Tuesday, Nov. 09, 2010

Long Story Short

Written by Colin Quinn

Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre

Acting on Broadway is easy. Stand-up comedy is hard. A few comics, like Jackie Mason and Rob Becker (Defending the Caveman), have had some success with it, but in general the stand-up comedian's art — which depends on intimacy, informality and at least the illusion of spontaneity — does not make an easy transition to the Broadway stage. But Colin Quinn has nailed it. The journeyman comic (once a middling anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live and host of his own show, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, on Comedy Central) frames the show as a 75-minute jaunt through history, from ancient Greece and Rome, through the rise of Islam and the colonization of Africa, all the way to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which he restages, ingeniously, as a New York City bar fight. The joke strategy is familiar — the clash of civilizations as filtered through the sensibility of an Irish street kid — but Quinn's observations are sharp, and his delivery so polished that even his frequent digressions (on Chinese waiters, say, or pedophile priests) don't spoil the flow. Directed by his pal Jerry Seinfeld, Long Story Short has no production values to speak of (though a Google-maps-style geographical slide show provides a nice visual accent) and doesn't exactly prove that stand-up comedy belongs on Broadway. But until something better comes along, it's state-of-the-art.