Is anyone else getting a little tired of Trump jokes? I was one of the first — in a 2016 cover story for Time — to celebrate the new political humor on late-night TV. I still look forward to Seth Meyers’ pointed “A Closer Look” segments, and Bill Maher, after a couple of months’ absence, is back firing on all cylinders. But Stephen Colbert’s nightly lampooning of the President, from his bright-red ties to his bald-faced lies, has grown so strident and relentless that I find myself turning to Jimmy Kimmel, just for an occasional joke about The Bachelor.
So I was not exactly looking forward to Colin Quinn’s new one-man show, Red State, Blue State (playing through March at the Minetta Lane Theater). And, to be sure, his 80-minute state-of-the-nation monologue is not as fresh or consistently engaging as some of his earlier shows, especially Long Story Short, his 2011 satirical survey of world history. Yet it’s smart and refreshingly above the fray, a nice break from the partisan predictability that is starting to weigh down the genre.
Quinn is no fan of Trump’s — “a totalitarian psychopath,” he calls him at one point, almost as a throwaway — but he’s not here to pile on. His complaints are directed more at the divisions in the country that go way beyond simply Democrat vs. Republican. (Why do we have just two parties, Quinn muses. “You got 15 genders.”) From sea to shining sea, he suggests, the country is a muddle of warring constituencies; by all rights, we should be divided up like Balkanized Eastern Europe, or the city-states of ancient Greece.
His plague-on-both-your houses attitude can get a little glib: “The Republicans got too greedy, the Democrats got too needy.” But he’s a sharp writer, and his aphoristic observations often hit the mark. “People with the most time on their hands and the fastest fingers are setting the agenda,” he laments, neatly summing up the social-media landscape. His closing bit, a survey of all 50 states with a one-line put-down for each, is a smart-alecky tour-de-force. Wyoming: “You peaked in 1870.” New Hampshire: “Just a liquor store for Massachusetts.” Alaska: “We left you alone too long when you were growing up. Now you’re a bit odd.”
If Quinn has a weakness, it’s his gruff, purposeful stage delivery, which can get monotonous over a full evening. Though he occasionally addresses a remark to a member of the audience, he never really engages or reacts to the crowd. On the other hand, it’s a relief these days to hear a political comedian whose zingers elicit laughs, not preaching-to-the-choir applause. That comes, deservedly, at the end.