The U.S. according to comedian Colin Quinn


Ask Colin Quinn about the country’s current state of affairs, and he won’t hesitate to give you an answer.

Quinn’s eager to encapsulate what he calls “the downfall of the United States,” providing much-needed reflection, both lighthearted and thoughtful, on where things could be headed.

“When I did ‘Unconstitutional,’ ” Quinn says of his 2013 one-man show, “I’d say that this country is breaking up and you would hear the audience gasp as if to say that I shouldn’t say that. Today, when I say it’s breaking up, I get a reaction like, ‘Yep, so what? Tell us something we don’t know.’ It shows how the world has changed in the past five years.”

An astute observer of current affairs and an ardent student of history, Quinn has made a career of holding a mirror to the evolution of the nation, society and cultural norms. The Brooklyn native did shoot to national prominence anchoring “Saturday Night Live’s” legendary Weekend Update news segment in the late ’90s, after all, just as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal rocked the country. In the years since, he’s fostered an eclectic career that included hosting the round-table Comedy Central series “Tough Crowd” and plum acting roles in movies like “Trainwreck” and television series like “Girls.”

In addition, he’s thrown out the norms of a traditional stand-up career by writing and starring in an acclaimed series of one-man shows, the most recent being the Jerry Seinfeld-directed “New York Story,” which had a successful Broadway run before finding a larger audience on Netflix.

“Comedy becomes limiting. Jokes are great and funny, but I wanted to push it to see where it goes,” says Quinn. “I wanted to explore it before I go off this planet. It’s that combination of wanting to communicate while being funny and at the same time questioning what’s going on in this world.”

Each show has been based around a certain topic, which Quinn pulls apart bit by bit.

“My first show was about the history of the world (‘Long Story Short’), my second show was the history of the country (‘Unconstitutional’) and my third show was the history of New York (‘New York Story’). My latest hour was the hardest to write because I’m trying not to repeat stuff.”

It’s that new hour of material that Quinn is bringing to Harrah’s Resort Southern California on Friday (with Norm Macdonald) and touches on Quinn’s aforementioned thoughts about our current state of affairs.

“Everybody agrees the breakup of the United States is happening, so there’s no point in pretending it’s not a thing,” he says. “In the show, I talk about our founding fathers and our government. I say, how would you have done it if you were in charge of a country? Everybody’s an expert on what’s wrong, but nobody ever has an idea of what to do about it. I have my own solutions.”

Quinn’s latest hour comes during a transitional phase in not only America (or his own life after suffering a heart attack in February) but comedy at large, with the art form shedding some of its biggest stars in recent years due to both controversy and the changing tastes of an increasingly politically correct culture.

“There’s supposedly this whole movement of consciousness and over-analyzation of comedy that’s taking place,” Quinn says, pointing out that the current growing pains of the perceptions of humor are nothing new. “It’s maybe closer to 12 or 14 years old. I remember in the ’90s some comedian friends of mine were saying college students were writing letters based on their jokes saying they were offensive. Maybe it’s become more pronounced now, but it’s been happening for a while.”

Since humor has evolved from the buttoned-up ’50s to the anything-goes nature of later decades and is now buttoning up again, could it all be chalked up to being cyclical?

“Everyone says that, but it still morphs into something else,” he muses. “I understand why people get annoyed by certain comedy. I get annoyed by certain comedy too. But the whole principle is, who’s to determine what’s funny? I don’t know where comedy goes from here.”

Norm Macdonald and Colin Quinn

When: 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31

Where: The Events Center, Harrah’s Resort Southern California, 777 S. Resort Drive, Valley Center.

Tickets: $38-$187 (18 and up only)

Phone: (800) 653-8000