Friday, November 19, 2010

THEATER: Long Story Short

Long Story Short is, to make a long story short, an awful show. In a year of theater filled with killer comic monologues, Colin Quinn is overwhelmingly underwhelming. This isn't a total surprise, given his paleolithic humor, but it is a disappointment: he makes his director, Jerry Seinfeld, look bad, too. Perhaps Quinn paces around so much because he fears a cane from the wings; perhaps he climbs David Gallo's pointless Aztec-temple-like steps in contemplation of human sacrifice. Take these insults with a pinch of salt (or perhaps a handful; sodium poisoning might be more enjoyable): stand-up acts are notoriously subjective, and there were plenty of people in the theater laughing.

Then again, what they were laughing at was, essentially, a History 101-Cliff Notes-Wikipedia mash-up, dry, broad, semi-facts that have been repurposed by Quinn as further proof of how we're all assholes. The resulting "jokes" are little more than crude exaggerations, tossed out like live grenades (though they're pretty much all duds) and quickly moved on from. Cheap and thoughtless, these jokes are rarely more than one level deep: when Quinn bemoans the difference between Greek tragedies and MTV tragedies, that observation ends up being the joke. (Well, OK, he name-drops Snooki, but she's her own punchline.) With some elbow grease (read: wit) and Robin Williams-like speed, he might get away with that; instead, we get a "quip" like "I know now that I know nothing . . . kind of a dick move" and then a pause for applause.

Nor does Quinn manage to keep on his own topic: there are dozens of long, unconnected, and unfunny digressions like the one about how well he knows the "white teacher teaches unteachable black students and learns something himself" movie formula. At least when he ties this derivative shtick to his equal-opportunity bashing of world cultures (minus Japan, though perhaps he thinks that's the same as China), he and his accents don't seem as racist and uninformed. Yes, there were plenty of people in the theater laughing, but they were laughing at cheap jokes about Arabs (who always sound gruff with their friends and pleasant with their enemies), stereotypical jokes about South American drug culture (which is apparently what happened to the Mayans), and contempt--hardly even jokes--for England (with its fixation on neighboring France).

At the end of the evening, Quinn turns back to America and its prick-based culture. But in all honesty, that's where the show spends all eighty-five minutes, showing us our out-sized ego, brash and belittling behavior, and politically naive sensibilities. And in the middle of New York City, the heart of tourist-friendly melting-pot Broadway, you hardly need to pay good money to see that in a theater.

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