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'Colin Quinn: Small Talk' review — fast-paced comedy show is all talk, little substance

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

A collection of blackboards, some covered with artwork and others with words like “persona,” is a clue that school is in session. The teacher turns out to be the class clown.

That instructor is standup comedian Colin Quinn. His presentation is Small Talk, a fun, brief, and minor addition to his roster of compact observational monologues.

The ex-Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor’s past solo stage pieces have covered global studies in Long Story Short, our polarized nation in Red State Blue State, and NYC in The New York Story.

Directed by James Fauvell, this new show at the recently refurbished Lucille Lortel Theatre concerns the lost art of the gift of gab – whether to clerks, colleagues, spouses, you name it. Along with that, the concept of a chatty, charismatic personality has gone out the window, per Quinn. “Between phones, AirPods and self-checkout,” he says, “small talk is down 87%.”

The show has been packaged as a guide to being personable. But that’s just spin. The 70-minute work is essentially an amusing but shapeless survey of what’s bugging the writer and star. There are so many things.

Quinn doesn’t exactly connect the dots between talking points. Ideas just rise up fleetingly and then recede, Whac-a-Mole-style. He starts by talking about the weather. It’s small-talk 101 that should be a no-brainer, but people still mess up.

He later touches on the significance of people’s last words, mansplaining, Karens (“Everyone is a Karen,” he says), and suggests establishing a Rotten Tomatoes-style personality profiles for everybody.

He pokes fun at the slippery notion of being one’s authentic self. According to Quinn, the only surefire tool to know someone else’s true self is their browser history. At this point in the show you could almost see thought balloons – “You got me!” – over theatregoers’ heads.

Quinn’s a smart guy. Between his intelligence and gruff, everyguy delivery, the fast-moving evening goes down easy. It’s so all over the place, however, that it lands with no real impact and fails to build. The show lives up to its title.

He posits that human resources departments have become personality police, warning “Don’t bring your real personality in here.” The way he sees it, “five years from now there will be no more Law & Order, no more CSI, every cop show is going to be HR.”

“There are two separate but very important groups in every office,” he cracked. “The sexist pigs and those who are assigned to stop them. These are their stories.”

It’s a funny line, but exactly how that relates to small talk is anybody’s guess. The same goes for a rapid-fire section that goes from gun control to immigration to global warming, and a vision of the not-so-distant future where viral video idiots are star material for awards shows: “The award for craziest guy to get dragged off a plane last year” … “Most toxic Little League parent” … “Most psychotic Waffle House.”

These days, small talk manifests as social media posts, according to Quinn. There are people who have to weigh in on everything. “Ten percent of people are opinion addicts, and they’ve got to give their opinion all the time,” cracks Quinn.

“You’ll know who they are,” he added. “If the internet ever goes down, they’ll be like any other addict in front of the 7-Eleven trying to give their opinion.”

Another place to look for them: on stage.

Colin Quinn: Small Talk is at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through February 11. Get Colin Quinn: Small Talk tickets at New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Colin Quinn in Small Talk. (Photo by Monique Carboni)

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