Comedian Colin Quinn: Why I’m ‘Actually Glad’ I Got COVID
The SNL alum opens up to “The Last Laugh” podcast about his bout with the coronavirus, the future of stand-up comedy and a lot more.
Colin Quinn got COVID-19 for the jokes. Well, not exactly. But he is already developing new material about his experience with the virus.
“I was actually glad I had it,” the comedian admits to me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “Because when you’re doing stand-up and you’re like, ‘Well I had corona,’ everybody’s going to be more interested.” He only wishes the experience had been more eventful so that the jokes would have higher stakes.
“You don’t want to be on a ventilator,” Quinn says. “But it would be funny!”
“And guess what? If I find out other comedians are doing a corona routine, I want to make sure they had it,” he jokes. “I don’t want any medical appropriation!”
The former Saturday Night Live writer and “Weekend Update” anchor says it was “scary” testing positive, especially because he suffered a heart attack just a few years ago and worried about complications stemming from that. “But I’m fine,” he insists.
The irony, of course, is that Quinn’s most recent project was a stand-up special centered around the idea of not contracting the virus. Back in March, after all of the major comedy clubs had shut down, the comic tweeted, “Idea to save stand up comedy. Drive in comedy clubs! You stay in your car and the show is where the drive in movie was!”
About eight months later, his dream became a reality when Colin Quinn & Friends: A Parking Lot Comedy Show premiered on HBOMax. Directing for the first time, Quinn headlined the special that also included performances by old friends like Keith Robinson and Rich Vos and up-and-comers like (previous Last Laugh guests) Sam Jay and Dan Soder.
The special features almost as much backstage banter between the socially distanced comedians as it does onstage material. And that was by design. “I feel like that's more important than stand-up in a way for comedians,” he says. “It’s like any job. It’s the same as when a group of like, nuns would get together. They’d probably be like, thank god somebody understands what my life is.”
Quinn, who suggests in the special that being onstage is the only time he’s not depressed, personally views performing comedy as an addiction like any other. “Stand-up is definitely a drug,” he says. “It puts people in a narcotic state.”
Which makes it all the more upsetting that comedians haven’t been able to get up and perform the way they normally would over the past year. “I’ve done it enough where it’s like, if I couldn’t do it ever again, I’d live,” Quinn says. “But for people who are right in the middle of it, it’s terrible.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
How he became the ultimate comic’s comic
“The comedians loved me and the audience hated me. And that was the first three years of my career. Comedians are the only reason I stayed in the game. Comedians were so nice to me. I was a nobody and they were regulars at these clubs and they were just like, wow. And the crowd was like, no laughs. Jay Mohr once said that I was a dog whistle and that only comedians could hear me. The worst thing to me is always if you’re pandering to anybody. I personally just don't like in comedy when somebody is trying to win the crowd over with personality or opinion. So maybe the audience came around, maybe I came around, maybe we both came around a little bit, but I wasn't going to go on a charm offensive.”
Why he turned down a chance to perform on Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’
“I never got on Carson or Letterman. I had a shitty attitude. I remember [Carson’s booker] Jim McCauley, he saw me doing a set in LA at the Improv. He goes, ‘Johnny would love your set, just take out the curses and I’ll bring you in to do a Tonight Show.’ This was like 1989 or ‘88. And I said, ‘I don’t do that. I do it the way I do it.’ And he starts laughing and he goes, ‘Yeah, but to be on the show, you can’t curse.’ But I was just in that school of like, ‘Hey man, we don’t do the Tonight Show, fuck that.’ That was just my thing. So that was pretty arrogant. But in the list of my regrets that I’ve made in showbiz, that’s way at the bottom. That’s small potatoes.”
On the time Bill Cosby hit on his girlfriend
“A lot of people loved Bill Cosby’s comedy and I understand why. But it wasn’t my style of comedy. I always felt like he played the good guy and everybody else is the asshole. I don’t like that kind of comedy, where you’re the good guy and everybody else is a dick. One time we did a Carnegie Hall show after 9/11. So I was with my girlfriend at the time who was really beautiful. And Cosby wanted to meet me and he’s upstairs in his own room in Carnegie Hall with a big cigar, by himself. So we come in, he spends 15 minutes talking to me about comedy. He doesn't look at me for more than 10 seconds. He knows what he’s doing, but he still can’t stop. It was really weird. And she was like, ‘I don’t care, but that was a little weird.’”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Comedian and star of the Netflix special ‘Everything’s Fine,’ Sarah Cooper.