Colin Quinn starts out Long Story Short in off-hand, stand-up mode, with smart, slightly off-center observational humor. He relates some of the jokes to cavemen, and slides effortlessly into humor that observes not only how we behave in the supermarket, but the entirety of human history from the aforementioned caveman onwards.
Long Story Short is bigger and smarter than your usual stand-up, but it never totally leaves that sphere; no virtuoso character comedy a la Lily Tomlin or Jonny McGovern here. Just lots of jokes and quips that aim to bring the rise and fall of empires down to a comprehensible human scale.
In going for the joke, the always funny Quinn sometimes fudges the details, but never misses the essence of the time or place he’s examining. For example, the Ancient Greeks may not have been the first self-aware people as he suggests – he doesn’t give the Ancient Indians or Egyptians their due, as far as I’m concerned – but they unquestionably took that awareness to new heights.
Quinn is a sharp-eyes satirist, looking at what undermined each new nation’s ambitions for world domination. His take on history decidedly comes from a tough guy point of view, or at least from the point of view that’s been formed by being around tough guys. That said, his construction of history as an ongoing wrangling between tough guys and smart guys for the upper hand rings true.
Quinn sometimes veers dangerously close to stereotyping ethnic humor from the bad old days, but generally gets at the truth behind that humor. While world history is the shtick here, Quinn’s sharpest observations are about the Iraq war, which he describes as a scuffle in the parking lot outside the imperial main event that gets out of hand. I’m not sure that I would pay full Broadway prices for this jaunty, slight show, but it’s enough of a thought-provoking good time to justify getting a bargain ticket.
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