Historical mockery has become something of a running theme for “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Colin Quinn. In 2010, he premiered his Off Broadway examination of world history, “Long Story Short.” Now, Quinn is back with a new historically minded hour of entertainment in “Unconstitutional,” playing now at New York City’s Barrow Street Theater.
In just over an hour, Quinn’s “Unconstitutional” takes the audience on an irreverent journey through the entire United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Sure, the Constitution might not sound like a particularly hilarious topic, but it’s much more than a history lesson with Quinn.
So why focus this special on the Constitution?
“It’s the one thing that we’re all experts about, which is amazing because none of us have read it,” Quinn explains at the start of the show.
Thankfully for everyone involved, the show is just as much about modern America as it is about the country’s founding. Yes, Quinn throws in jokes about Cyrus Griffin and the Articles of Confederation, but there’s still plenty of commentary on the Kardashians and Maury Povich to keep the show accessible.
Throughout “Unconstitutional,” one metaphor keeps recurring: The Constitution was conceived as a result of a months-long drinking binge -- “scrawled on the back of a napkin,” Quinn says -- and American history is all too much like a blurry night out at the bar.
It’s a metaphor that works equally well for “Unconstitutional” itself. At his best moments in the show, Quinn’s performance becomes less of a polished theatrical monolog and more of a brilliant, spontaneous drunken rant. Quinn has all the enthusiasm and candor of an impassioned barfly, but much more wit and composure than most could hope for.
Quinn has other comedic weapons aside from his earnestness, however. Other times in “Unconstitutional,” Quinn dissects popular language in a style reminiscent of George Carlin’s best moments. According to Quinn, a politician can get away with just about anything as long as he throws around seemingly meaningless buzzwords like “sustainability,” “transparency” and “accountability.”
For a show about America’s political history, Quinn wisely veers away from any explicitly partisan jokes. In fact, one of the biggest themes of the show is that America has become too embroiled in political extremism. Moderates used to be the norm, he says, but now Americans don’t trust anyone willing to compromise.
As for Quinn’s own political ideologies, he describes himself as somewhat of a mutt. Quinn confesses that he is pro–gun ownership, pro–gay marriage, pro–death penalty and pro-abortion. The common theme linking them all together?
“I’m anti-overcrowding,” he says.
Though “Unconstitutional” isn’t perfect -- it starts off a bit slow, and sometimes Quinn’s darker jokes don’t land well -- it’s a highly entertaining and well-thought out show. Quinn is frequently hilarious and always amusing.