'Trainwreck's' Colin Quinn on NYC's Summer of Urine: "What Is It About New York That Just Makes People Want to Pee Outside?"
"There's not enough bathrooms to hold all the beer bladders, so now it's becoming a thing."
A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The topic of public urination has garnered quite a bit of space in The New York Times and other major publications as a growing offense in New York City. For more on the matter, The Hollywood Reporter questioned Saturday Night Live alum and New York native Colin Quinn, currently on screen opposite Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. Here's what he had to say (this conversation was edited for clarity):
What are my thoughts on public urination? My question is, what is it about New York that just makes people want to pee outside instead of using a nice restroom?
I got a ticket for public urination once — when I was 19, on the train, probably the F train. They sent it to some other Colin Quinn, in another part of Brooklyn. And years later, I ran into his brothers, and they go, 'So you're the Colin Quinn that our brother got a ticket for peeing on the train!' They sent it to his house, so I never paid it.
People had different attitudes toward urination in those days because all the bars had these troughs, with eight guys all lined up next to each other and peeing. There were no cubicles, so obviously, there was a more public attitude toward urination in general. But all your life, you just saw people peeing in the street. In the past 15 years, it's only been at the end of a parade, you'll see some public urination. St. Patrick's Day was always the only day you were allowed to publicly urinate; I think it's legal for one day a year. But there's not enough bathrooms to hold all the beer bladders, so now it's becoming a thing.
I saw someone take it a step further the other day, too. We're talking about public defecation. I've seen a couple of those in my life, but this one was a shocker because, well, it's been a few years.
Forget about public urination though — I'm telling you, the worst is when I go to pee in one of those big coffee shops now, like Aroma or Starbucks. Sometimes I walk in the bathroom and there's a couple of stalls, and it's like the Port Authority in 1978. There's guys washing up in there with their pants off, you know what I mean? There's people shooting dope in the stall. I'm like, Jesus Christ, what year is this? You know what I mean? And you can always tell when a guy leaves the bathroom, if it's one of those real street guys who just washed up in the bathroom.
It's frustrating because, remember a few years ago, they tried to put in bathrooms? There are cities in Europe that have public bathrooms. They tried to do it in New York, and I don’t know what happened. It was during [Mayor] Bloomberg, where he had everything going, everything worked and we all loved it. And then they just disappeared.
I'd like to know the story behind that. That would be a great show right there: you take 20 things that seemed like they were answers for big problems, and find out the mechanisms and politics and whatever happened to ruin them. Because that's the truth of the whole world: How can we always be back to square one with all these problems? Poverty, war, whatever. Why are we still in the same boat? There's gotta be something at work.
'Well, it's just human nature' — that's the simple answer, but I want to know the specifics of what happens with human nature, so that a bathroom that everybody agrees is a great idea for a city somehow just disappears.
It all comes down to the bathroom.
What happened to those? Why did they not work here but they work elsewhere? If I could figure that out, I'd really understand something about New York.
Colin Quinn returns to the stage with Colin Quinn: A New York Story, a thorough deconstruction of the distinct New York City personality — the superior, slightly irritable, quick-speaking, back-talking being that's fading fast around the five boroughs. Directed by Jerry Seinfeld, the one-man comedy act — opening July 23 at the Cherry Lane Theatre — explores the standup veteran's Brooklyn roots, plus his thoughts on technology, race relations and, yes, the political correctness of comedy.