Colin Quinn on ‘Overstated’: It’s time for America to get divorced — or maybe just hold a new constitutional convention

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Colin Quinn is convinced the United States need to divorce. He’s been arguing this for a while now, but his new book, “Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States,” takes the premise further.

He imagines the country 244 years into its marriage, nearly exhausted by counseling, on the brink of filing the divorce papers. “The only reason we never broke up was because we all lived with the marriage lie. They’ll change. Give it time,” he writes. “Trying to legally and culturally accommodate a country that has a Vermont and a Kansas living by the same rules. It’s pretty amazing that we pulled it off for as long as we did, really.”

The book, which expands on themes he explored in his off-Broadway show “Red State, Blue State” (now on Netflix), is styled as a final assessment. Before filing those divorce papers, he writes, “we have to ask: Is this what we really want? It’s a big decision, so we should look at what we did and how amazing it was and how impossible it was and then if we still say break up, we break up. It’s been done before.”

Last week, we caught up with Quinn to discuss the new book and what it’s like to be a comedian in these fraught times. Here’s what he had to say in that phone interview, edited for clarity and length. As best as we could, anyway; as he concedes, he tends to ramble.

Q: You’ve floated this notion of a national divorce for a while, but this book feels like a last-ditch effort to get people to reconsider. Are you trying to inspire a reconciliation?

A: Yeah, well, it was the latest attempt to not be part of the problem. I see millions and millions of people on social media and leaders or whatever, and nobody really is saying, here’s what we should do for a solution. Nobody thinks that way. Before Trump, it was always platitudes and just bromide and this kind of generalized we’ve-got-to-sit-together, which is not helpful. And then, obviously Trump takes it to another level of unhelpfulness.”

Nobody’s working towards honesty. What I’ve been saying lately is that only stupid people tell the truth in this country right now, which is another problem. Because anybody intelligent goes, I’m not gonna say what I really think, because I’ll get jammed up. So you’re in a society where nobody can even offer any constructive ideas without everybody attacking them. So you never get a solution this way.

Q: So how would you get to a solution?

A: I would have a constitutional convention every year. First of all, the original Constitutional Convention didn’t have media, didn’t have newspapers there for a reason. And now everybody’s the newspaper. So you can’t get stuff done when everybody’s weighing in and criticizing each step of the way. So I would make it a secret thing for, like, a month every year. Let people really get to the root of it and come out with solutions. Even if they fail, we at least have changes we’re going to try that year … whether it be that we should change what the definition of Congress or the Senate is, because right now it’s obviously not working for anybody. So why would you keep doing this the same way?

Q: Wasn’t that why some people said they voted for President Donald Trump? To drain the swamp?

A: But they unfortunately went a little overboard, you know? I actually know people who voted for Trump, but were Bernie supporters. People are trying to upend the system, but you don’t need to upend it like that. Structurally, I don’t blame the politicians. Our system just needs to be changed a little bit, where people can actually do things and function. You know, my friend who used to work for Democratic places back in the ’60s — or his family did — his uncle used to say, one thing about the fact that we’re not corrupt now: You can’t do anything. Nobody can give anyone jobs. Nothing gets done. So he said corruption had its positive side, which is you could function. But now we’re taking checks and balances to this weird place where it’s all checks and balances, and nothing is done. I mean, obviously talking to people from Chicago about this, you’re like, Hey, listen, we still have our system in place —

Q: Yeah, I was going to say —

A: All right, fair enough. But there’s obviously a fine line. You know, where people are, just like, This is the way the system should work, and then nothing gets done vs. what’s practical, which turns into corruption. All our intents are good, but if you have a 300 million people, and none of them are happy, you need to change things up a little bit. That’s all I’m saying. We need a giant committee every year to be doing something, because you know, this is obviously going in a horrible direction.

Q: But who gets to be on the giant committee?

A: People who are dying, because they’ll tell the truth. And maybe a bunch of little kids. Little kids will tell the truth until they’re about 4 years old. Maybe 5.

Q: What’s it like to be a comedian right now? With everyone weighing in and criticizing via social media?

A: It’s funny, because I just did a kind of a thing with a bunch of friends of mine, and, basically, you know, comedians are more on the left. Obviously. A lot more. I asked, “Who’s the worst audience? Woke people or MAGA? And they said, being politic, “both.”

Q: What do you think?

A: I think that they’re both very rigid people. I would say that right now wokeness covers more ground than MAGA does. MAGA, they have a heart attack when you’re talking about Trump, but otherwise, they might be a little more loose. But whoever thought censorship would even come from the left? I don’t let anybody off the hook, because they’re both bad in the sense that laughter is the goal.

Q: You’ve managed to remain about as centrist as anyone can these days.

A: I can honestly say that 80% of what both parties believe makes me sick. I feel like both parties are living a lie. They have one thing in common, which is they’re so rigid and so fanatic. They’re like zealots. Unless you go down the line completely with each party, they consider you suspect. It’s such a stupid way to live. There’s no room for contradiction. This is ridiculous. So I can’t say either party I have any respect for. I don’t. I wouldn’t even vote right now.

Q: You wouldn’t even vote right now?

A: Well, maybe I would.

Q: In November, in the presidential election, you won’t vote?

A: Yeah, I’ll have to vote.

Q: Is the Republican Party still the Republican Party or the party of Trump?

A: They’ve let it become the party of Trump, the cult of personality. They’ve let him. They’ve ignored his madness — but this is what I’m saying about the system. Let’s take the Republican Party — perfect example. You have these people who believe certain things. It’s really the ultimate democracy. But there was a reason we had representative democracy. So the representatives now let Trump do whatever he wants — not because they’re afraid of Trump personally, but maybe a little bit — but it’s because they’re afraid of their people, who’ve become bewitched by Trump. And I would say the same for the Democratic Party. Nobody can tell me the Democrats aren’t completely standing there ignoring cities getting burned for 100 days and going, Oh, it’s just people letting off a little steam. That’s not at the same level, maybe, but it’s close enough to me where they’re giving Trump a fighting chance just by not going, Hey, this is no way to protest. We’re stopping this now.

Q: How does the novel coronavirus figure in here? You mention it briefly in your book, but I’m assuming it was mostly written in the before times?

A: Well, it was kind of annoying, because it was like, I have to change my whole outlook. The other thing that’s shocking is that we’re still fighting the same way as before corona. People are saying masks are a conspiracy. And I go, but what is it, worldwide? To affect our election? This doesn’t make sense. People are going nuts. It is obviously one of those great equalizers in the sense that it makes you realize how little we all know. And I guess maybe it’s a good indicator of where we’re at, that there’s no peace-making. I feel like during the plague, they were probably like, Hey listen, let’s just relax for a minute, we’re all in this together, but we can’t even do that.

Q: You filmed an HBO Max special that involved performing at a socially distant event at a drive-in theater. What was it like to perform that way?

A: It was fine for that night, because it was in the mood. Like, we do something different, short sets. But if I did an hour, I can’t imagine people wouldn’t at some point just go, You know what? I’m leaving, and just start driving away. It’s definitely not the new comedy, because the whole thing with stand-up comedy, for better, worse or whatever, is that there’s tension in the room. There’s the collaborative effort where people are laughing or when they go, no, we don’t find that funny or we really don’t like that or whatever. So I could easily see myself being one of the victims when there’s no audience of just rambling away and pontificating and then you’re like, Oh, no, I became the guy who’s not being funny.

Q: People honk and flash their lights, but could you read the room — so to speak — from that?

A: No, not at all. And then a couple of times, people honked after one of my jokes, and I was so mad because I thought it was a sarcastic comment.


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