While comparing the arrival of Irish immigrants in New York City to that of subsequent Jewish and Italian travelers, Colin Quinn: The New York Story delivers a joke about the Statute of Liberty I didn’t quite understand. My Brooklyn-born and Queens-raised Italian girlfriend, however, laughed so hard she scared the dog off the couch. “We were cynical to begin with,” Quinn explains, “[because] there was no Statue of Liberty yet. There was never that poetic moment the Italians and Jews had. Because the Italians came… they’re already crying and emotional, and they look up and welcoming them is a 100-foot mother.”
This ex-Texan eventually got the joke, but the Saturday Night Live alum appreciated the response from a native New Yorker to his Big Apple-based Netflix special, which premieres Friday, November 18th. “Tell her I’m glad she liked the line because I said it during the whole run of the show and it never got a laugh,” Quinn said over the phone. “I kept it in because I knew it was true.”
The New York Story, which is based on Quinn’s 2015 The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America, marks the stand-up comedian’s fifth one-man show since his 1998 Broadway debut, An Irish Wake. It’s also his second outing with fellow comic turned director Jerry Seinfeld, who previously directed Quinn in his 2010 HBO special, Long Story Short. Both points came up in our discussion, which quickly turned to President-elect Donald Trump‘s victory a few days prior — an appropriate subject given Quinn’s focus on immigration.
You’ve probably been asked about this countless time, but I feel it necessary to bring up Donald Trump, especially since you spend so much time discussing immigration in New York Story.
Nobody’s brought that up actually. Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things to look at it. And believe me, I’m not somebody that’s just going to be like, “Hey you know what? This is a country of immigrants.” No, there’s another side to it too. You can’t just dismiss it. That being said, the fact that nobody even discusses immigration — on either side, nobody discusses it — is so typical of what’s going on with us in general. There’s a lot of screaming on the surface going on, but nobody ever goes, “Let’s sit down and have a real conversation about it.” My new theory is [we should have] publicly held constitutional conventions, only no one’s allowed to criticize until after. So you can’t just attack people for giving their opinion. That’s the problem. Nobody’s going to be honest, because if you’re honest you’ll be in trouble. So that’s my new thing. With immigration, I think that’s another thing. The truth about immigration in New York City is, it saved it during the past 20 years. It changed New York for the better and no one denies that. Every neighborhood in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and elsewhere is better because immigrants moved in.
You poke fun at the mostly white millennials who’ve gentrified your native Park Slope, especially for their commitment to racially charged protest movements like Black Lives Matter — while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge a person’s color for fear of reprisal. I’m a liberal straight white male, and I know it’s a joke at my expense, but I totally get it. Do you worry others won’t?
I don’t blame you or them. Like I say in the special, you can lose your job if you do [refer to people by their skin color]. My intention is not mean, but if people want to take clips or take it in a different context, I’m sure they can. At this point, people can do that with anything. If you say anything, people can do that. You can do that with my book a lot easier, actually. If people are going after you, they’re going after you and they’re probably going to get you. It’s just the way it goes, but I don’t care at this point. Your intention is your intention, but if people want to misconstrue what I’m saying then they’ll do it. That’s just how it is. You want to get me? Go ahead. Anybody can.
Sure, but does that bother you at all?
It bothers me, but it’s just the way it is. I mean it bothers me, but I’m not deluded enough to think you can change the whole national culture and conscience. You can try but you can’t be like, “Guys stop now! That’s enough! I want everybody online to stop behaving like this.” [Laughs.] We need a “wave your fist” emoticon.