'Colin Quinn: The New York Story': Theater Review

Mike Lavoie

Colin Quinn delivers comedic riffs on the history of the Big Apple in his new solo show directed by Jerry Seinfeld.

Most New York City guidebooks include the obligatory capsule history of the city. But tourists wanting to get to the core of the Big Apple would be better served seeing Colin Quinn's new one-man show, a personal account of Gotham from its colonial beginnings to the present day. Much like his earlier theatrical forays into such weighty subjects as the history of civilization and the Constitution, The New York Story, loosely based on his recent book The Coloring Book, is a breezily entertaining comedic lecture that makes him seem like the coolest university professor ever.

The show directed by Jerry Seinfeld features Quinn, entering to the strains of Odyssey's "Native New Yorker,"  delivering his sociological riffs on a set resembling a brownstone stoop, surrounded by garbage cans, assorted junk, baskets of fruit and clotheslines, with flags from numerous countries flying overhead.

Beginning with the Indians — he doesn't deign to use the politically correct term Native Americans — the acerbic comedian recounts the history of the city through the prism of the various ethnic groups who immigrated over the ensuing centuries, from the Dutch — whose language accounts for many of the terms and names still in place today — to, well, just about everybody. This naturally allows him the opportunity for plenty of standard issue, but very funny, ethnic jokes.

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Talking about the Irish, he defines a parish as basically "a church, some Irish people and a bar." Discussing the Jews who began flocking here in the 19th century, he points out that "most of them have still not physically recovered from the trip."   

He particularly concentrates on the uniquely feisty New York attitude ("It's the only city that has blue-collar snobs") which he laments is now disappearing. To illustrate the decline, he presents a hilarious comparison between Mayor Bill de Blasio's personality-free blandness and Ed Koch's shoot-from-the-hip combativeness.

Talking about the disappearance of stock New York characters, he blames both technology and political correctness. The "directions guy" who would offer sarcastic comments if you asked the way to the Van Wyck has been replaced by Siri, and construction workers' catcalls are now on the order of "Hey, look at that strong independent woman!"

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One of the funniest segments concerns the crime-ridden days of the 1970s when "at Port Authority, pimps used to be lined up like Citi Bikes," and people were forced to carry extra "mugger money" to prevent being assaulted.

The raspy-voiced comedian (currently seen on movie screens as Amy Schumer's father in the hit comedy Trainwreck) delivers his distinctive combination of killer one-liners and astute observations without stopping to take a breath, making the 75-minute show fly by. While it's difficult to exactly pinpoint Seinfeld's contribution as a director, the evening has a well-honed seamlessness that, combined with the unified themes, raises the stand-up routine to satisfying theater. This is one New York Story you want to hear.  

Writer-performer: Colin Quinn
Director: Jerry Seinfeld
Set designer: Sara C. Walsh
Lighting designer: Sarah Lurie
Presented by Mike Lavoie, Mike Berkowitz, Brian Stern

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