Colin Quinn’s Toughest Crowd: Comedy Central.

by Dave on October 7, 2004

in Politics,Television

Colin Quinn gets a bad rap. (Update: more than a decade after I wrote this he’s become a best-selling author and has also conquered Netflix, Broadway and dominated every roast he’s ever been asked to participate in. He doesn’t need my misguided sympathy anymore.) So I’m going to tell you why I’m a big Quinn supporter, and an enormous fan of his Comedy Central show – “Tough Crowd” – which I was recently horrified to hear is in grave danger of being canceled.


A friend of mine, Troy, grew up with Quinn’s younger brother, Mike, in NYC. And I have it on very good authority that Colin is beyond a great guy. I love the fact that he messes up his lines. I love the fact that he mumbles and constantly self-depreciates. He’s a tough, salty, stand-up comedian who’s been walking the boards with uncomfortably sized balls since he was a teenager. And he truly cares about and intuitively understands the state of the planet today.

A lot of people don’t “get” him. But I find his uncomfortable, choppy, blue-collar style to be unique and honest – and have since I first saw him on MTV’s Remote Control in 1988. I had a comedy special he did for MTV, “Colin Quinn Goes Back to Brooklyn” on VHS and watched it for years. I wish I still had it. Anyway, my point is – me and Colin go way back. (Update: Some absolute saint of a human being has uncovered and uploaded B2B since I first wrote this post 11 years ago):

“Then use the fish as a reward!”

Tough Crowd is, in no uncertain terms, a brilliant show which we desperately need. That show used to be Jon Stewart’s Daily Show before it turned into the “Jon-Stewart-shows-a-clip-of-a-politician-he-doesn’t-agree-with-and-smirks-pompously-for-a-laugh” show. The Daily Show in the era of Steve Carell was one of the most consistently funny things on TV. But it’s become little more than a mildly disguised partisan send-up and I just can’t watch it anymore. I don’t refuse to indignantly – I simply can’t.

I would have also stopped watching the Daily Show if it had swung exclusively to the right instead. If I wanted to remain unchallenged, and have my opinion spoon-fed to me like pablum, I’d watch The O’Reilly factor while snorting Xanax or read nothing but the New York Times. Partisan comedy is not dangerous. It’s not challenging. And it’s most certainly not funny.

Enter Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Comedy Central every weeknight at 11:30 p.m. – or at least it will be for a few more weeks. The format is as follows: Four little-to-fairly well known celebrities, usually enviable veteran stand-ups who’ve been on the circuit for years and are extremely quick on their feet, sit facing each other while Quinn poses questions dealing with current events to which they then hash/lash out. It’s unscripted, save for the occasional skit-like segment, it’s brash, offensive to those who choose it to be, envelope-pushing, no-holds-barred and hilarious.

No one is safe, and no punches are pulled. The guests are from all walks of life – blacks, whites, hispanics, gays, liberals, conservatives etc. – and it can get pretty vicious. In one episode I sincerely thought Dennis Leary was going to punch Greg Giraldo in the face. In another Judy Gold (a Liberal/Jewish/Lesbian) took on Patrice O’Neal (a Black/(arguably) Conservative/Bostonite) in a battle over whose people have been more oppressed over the years. They hit hard, and they’re honest, and they’re always funny.

The Infamous Giraldo vs. Leary Encounter

There’s always an underlying respect among the guests – perhaps because many of them know each other from slugging it out on the brutal national comedy circuit for years – which makes this entire exercise possible and productive. There’s never any political correctness or sugar-coating, and everyone always walks away friends. It’s a bit tough to describe, and I suppose the main point of this article is to get you, dear reader, to watch the show and form your own opinion. (Update: the show has been off-air for a decade but luckily there’s a wealth of archival footage. The interwebnets are a beautiful thing.)

I read that the reason Comedy Central wants to cancel Tough Crowd is because it doesn’t retain enough of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show audience which precedes it at 11 p.m. To me that is tragic. To me that’s akin to canceling a Dylan show because everyone is going to leave after the opening act, N’Sync. I’m not criticizing Stewart’s lefty audience. I am criticizing those members of his audience that are sitting in their high chair waiting for Mom to open that next jar of Gerber‘s, skewing the demographics. And I am vehemently criticizing Comedy Central for catering to them.

Tough Crowd is like watching your friends, who all love and respect each other, argue in a bar on a Friday night. They speak their mind, they challenge each other’s opinions, and they all leave friends. Debate is healthy and we all need it in our lives. I cherish Tough Crowd, but it looks like the curtain is falling. Kudos to Colin – I’ll be watching wherever you end up.

{ 2 trackbacks }

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