Colin Quinn may have too much talent for his own good.
Longtime friend Jerry Seinfeld said as much in a recent interview promoting Quinn's very smart, very funny solo show "Long Story Short" -- a perceptive, clever dissection of human history and human nature -- that opened Wednesday at the Broadway Playhouse following a successful Broadway run.
"Colin Quinn: Long Story Short"9733; 9733; 9733; ½
Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 7 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 10
Running time: About 80 minutes, no intermission
Parking: $11 with validation from the theater at the Water Tower Place parking garage
Rating: For adults, contains adult language and subject matter
In response, a Chicago radio host suggested during an interview with Quinn this week that Hollywood doesn't seem to know what to do with the comedian.
Fortunately, Broadway knew exactly what to do: put him onstage. It's a primo showcase for the literate satirist, who celebrates the best and worst of us in his everyman's guide to world history and geopolitical conflict.
Seinfeld directs the well-structured show which moves swiftly (sometimes too swiftly) and reflects standup comedian Quinn's ability to set up a joke and shape a monologue.
Quinn suggests that neither our nature nor our behavior changes much. Every great civilization overreacts, overindulges, overextends -- and ultimately falls. Except for the U.S., which hasn't yet succumbed (and won't as long as advertisements tout ways to lose 5 pounds instead of where to find food). Instead our nation has become "the food court of the fallen empires." Quinn's conclusions aren't revelatory, but the bits are so funny it doesn't matter.
Peppering the show with references to everything from Plato and Siddhartha, to Death Row Records, The Monroe Doctrine and Shakespeare's "Henry V," Quinn begins by recasting Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest to survival of the selfish, who endured because they made sure they got fed first.
He goes on to describe history as a constant struggle between smart guys and tough guys -- beginning with the Greeks, who gave us art and philosophy and encouraged self-examination. They were replaced by the Romans, builders and enforcers whom Quinn lampoons with a brilliant "Goodfellas"-inspired bit (complete with Ray Liotta's intonation) painting Caesar as the original mob boss.
Throughout the gravelly voiced, Brooklyn-born performer sends up race and religion as well as political systems, all of which he considers flawed. That includes democracy, which offers a choice between two leaders, but isn't that big an improvement over fascism, which offers a choice of only one.
He attributes England's one-time control over one-quarter of the world's population to the empire's effective use of contempt to conquer insecure enemies. He casts France as a cigarette-smoking seductress who strings England along then gets in bed with Italy. South American societies (Mayans, Aztecs and Incas), meanwhile, succumb to the lure of drugs.
Especially devastating, Quinn says, is cocaine, which "gives you the best ideas and the worst ideas." Case in point, the Incas, who came up with astronomy and mathematics as well as cannibalism and human sacrifice.
Quinn compares the Arabs' obsession with Israel to a guy who can't get over his former girlfriend, and he sees the Great Wall as proof that the workaholic Chinese don't know when to stop.
Then there's Africa, ignored by the West until the 19th century when "Europe starts to look at Africa like a friend's little sister who grew up and got hot."
An equal opportunity satirist, Quinn roots much of the show's politically incorrect humor in stereotypes. Frankly, he makes it funny with his put-on accents and exaggerated physicality. But while the satire is pointed, there's no real animus behind it.
But there is truth. Together it adds up to a really great time.