With Long Story Short, Colin Quinn has found the perfect vehicle to showcase the way his comic brain works. There is a theme and even a set with giant stone steps and a screen that cycles through the globe on musical cues to illustrate the next subject. He doesn’t have to worry as much about winning the crowd over—they are there to hear his view of history, from the beginning. It also imposes just enough of a structure to keep Quinn on course while allowing him to ramble and free-associate in strategic places. And, as his Magners Comedy Festival evening proved, it gives him a show that can grow and change with current events. It’s something he could do almost indefinitely, and probably should.
Going by the DVD chapter titles from the HBO special of the same name, one might think the current live show was basically the same as the special, and probably the same as the Broadway show (directed by Jerry Seinfeld) that preceded it. The story starts at “Survival of the Fittest” then bounces around the globe, keeping to a certain chronology. Quinn works his way from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Silk Road and through Russia, Africa, China and America before winding up in Canada, the one place left in the world that’s still beautiful. Of course, he notes, no one wants to stay there. Immigrants on their way to America come through Canada, see that it has jobs and social services, and still say, “I’ll take my chances in that giant Ruby Tuesdays.”
The Ruby Tuesdays line is a holdover from the HBO special. But instead of America being Canada’s sloppy alcoholic brother who spills his drink all over the Gulf of Mexico, Canada is now Emilio Estevez to America’s Charlie Sheen. It’s a slight change, but Quinn has the opportunity to do that with a lot of different bits in the show, so even with multiple viewings there are still surprises.
He has a little leeway in his introduction as well. Quinn can choose a different jumping-off point to go back to the beginning; at the Wilbur he started with a bad, pandering Super Bowl joke about how he would come back next Sunday (Super Bowl Sunday, when the Pats would face the Giants) if the show went well. “Big Super Bowl joke,” he grumbled. “Really went well.” The joke didn’t work, but his sarcasm and self-deprecation served as a nice ice breaker before he dove into the heavy stuff. He then used the possibility that 2012 might be the end of history (depending how one interprets the Mayan calendar) to get into the meat of the show.
Quinn’s basic premise is that despite all our technological advances, humanity is basically the same. That’s why we have nanotechnology but still need zoo guards to prevent people from jumping into the polar bear cage to get on YouTube. Why don’t we get along? Because we’re all “the descendents of the pricks.” Our ancestors weren’t the ones who waited politely and shared. They stole and killed while everyone else died. “We’re not the ‘After You’s,” says Quinn. “We’re the ‘After Me’s.”
True, large chunks of the show are the same. And necessarily so, since there are specific guideposts and a structured frame. For example, Quinn tells a story near the beginning about visiting his aunt in the hospital. As she was living out her last days, Quinn’s family was busy complaining about the family from the next bed over stealing one of their chairs. He similarly relates how people can’t even get along standing in line at the ATM. The premise is from the original show, but Quinn deviates again to describe how if someone takes a little too long with their transaction, a tribe starts to form amongst the people in line who have to decide what to do about it.
Even if some parts of the show are repeated verbatim, a lot of the concepts are pretty durable, and they hold up to repeated listenings while Quinn is getting to something new. And the ending is the best part, in which Quinn compares global politics to a bar fight and every country is a different barroom stereotype. It was his starting point when he built the show, and he worked backwards from there. Iraq is in the parking lot mouthing off, and everyone wants America to go talk to him. Iran is the guy who’s a little slight but everyone’s afraid of him anyway, standing there in his leisure suit drinking ginger ale. Of course it ends badly, and America winds up giving Greece a ride home and having a heart-to-heart about the trials of being an empire. It brings the whole show full circle, closing cleanly on a good punchline, one Quinn probably will never need to change.