NEW YORK — There aren't that many jokes in the U.S. Constitution and it's never really been a big generator of belly laughs. Unless, that is, you are Colin Quinn.
The Brooklyn-born Irish-American comedian kicks off his new one-man off-Broadway show by wondering why that document is so darn fascinating.
"I'll tell you why. Because it's the one thing that we're all experts about, which is amazing and impressive because none of us have read it," he says. "It's four pages long. That's kind of a hassle."
A little over an hour later, Quinn has taken us through the different articles and amendments. He comes to this conclusion: Our divided nation needs a new Constitutional Convention.
"We set it up so it wouldn't work. But I don't think it's supposed to not work this way," he says.
Finding laughs in history has become something of Quinn's niche of late. His new show – "Colin Quinn Unconstitutional," which opens Thursday at The Barrow Street Theatre – comes three years after he traced the rise of civilization from the ancient Greeks and Romans to modern India, Africa and Europe in his Broadway show called "Long Story Short," which pal Jerry Seinfeld directed.
The way it succeeds is because Quinn sprinkles modern-day analogies to make the past come alive. Take how he explains the way the Framers mistrusted power. "The nicest people here don't like it when authority confronts you," Quinn says in the show. "Look at Reese Witherspoon."
Over guacamole and diet soda, Quinn explained that he's been working on the show for a year after becoming a new convert to how interesting the Constitution can be.
"I always hated it because it was boring to me," said the former host of MTV's late-1980s game show "Remote Control" and the guy who played morose Lenny the Lion on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "Once I got into it, I was like, `Oh, I get it now.'"
To learn more about his subject, Quinn read a lot about U.S. history. He endorses "A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution" by Carol Berkin. "It was like reading an action novel," he says.
He imagines that the Founders at the first Constitutional Convention in 1787 spent a lot of time drinking – it was a convention, after all – and that boozing left its mark on what emerged as the Constitution.
"We're very friendly, we're very open, but we can be a little pushy sometimes. We're a little flirtatious – `give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses' – and we're not good with money," he says. "All the characteristics that drunk people have is part of who we are." (It should be noted that Quinn has some expertise here: He is a former bartender.)
Modern targets that Quinn has woven into the new show include Rachael Ray, Bruce Springsteen and the Kardashians. Quinn moves around the stage with an air of bemused, blue-collar exasperation under the direction of Rebecca A. Trent.
He quickly notes that the preamble to the Constitution declares Americans are seeking a "more perfect" union. "Not just perfect, more perfect. That's an American personality right there. That's where plastic surgery comes from."
Quinn also isn't afraid to go into uncomfortable places, such as defending gun owners to a liberal crowd in New York or wondering why no one makes fun of President Barack Obama.
"This political correctness is so annoying to me. It's always bugged me. Any comedian worth his salt is going to be bugged by it. It's censorship," he says. "It's social censorship."
As for his own politics, Quinn describes himself as ideologically all over the map – pro-gun, pro-abortion rights, pro-death penalty and pro-gay marriage.
"I'm anti-overcrowding," he cracks.
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