue State. In both, Quinn seeks to point out that there’s more to bring us together than there is to divide us, in his view, though he’s still offers up individual criticisms of each state in his book. He’s also happy to use the book to cast aspersions on the system of representative democracy, saying, “We made promises in the Constitution that no one can live up to. And our system wasn’t set up to back up the words. A representative democracy has a lot of flaws to it—because representatives are humans.”
With all this in mind, The A.V. Club posed its 11 Questions to Quinn, who came through with plenty of thoughtful answers about smoking, death, and the machiavellian nature of Kris Jenner.
Colin Quinn: You mean like the Gwyneth Paltrow thing?
The A.V. Club: Sure. It could be a smell you like, or what you think you smell like, or something entirely different.
CQ: Even though I quit 100 years ago, I loved the smell of cigarettes. So how about… Did you ever see The Deer Hunter? Remember the room where they’re playing Russian roulette? That room.
AVC: There really is something nostalgic to that smell as well. As a kid, I loved the smell of my parents’ packs of cigarettes.
CQ: I know. It’s so sad. I also used to love the smell of the packs, so I get that.
I just like the notion of a gym and cigarettes together, which I think is a smell from the old days.
CQ: Oh, that’s easy. This girl kind of broke my heart, though we did end up going back out after that. But I used to sit home and play My Aim Is True every night by myself. Elvis Costello. The whole album. The whole thing every night.
AVC: What do you like about that record?
CQ: I just liked it. It just came out of that time. I’m old, so it had just come out. I just kept playing it over and over.
AVC: Have you seen Elvis Costello live?
CQ: I did see him live. I saw him a couple of years later, but he was in his country phase. I was too radical. I saw him on 14th Street at what was the old Palladium, I guess. I remember he was like, “Hey, I’m a country guy now,” and we were like “No! It’s too early! It’s the middle of punk!” It was 1980, maybe.
CQ: Obviously, the Kennedy assassination is the most plausible, but the least plausible point is that no one ever spoke about it all this time. But the rest of it is just insane. It just makes no sense.
I just read a book about the Kennedy assassination, about LBJ and his connection with the Dallas mafia. It was called Betrayal In Dallas, and I was like, “Geez, it all makes sense, you know?” That book really, really makes you think, “Oh, God, it’s got to be.”
AVC: So who do you think was ultimately responsible? LBJ?
CQ: I think it was LBJ or his buddies. Maybe LBJ was a big part of it, or maybe he just let it happen because he would have been screwed if he kept going whatever direction they were really going after the Dallas mafia. It does make sense.
I met Gabe Kaplan like 20 something years ago… You know, the comedian from Welcome Back Kotter? He worked for Jack Ruby at some strip club doing comedy back in 1962, and he said he was definitely a mob thug.
CQ: When I grew up, it was a time of disillusionment. It was late ’60s Vietnam and then Watergate. So everybody was cynical about everything. I grew up with that. That was just the way it was.
For me personally, in terms of politicians… When I was at Saturday Night Live, a lot of politicians came through, and I noticed that they all—Republican and Democrat—they all had a corny sense of humor. The first politician I met that really simply got everything was [Bill] Clinton. Clinton walked in the room and just kind of sussed out what the vibe was with the comedy and then just kind of kept it low-key, but was in there. He is one of those people that doesn’t try to be funny, and doesn’t try to go and compete. There’s just something about him. He understood, like, “Oh, here’s the way I work things that’s successful.”
CQ: You mean somebody famous?
AVC: They can be famous, or they can be non-famous. Up to you.
CQ: I’ll tell you what I would do. The person that I admire as far as the most underrated person who knows how to win, when to shut up, when to talk, and when to do whatever they do and keep it to themselves—and I’ve said this for a long time, but not in relation to that, just in relation to me—the person that nobody talks about being good at that is Kris Jenner.
Kris Jenner sat there quietly, “Never mind the O.J. trial. Never mind.” She just sat there. It could have easily been, “Hey, remember that lady that was married to the guy who was O.J.’s lawyer? They made all those beautiful kids?” No, she sat there and played the last 15 years like a poker champion and made all that money. She just sat there poker-faced no matter what. I’d bring her to to bury a body.
CQ: I’m not really a Halloween guy, but when I was younger, I used to like to throw a costume together.
I went as Robin Hood one year, and then while I was walking across the street, some guys in the car said something snotty to me. I cursed them back, and then we got in a fight. I got a little bit of a beating—not a bad beating, but a little bit of one. My costume was ripped and I had a bloody nose. Then I ran into a friend of mine and I was complaining… drunk, of course. And he said, “Well, where were your Merry Men?” And even then, I had to laugh. It was pretty funny.
CQ: Wow. Sadly, I know that I would live in New York City. I mean, even right now, I just can’t quit. I can’t quit New York, even though it’s nothing like I remember and I complain about it every minute of every day. There’s no other place where I feel like I’m home.
AVC: Any specific neighborhood?
CQ: I live downtown by the Financial District and Tribeca, on the border, and I like it there. But I could live anywhere in Manhattan.
AVC: Upper East Side?
CQ: Yeah, even there. I know people there, though that’s a little bit out of the way for my taste. I’d rather live where I live, in the Village, or in Hell’s Kitchen.
I like to walk out and see a bunch of people on the street. That’s my whole thing. I don’t like an empty, quiet street. I like it to be crowded.
AVC: Have you always been like that, or did you develop that after years in New York?
CQ: Always. I like to be around people. I like staying up late at night. I like people to be at parties. I like all that to be happening.
CQ: My parents may have said something, but it didn’t stick.
What I do remember is kids in school drawing pictures of naked women and a guy’s penis. I was like, “What the hell is going on here?” First of all, these were kids. They were my age. How did they get all this information? How do they get this anatomical knowledge? I didn’t even think that stuff existed.
AVC: How old were you?
CQ: I don’t know. 7 or 8?
Those kids would always tell you stories, too. I remember guys going, “Yeah. And then you get laid,” or whatever the expression was in those days for sex. I was like, “What? This is terrible, man. It’s terrible.” I really was disgusted by it. I was like a Footloose parent. “This is disgusting.” I was judging. “Oh, my God, how crude.”
That went on for a few years. I just remember thinking those kids were psychotic. They were like serial killers to me.
CQ: I don’t know if this counts and it may not be the same thing, but when people say they don’t like The Beatles, I feel like they’re just saying it to be different. It drives me crazy when someone says, “I don’t like The Beatles.” I don’t want to answer them. I feel like they’re just saying it to start shit. Everyone who says they don’t like The Beatles really does like The Beatles and they’re just trying to pretend so they seem unique.
CQ: I’ll tell you what it is, because it’s well known by anyone who knows me. It’s A Confederacy Of Dunces [by John Kennedy Toole]. You ever read that book? It’s the funniest. I’ve been reading it for 40 years now. Every time I open it, I read a passage and I start laughing. I’m serious.
AVC: How many times do you think you’ve read it, or is it all just in pieces like that?
CQ: Well, let’s say how many times I’ve opened it. I read a passage, let’s say, or a chapter or whatever, because I don’t read the whole thing every time. I would say probably over a thousand times. That’s how much I love it.
AVC: Have you converted other people to that book?
CQ: Yeah. And I judge people, like everybody does, by whether they like it or not. The most frustrated I get is when people I’ve turned on to [the book] don’t read more than a few pages. It makes me mad.
CQ: Absolutely. Who wouldn’t want to know that?
AVC: Oh, people who feel like they’d be too scared, or maybe that they’d then live their lives differently if they knew.
CQ: But it’s just the opposite. It would be great to know that. I would love it. And guess what? We should be scared. [And if I find that day out,] my enemies should be scared, too.
Bonus 12th question from Al Roker: If you could insert yourself into the universe of any Saturday morning cartoon, which one would it be?
CQ: Jesus. I mean, that’s a good question if you know cartoons, which I don’t.
AVC: If you want you could stretch a little and say something like The Simpsons or Looney Tunes.
CQ: It is a tough one. I mean, I hate most cartoons. I always hated the Flintstones and all that stuff. Popeye? Enh. That’s a tough one.
AVC: Jetsons? You could have a flying car.
CQ: I mean, the Jetsons were great. And it ruined a whole generation because we all thought those flying things would really exist. It was very influential.
AVC: And then what would you like to ask the next people who are doing this?
CQ: “Jerome Avenue or The Grand Concourse?”
AVC: Do you have an answer to that?
CQ: Yeah, I would say Jerome Avenue.