The Constitution is defined as the fundamental law of the United States. Colin Quinn says it is “what everyone on all sides of an issue hides behind, even though they haven’t read it.”
Quinn — veteran stand-up comic, “Saturday Night Live” alum, Brooklyn-blunt Irish-American, history geek — will have a lot more to say on that topic when he brings his off-Broadway hit “Unconstitutional” to the Guthrie on Monday. The solo show, his third staged for theaters rather than comedy clubs, translates the United States’ most famous misunderstood document into more easily digestible laughs, ripping through a couple of centuries’ worth of political history along the way.
Though Quinn isn’t as high-profile now as when he regularly occupied a “Weekend Update” chair on SNL, he pops up in guest roles (including Hermie on “Girls”) and has wryly embraced social media. On his Twitter feed (@iamcolinquinn) he deliberately gets people all worked up so they hate-follow him (sample tweet: “You are who you associate with. If somebody you’re close to is going through misfortune, get them out of your life! They’re bad luck!”).
Q: What gave you the idea for the show?
A: No matter how they interpret it, everyone thinks the Constitution is this brilliant document, and I didn’t get why. But whatever else it is, it colors our national personality. It’s about personal rights, not liking being told what we should think.
Q: What are your biggest gripes about the national political climate today compared with that of the founding fathers?
A: The big problem with this country now is there’s no room for compromise. Everybody’s scared to give an inch. And political correctness has gotten even worse. If one person out of 300 million Americans gets offended, politicians are ready to apologize.
Q: You have a provocative Twitter persona, but you haven’t posted much lately. Are you getting bored with it?
A: This is the first month I’ve been lax. I’m hoping it’s just tweeters’ block, because I’ve found my true talent late in life is the ability to infuriate people in 140 characters or less.
Q: Who’s your favorite president?
A: They all have weird qualities I’m drawn to. Probably Madison, because he’s the Constitution guy. I always wonder what Hamilton would have been like if he wasn’t killed. In my lifetime, it would be Johnson. Even though he was such a disaster in so many ways, he was a great legislator. So I guess Clinton, even though he did bad things, too. It’s hard to judge them because, take a guy like Nixon. Everyone hated him, but you have to look at the times. This country could have collapsed. He was kind of shady, but comparatively, looking back now, not as bad as he was thought of then.
Q: You’ve appeared on the HBO hit “Girls,” which seems more like a show you might make merciless fun of. Do you like it?
A: I do. I saw Lena Dunham’s movie “Tiny Furniture” and thought, that girl is a genius. She’s coming from some really interesting place.
Q: What’s your take on these East Coast St. Patrick’s Day parades, Boston and New York, not wanting gays to march?
A: I think they just didn’t want the parades to be about sexuality. It’s a very Irish thing. Irish people really don’t believe in sexuality, despite all the children they have. But this could be a great compromise, because what’s a parade without gay people involved? And for that matter, the pageantry of the Catholic Church over all these years.
Q: Tina Fey once called you the “New Yorkiest New Yorker we know.” Could you ever live somewhere else?
A: I always would have said no but sometimes it gets a little crowded. It’s not like the New York where I grew up. It’s a lot nicer, but it doesn’t feel the same. The only people who still have New York accents anymore live in Suffolk County on Long Island, or Florida.
Q: What’s your impression of Minnesotans?
A: It’s best said by a New York friend of mine who moved there after he married a girl from Minnesota. He says Minnesota guys never just stand around talking like we do in New York. They always have to be fixing something, even if it’s not broken. It’s that Scandinavian work ethic. At Thanksgiving you don’t just sit there watching TV, drinking beers. You have to go over to the TV and start tinkering with it. You have to be tinkering at all times.