There's a fantasy I have about stand-up comics and a shrine they keep somewhere in their homes. On it are little stereotype icons to which stand-up comics add regularly and worship daily, their stand-up comic hands clasped in devout prayer. On it they also keep a scented votive candle to light in additional heartfelt gratitude for four-, seven- and 12-letter obscenities, the utterances of which are guaranteed to add audience titter quotient to otherwise lame jokes.
Assuming prayer position in my fantasy this week is Colin Quinn, who has opened Colin Quinn The New York Story, at the Cherry Lane (on Cherry Lane, otherwise know as Commercial Street). The entry is a follow-up to Colin Quinn Long Story Short and Colin Quinn Unconstitutional and is directed, as were its predecessors, by Jerry Seinfeld.
Although the promo material calls Colin Quinn The New York Story "a comedy written by and starring Colin Quinn," don't be misled. It's stand-up stuff start to finish. It's just that when stand-up routines are transported to legit houses and provided with a set and added lighting, they become stand-up-then-amble-back-and-forth-then-climb-a-ladder-then-navigate-a-catwalk-then-sit-on-a-box-then-lean-on-a-box-then-repeat routines.
Quinn is doing a new one of these for 65 minutes, give or take, and as he begins it, he introduces a false premise. He comes out -- uh, actually he comes out twice. In an environment that designer Sara C. Walsh has devised to look like an abstract representation of a lower-class neighborhood street, Quinn enters through what resembles a tenement door, but rather than walk down the stoop steps, he turns around and, as if already fed up, shuts the door behind him. Then he just walks out from around the door piece.
He says he's going to talk about why tourists visit New York. He claims it's not for famous landmark attractions -- Times Square and the like -- which he immediately denigrates. No, they're not the big come-ons. As he sees, it -- here comes the false premise -- New Yorkers themselves are the lure.
Huh? What could be farther from the truth? If anything, New York City's population -- no matter what the denizens' ethnic or racial backgrounds -- is not often celebrated outside the town limits. If anything, New Yorkers of every stripe are assumed by non-New Yorkers to be universally unfriendly, inhospitable. Visitors are regularly surprised to learn New Yorkers can be downright helpful -- outside of rush hour, that is.
But Quinn has to make his claim, because then he can zoom directly to the comics' unfailingly reliable fallback: stereotypes. So let's forgive and forget the false premise and go with him. Let's go with his shambling discourse on as many stereotypes as there are disparate populations in the City that have given it its lusty flavor. He's indefatigable as he leaps back in time to the Dutch and the English and then moves forward to the arrival of the Irish, the Italians, the Jews and eventually up to the more recent émigrés, Dominicans, Pakistanis.
Without missing any group that came to my mind, he elicits any number of genuine laughs, even if some of the stereotypes on which he expatriates are dated or inaccurate. When he gets to Puerto Ricans, for instance, who inject "rhythm" into NYC society -- if I correctly remember one of the attributes he assigns them -- he mentions that they also are the ones who turned stoops into "an extra room."
That one made me laugh out loud (LOL in the current vernacular), although Puerto Ricans aren't the only inveterate stoop sitters, of course. Residents of almost any poor brownstone neighborhood have long since turned stoops into the urban equivalent of the front porch.
Oddly enough, while Brooklyn-born Quinn constantly paces back and forth, occasionally perching here and there, he never once lights on the stoop Walsh has supplied. His avoidance of it almost makes an observer wonder how truthful he is about his origins. Almost anyone brought up with on a stoop is still instinctively drawn to one, and I'm speaking from experience.
(By the way, everyone knows Seinfeld is a dedicated stoop occupant. He sat on his West 81st Street stoop when he lived in the block between Amsterdam and Columbus.)
What nicely distinguishes Quinn, who's the son of two teachers, is his broad knowledge of history and his consequent amusement at riffing on it. If he's intent on reducing it, stand-up-comic-like, to stereotypes, I suppose that's his business -- and a remunerative one at that. There's no denying he comes up with enough yuks to keep the fans happy.