Colin Quinn: The New York Story is a one-man show. It is less a play, and more of a stand-up routine. It is a satirical monologue, written by Quinn himself, on the cultural and social eccentricities that make New Yorkers exactly who they are. In the process, he reveals some uncomfortable truths about living in New York, which New Yorkers themselves agree with, proudly or shamefully. Quinn, who is from Park Slope, Brooklyn, analyzes and critiques the different people and cultures that came from their respective countries to settle here, and suggests that they all contribute something to the “New York” attitude.
The Dutch brought abruptness and foul mouths, the British brought the snobby demeanor, the Italians brought the deeply-opinionated nature, the Germans brought “good deli meat” and “rude-polite” attitude and so on. As the show concludes, he declares the quintessential New York personality “dead,” which he blames on technology and political correctness.
Since the play comments on the many ethnicities of New York coming together to form one signature attitude, its comedic essence rests on stereotypical ethnic jokes. Talking about the Irish, he refers to their community as “a parish, some Irish people and a bar.” Discussing the Jews, he points out that “most of them have not recovered from the boat trip here.” His jokes elicited two types of reactions from the audience: either uproarious laughter or a gasp. Quinn’s irreverent, off-color humor is an acquired taste. It could possibly offend more sensitive audiences.
Nowadays, ethnic jokes have received bad raps, with reason. Not only are they old-fashioned but, the past 12 months have made everybody more sensitive to the already-touchy topic of race. The point Colin Quinn tries to make is that New York is inherently and collectively a multicultural community, regardless of the neighborhood. The bland, colorless personality we have adopted is how we deal with race. We respect it by pretending it does not exist at all.
Quinn’s use of off-color humor to prove his point is bit complicated. Colorblindness to race does not help anyone, though it is completely possible to appreciate different races and ethnicities without resorting to racial stereotypes and mocking them. But if Quinn had done it any differently, it may have not been as popular a show.