In Like Quinn

(Photo: Mike Lavoie)

Sherlock Holmes once said: "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear." Colin Quinn not only observes people and their cultural idiosyncrasies, he describes them with remarkably keen wit and empathy in his hilarious new one-man show, The New York Story, directed by Jerry Seinfeld at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Quinn may look and sound like a longshoreman from the 1950s, but he is a brilliant social satirist who celebrates people's unique ethnic qualities rather than mocking them. The show covers New York from its beginnings as a Dutch outpost to the complex melting pot it is today. In 65 minutes, Quinn explains the entire history of New York with a focus on its people:

Our tourist attraction is the people. Nobody else had people like this. Smoking, cursing, rude, sarcastic, pushy, loud, fast-talking, outspoken. It's not a pleasant personality but it was entertaining and honest.

To illustrate how New York became what it is today, Quinn gives us a history lesson on the Indians and the Dutch, who were easily displaced by the British, which Quinn explains very simply in modern lexicon:

So the British come in like soccer hooligans. First they send over the hooligans. It's not just the elegant guys at first. They want to beat the Dutch, like when England plays Holland in the World Cup. The Dutch are like, "we paid twenty-four dollars for this land. It is ours." And the British go "Feck off, ya Dutch."

All of Quinn's historical analogies are not only funny but remarkably perceptive as well. Below he explains the resulting changes and progress that took place after people from different cultures and countries came to New York.

The Irish:

The Irish people were homeless shanty types, but soon they ran the whole city. Because we were obedient we were all civil servants. The nuns trained them well to take tests, so they would take the test and suddenly they're in charge of the whole city. So we became the civil servants and ran the city from the inside.

The Jews:

To the Jews, the most important thing is to be smart. The Eskimos have 37 words for snow. The Yiddish have 300 words for "stupid." Schmuck, schtumy, putz, yutz, schmo, schmendrick. We could be here all day. "This nudnik schmuck comes in here with his cockamamie idea. What a putz."

The Italians:

They didn't see parishes, they didn't see businesses, they saw the neighborhood.
This is the neighborhood - these are the lines from here to here.
"How will I know if I'm in the wrong neighborhood?"
"Don't worry, you'll find out."

In a remarkably short period of time Quinn scrutinizes everyone, and even strays briefly from reality to assail television cops. Gone are the old Irish cops who liked to eat, drink and complain. They've all been replaced by attractive, sensitive homicide detectives on Law & Order, who all seem stunned every time a murder is committed, despite that being their job.

Quinn's ultimate lesson to us is the hypocrisy of political correctness. We claim we want to celebrate diversity yet at the same time demand that everyone be exactly the same -- bland and inoffensive.

The New York Story
is performed in an intimate setting of only 179 seats and the laughs are so frequent it's tough to catch all of the jokes. If Quinn took every laugh beat the show's running time would be over two hours.

While channeling one of Quinn's characters, I will give the following advice: Listen, you mooks. Don't make the mistake of your life and miss this show. Run -- don't walk -- to see The New York Story or I'll throw youse a beating.