May 28, 2023

Theater Review: Colin Quinn Hilariously Combines ‘Small Talk’ and Big Ideas

Colin Quinn has tremendous staying power. For a comedian who comes in at a shockingly low 140 out of 145 on Rolling Stone’s ranking of SNL cast members (one of the topics he self-deprecatingly discusses during his act), Quinn seems to be doing just fine. Maybe that’s because Quinn has mastered the art of small talk. The comedian who was hired as a writer and feature player on Saturday Night Live lasted five seasons, leaving the sketch comedy series in 2000. Twenty-three years later, he’s still entertaining. He is currently performing in his limited engagement one-man comedy show Colin Quinn: Small Talk. The show, which runs until May 6th at the historic Greenwich Theatre, just steps away from the bustle of Bleecker Street, is quite the treat.

If you know Colin Quinn’s previous work or talk show appearances you have an idea what to expect here. Quinn’s stage presence is that of the cool uncle – the opinionated one who always has something interesting and witty to say about the state of civilization, attracting an audience and earning laughs while philosophizing in a way only he can. The show starts quickly, with no opening act, announcer or intro in sight. The lights dim and as they come back up Quinn is on stage, wearing what he describes as the outfit of a 12-year old boy, Adidas sneakers, a grey t-shirt and charcoal pants, and a scruffy beard – the comedian is ready to deliver. And deliver he does with a rapid fire set that breaks down the art of small talk from caveman times right up to ChatGPT, the AI chatbot which along with Airpods and self-checkout Quinn quipped have led to a decline in small talk by 87%.

That is what you get with Quinn, smart, witty banter that keeps you thinking. Just as you process one take, there’s often not enough time to laugh or you may miss the next. Quinn always seems to be selling the audience his theory on the state of the world, this time filtered through the subject of small talk. He credits the art of small talk, which is defined as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters,” as being humanity’s saving grace. By allowing brief and civil exchanges to take place they prevent full engagement between parties. It is these deeper conversations, the ones that go beyond the weather or the results of the local sports team where our differences are exposed, leading to division, hatred, and even war. Just about everything Quinn says lands with a “the-guy-has-a-point” punch to it – combining the interesting, the intelligent and the straight up comical.

The show had the audience roaring, almost to the detriment of the material, because Quinn is a deep thinker with a good sense of history. His act requires you to be ready to listen, process, laugh and be ready for more. He quickly goes between the nightmares of HR, the importance of training your kids in small talk, the history of the art through the civilizations and much more without barely taking a breath. While his ability to entertain as he connects human communication skills through the centuries is impressive and often quite funny, it is the universal, everyman observations that had the crowd roaring. Quinn makes quite the case pinpointing the moment in history that led to the decline of small talk and in turn the end of civility. Quinn has alway had a one-of-a-kind voice, but it never felt as more engaging than in this intimate setting.

Once the performance began, the comedian had the audience, including me, transfixed on his every word. The scope of his set alone is impressive, but the way he ties it all together, connecting his theories about social communication all while making the audience laugh for the full 70 minutes is worth making the trip to the Village to witness it live. There is an energy in the room that originates with Quinn and spreads across the audience, by the time he says his goodnight and disappears from the stage you will not only leave feeling entertained, but also perhaps a little enlightened too. As his subjects seem to randomly bounce around from elevator etiquette to Norm MacDonald to tribal chitchat and everywhere in between, yet in the end still feel totally connected, one thing you will understand for sure is why Colin Quinn has such amazing staying power – the guy can talk.

Colin Quinn: Small Talk is directed by James Fauvell (Colin Quinn Red State Blue State), with set design by Zoë Hurvitz (Tomorrow Wil Take Care Of Itself), lighting design by Amina Alexander (Alex Edelman: Just For Us), and sound design by Margaret Montagna (A Woman of the World).

For tickets or more information about “Colin Quinn: Small” check out his  website. This article was formerly on our sister site Awards Radar.

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