The US Constitution is a political football that is being kicked and tossed around in an increasingly partisan environment. Comedian Colin Quinn isn’t surprised by that. Not after delving into its history for his new show, “Colin Quinn: Unconstitutional,” which he brings to the Paramount Center Mainstage Nov. 19. He believes the Constitution is the blueprint not only for the American system of government but also for the current fractious state of political discourse. Quinn has made history his muse as of late. His previous one-man show, “Long Story Short,” looked at human nature through world history. We spoke with Quinn by phone about the Constitution, American politics, and the task of anchoring “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live.”
Q. How do you make the Constitution funny?
A. Here’s what it is — I feel like I understand the psychology of us, as people, Americans. And I believe it’s the Constitution that made us these people. The reason people in the world loved us and the reason the Constitution is brilliant is because it’s saying, “Nobody’s better than you, you’re equal to the president.” Which was the most radical thing at the time it came out. There’s no royalty that’s better than you, nobody’s better. You matter, everybody matters. The same. You’re [expletive] special. You’re unique, you’re you, you’re an individual. The only problem with that is, when you’re a collective that’s trying to be individuals, a collective of individuals is a very tough thing to pull off.
So you’ll see, even with the whole Ted Cruz, Tea Party shutdown of the government, right? On the one hand, it’s like, who are these guys? Who are these [expletive] idiots that they’re going to shut down the government. But it’s like, no, no, that’s how it’s set up, that everybody matters. And they get to shut down the [expletive] government. And anybody can do that. You know? That’s our system.
Q. You do say, “I don’t even agree 100 percent with what I agree with right now” at one point in the show. Do you think most people are like that?
A. No, I think most people are now becoming so hyper-partisan it’s getting insane. Anybody I talk to goes down the line and agrees with 100 percent of what their party [says]. It’s just really weird. It’s like, nobody picks and chooses anymore. It’s like, no, I go down the line with my party, I agree with them on this, this, this. And I go, really? I don’t [expletive] agree 100 percent with what I’m saying right now. It’s gotten so monochromatic. Just uniform. That’s why I feel zombie shows are so popular. Because everybody’s become a [expletive] zombie.
Q. Do you get grief for criticizing the Constitution?
A. No, I get grief for being positive about the country. People think I’m trying too hard. Everybody loves the show who sees it. They see what it is. I’m not really criticizing it. Basically what I’m saying with the show is we had a good run. We put on a [expletive] great show for the world. And you know, sometimes you’ve got to walk away from each other. I feel like it’s basically divorce court for the red and blue states. I think we need a trial separation, and possibly a divorce.
Q. Do you think we rely too much on wondering what the Founding Fathers would think or do about any given problem?
A. Yes. I think what we have to realize is the Founding Fathers were brilliant and we’re not. What I’d like to say to both parties is, what I’ve seen both of you do in the past 50 years is prove we don’t have any answers. None of us do. Because if somebody had the answer to some of these problems, we’d all know about it. And nobody does. So let’s just get a little humility and go, OK, we don’t have [expletive] answers.
Q. How much responsibility do you think you have to offer a solution if you’re criticizing a problem as a comedian?
A. I think if you don’t offer a solution, you should at least say, you should at least imply, I’m a dumb [expletive] who’s just criticizing this with no solution. I think at least you have the responsibility to not be holier than thou about it. At least to be, I’m as corrupt as anybody else, or I’m as stupid as everybody else, and I don’t have a solution, either. If you say that, that’s fine. But you can’t just be like, “This government . . .” People say it all the time now. “This education system in this country . . .” Shut up! “The sexism in America
. . .’’ As opposed to what? The Sudan? India? People get into throwing out these statements, like, “America is a violent country.” And you know what? Somalia has a few anger issues, too. People indict America as if, wow, you’re really taking a chance in the one place where you can say whatever you want and nobody gives a [expletive]. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying don’t act like it’s this oppressive regime. Everybody criticizes America. Criticizing America is hack! It’s a hack [expletive] move.
Q. Even if it’s true?
‘[W]hat I’m saying with the show is we had a good run. We put on a [expletive] great show for the world. And . . . it’s basically divorce court for the red and blue states.’
A. No. If it’s really well-played. Look, in my Constitution show, I criticize America, as far as what I believe the Constitution made us, which was, the great part is that it made us individuals that are each equal. And what it also made us was selfish, and every person’s out for themselves. You know what I mean? They’re like, “Go get yours.” That’s the downside. We all get that right, which is a beautiful theory, but at the same time, that kills the collective.
Q. “Weekend Update” is changing again. Do you have any thoughts on Seth Meyers leaving?
A. Yeah, he’s going to do his own show. He’s great. And he was also the head writer the whole time. That’s pretty amazing. Him and Tina [Fey] both did that. They did head writer and “Update,” which is a hell of a lot more than I ever did. (Quinn anchored from 1998-2000.) They must have been working around the clock.Interview has been edited and condensed. Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nick