December 1, 2010

Long Story Short Serves Up Quick Laughs

In the spirit of the show-at-hand’s title and its concise running time, I’m going to try to keep this relatively short.  I didn’t expect to have a good time at Long Story Short, the one-man show currently playing at The Helen Hayes Theatre after a successful off-Broadway run last summer. It’s written and performed by Colin Quinn, who is probably most famous for having appeared on five seasons of the sketch comedy TV show “Saturday Night Live.” 

I’ve never seen a complete episode of “SNL.” Stand-up comedy may be my second least favorite form of entertainment (ice hockey is probably the first) and a stand-up routine is basically what this show is. For Quinn just stands alone on stage for 75 minutes and riffs on the rise and decline of empires over the past 3,000 or so years. And yet, he had me about five minutes into the show.

It wasn’t his opening bit about how all humanity is descendant from the pricks who grabbed everything for themselves, dooming the survival of the less fit. It was the supporting anecdote about visiting his sick aunt in the hospital and his family’s battle for the visitors’ chairs that had to be shared with the family of the patient in the other bed. I’ve been there and done that. It was funny and true.  And so is the rest of this show. 

Quinn’s musing about history aren’t all that original but they’re smart, amusing and surprisingly mild-mannered. People—whole races of them—get put down in Quinn’s jokes (laughing at someone’s foibles is what humor is all about) but he puts them down gently. The show is directed by his buddy Jerry Seinfeld (who modestly identifies himself in the Playbill as “a comedian who resides in New York City with his wife and three children”) and it shares the genial misanthropy that made the old “Seinfeld” sitcom such a big hit.

One can imagine the good time Quinn and Seinfeld had putting this show together, although Seinfeld's later gratuitous remarks about Broadway on the Letterman Show aren’t likely to win him any friends come Tony time.  “Main thing people want to know when they’re at a Broadway show is “When do I get the hell out of here,” he told Dave, explaining the brevity of Long Story Short.

That isn’t so funny.  Nor, as New York Post theater critic Elisabeth Vincentelli pointed out on her blog, is the ticket price, which runs up to $98, and more for the premium aisle seats.  Quinn’s performance is probably twice as long as the routine he might do at a comedy club and the stage show has some flashy video projections by David Gallo but the cost of seeing it all at the Helen Hayes is more than twice as expensive as it would be to see a headliner at one of the city’s top comedy clubs. Plus at the club, you can drown your sorrow about the laugh-to-keep-from-crying state of the world in a drink.

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