“Yeah, I guess it all comes down to your mom,” says comic Colin Quinn, when asked about his connection to Woodstock and how the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) scored him as its benefit headliner. Quinn’s aunt, Grace Murphy (his mom’s sister), is the vice president of the WLC Board of Directors, and so he’ll appear here to help raise funds for the non-profit organization. When asked if he’s working up new material on the environment and land trusts for the show, Quinn says, “I have some anti-environment material. You can’t be pro-anything; that’s not funny.”
Quinn’s connection to Woodstock goes back to childhood. “When I was a kid, I went to Woodstock Elementary School for six months, and I almost went to Onteora Junior High School, but we moved back to Brooklyn,” he says. “My favorite thing to do was to go to the Millstream and watch the nude skinny-dippers.”
Quinn is best-known as former writer and Weekend Anchor on Saturday Night Live and as host of Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. He comes to Woodstock just after the curtains closed on his recent sold-out show, The New York Story, directed by Jerry Seinfeld. His one-man show, Long Story Short, was adapted into an Emmy-nominated HBO special, and he recently played Amy Schumer’s dad in her film debut, Trainwreck.
The son of two teachers, Quinn delivers an acerbically funny take on life as viewed through the lens of a lively, intelligent mind. He has published his own book, The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America (Grand Central/Hachette, 2015). “It’s me, rambling away, and it’s not an unmitigated failure,” he concedes, adding, “It’s hard, too hard, to write a book. I’ll never write another one. People say standup is hard, but comedy is easy. Writing a book is brutal.”
The apparently effortless grace of Quinn’s improvisational comedy requires, he admits, “relentless rehearsing. You can only improvise after that. It’s serious stuff. The least funny thing about the world today is that we’re still dumb, as a society – emotionally, intellectually. Yeah, we have social media and technology, but everything else stays the same. I’m just like everybody else, asking ‘What is wrong?’ and nobody has answers; that’s the saddest part. That’s the way I differentiate people,” he says. “The ones who think they have the answers, they’re the real idiots. The others? They’re only half-idiots.”
What does he wish that he’d known when he was in his 20s, just starting out in his career? “I wish I’d know how power really works. I had no idea… You could say, ‘I’m not going to that stupid party, it’s immaterial. It will have no effect either way. It’s not as important as the work I do.’ But who you know, showing up, having people see you at something…that’s my lesson to kids. When you’re around somebody, [the person in power] is going to give to you. They think, ‘I know I have to see them, and the other person? The one I don’t see? I don’t have to give to them.’”
So, show up. See and be seen. It matters and it makes a difference. And it definitely matters to the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Maxanne Resnick, recently appointed executive director, says that the WLC “runs pretty lean. We operate virtually, don’t have an office and our budget includes salaries for just two staff people. We accomplish what we do by sheer determination and have a ton of ambition.”
The non-profit formed in 1987 to rally hundreds of local citizens to save Woodstock’s beloved 22-acre Zena Cornfield: today, through purchases, donations and easements, it is the steward of more than 1,000 acres, including the Comeau Property, Thorn Preserve (owned by the Catskill Center for Conservation), the Sloan Gorge Preserve and numerous parcels throughout the Woodstock area.
Colin Quinn: An Evening of Standup Comedy Benefiting Woodstock Land Conservancy, Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m., $15/$45/$75, Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock; (845) 679-6900, www.woodstockplayhouse.org.